By TED RADICK
Two returning state champions and numerous state qualifiers return this season as the girls track season gets underway next week.
It’s a deep and talented group of runners and field event athletes once again this season, even with the graduation of state champions Becca Leppelmeier (McComb, Division III discus) and Alex DeVincentis (Liberty-Benton, Division II discus).
Michaela Butler brought home gold in her freshman season for Liberty-Benton in the Division II 200-meter dash, and Arlington’s Willow Thompson returns to defend her Division III pole vault championship.
Strong teams? There will be plenty. Look for Ottawa-Glandorf to challenge Liberty-Benton at the district meets and beyond. Columbus Grove looks strong in Division III, but Van Buren, which won a regional championship and finished third at state last season, has been building depth the past few seasons and may make a move to the forefront this season.
Here’s a look at the cream of the crop among girls track and field athletes in the upcoming season.
Butler exploded onto the scene last season and capped her freshman season with a Division II state championship in the 200-meter dash. Her winning time of 24.63 seconds ranks second in The Courier’s all-time track and field honor roll, mere hundredths of a second behind the 24.60 of Bluffton’s Bonnie Stratton.
Butler was also second at state in the 100 (12.03), and her best time of 11.86 in the prelims at state is again second in the all-time honor roll behind Stratton’s 11.80.
Butler, who won the Most Outstanding Performer award at last year’s Blanchard Valley Conference meet, figures to be the runner to beat in the sprints at the state meet again this spring.
Willow Thompson (Arlington)
Thompson was a state placer in the Division III pole vault as a freshman and a sophomore, and last year was atop the podium with a championship vault of 11 feet, 9 inches. That continued a steak of five straight pole vault titles for area athletes (North Baltimore’s Amanda Hotaling in 2009 and 2012; Pandora-Gilboa’s Ellie Braidic in 2010; Patrick Henry’s Tori Meyer 2011).
Thompson will take aim at cracking the 12-foot mark this spring and bringing home a second state championship. Her 11-9 personal best ranks eighth on the all-time honor roll.
Paige Ordway (Continental)
Ordway placed fifth in the 300 low hurdles at the Division III state meet. She figures to be a contender again this season as the top two finishers in that race graduated last spring. Her time of 45.90 in the state final was the top area performance in the event in 2013.
Ordway. the Putnam County League player of the year in both soccer and basketball in 2013-14, also won the PCL title in the long jump last season and, with a season-best of 16-111/2 last year could make a run at state in that event as well.
McCluer placed eighth at state last year in the Division III 100 intermediate hurdles (15.95) and her season-best time of 15.61 was tops in the area last season. Her best time in the 300 low hurdles (46.36) was second behind Ordway.
McCluer also figures to anchor the Columbus Grove sprint relays this season; the Bulldogs were eighth (50.81) in the 400 relay at state last year and return three of their runners from that quartet.
Holly Averesch (Leipsic)
Averesch enters her junior season as the latest star in a long line of Northwestern Ohio girls throwers who have excelled at the state meet. She placed sixth in the Division III shot put (40-81/4) last season; the top five finishers were seniors. That mark placed her third in The Courier’s 2013 honor roll.
Averesch also qualified for state in the discus and placed 10th (119-4). That was sixth among area throwers; only Ottawa-Glandorf’s Anna Bellman (124-1) was not a senior.
Roebke ran the 800 for the first time last season and capped her junior campaign with a seventh-place finish (2:18.25) at the Division III state meet. That time set a school record and was tops among area half-milers in the 2013 Courier honor roll.
The 800 has the makings of a signature event this spring as Roebke will have a season-long battle with Van Buren’s Rachell Resnik and Ottawa-Glandorf’s Elissa Ellerbrock, a couple of state qualifiers; don’t be surprised if that trio pushes each other below 2:15 this season.
As a sophomore, Stechschulte qualified for the Division II state meet in three events and was part of O-G’s eighth-place 800 relay team that finished in 1:43.70; all four of those runner return for the Titans.
Stechschulte was 13th in the 100 prelims (12.53) at state; that time ranked her third on The Courier’s 2013 honor roll behind Butler and Van Buren graduate Sarah Benson (12.20), now running for Hillsdale College. She was 10th in the 200 prelims (25.84) at state and her 2013 best of 25.47 was also third in the area behind Butler and Benson (25.00).
Madison Sears (Elmwood)
Sears finished her freshman season as a Division II regional qualifier in the 400 and ran the area’s best time of 58.42 in 2013. Only one other area runner, Fort Jennings’ Lori Bruskotter (58.72) cracked the 60-second barrier in the event last season.
Sears also ran a season-best 26.82 in the 200 last year, good for seventh-best in the 2013 honor roll.
Brittney Archer (Ada)
Archer looks to take the torch from Benson as the area’s top Division III sprinter. She qualified for state last season in both the 100 (12.97, 15th in prelims) and 200 (12th in prelims, 26.31).
Her season-best of 12.60 in the 100 last season was fourth-best in the area; her top 200 time came at state and was also No. 4 on the 2013 Courier honor roll.
Ellerbrock finished her sophomore year a few hundredths shy of Roebke for the season’s best 800 time when she clocked a 2:18.34 at the Division II state meet, good for 10th place.
Ellerbrock was part of O-G’s 800 relay team that placed eighth at state, and also runs on the Titans’ 3,200 relay that qualified for regionals.
Others to watch include: Bluffton’s Jill Steinmetz (middle distance); Ottoville’s Taylor Mangas (hurdles); Liberty-Benton’s Megan Peplinski (hurdles, jumps) and Madi Greiner (distance); Findlay’s Emily Stahl (distance); Columbus Grove’s Megan Verhoff (throws) and Aubrey Fruchey (throws); Arlington’s Arden McMath (distance) and Jessica Beck (pole vault); Van Buren’s Rachell Resnick (middle distance); Hardin Northern’s Mackenzie Shepherd (pole vault); Riverdale’s Sarah Hunter (middle distance, jumps) and Carrol Pauley (throws); Elmwood’s Liz Garner (sprints); and McComb’s Molly Leppelmeier (throws).
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