JACKSON TWP. It was shaping up to be an exciting track and field season for the Jackson boys and girls varsity track teams.
Both squads had their eyes on a winning spring, but like every other Jackson team and so many high school teams across the country in every spot, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has pushed the pause button for the Polar Bears.
Head coach Scott Stayer, who held down double duty in the preseason with the help of the rest of the coach staff due to head girls coach Rick Neitzelt being out of action recovering from surgery, likes the effort he's seen from his athletes prior to school and sports being suspended due to the global virus pandemic.
"(The) kids have really been working hard this off-season. I believe that we will field a very competitive team this year," Stayer said prior to the decision to suspend all school-related activities. "As always, our distance will be a strong point for us."
Distance, which is anchored by the school's perennially successful cross country program, has been one of the track team's most consistent components in recent years. The boys roster also returns its top discus throwers and most of the 400 and 800-meter groups are back.
The biggest turnover is in the jumping events, shot put and pole vaulters, where a crew of newcomers have been vying for a chance to start.
The top returners include hurdler D.J. Harris, distance runners Alex Regas and Alex Zuckett, multi-event specialist Ethan Seymour, sprinter Ben Tsai, middle distance runner Patrick Jakupca and discus throwers Logan Peters and Evan Tormasi.
The underclassmen n the roster include freshman John Hall (jumps, hurdles) and sophomore Brenden Craig (sprints). Stayer also pointed to junior thrower and jumper Malik Burgess, who is a returnee, but has made major strides since last season.
The COVID-19 crisis has thrown a major swerve into a schedule with meets such as the Shark Invitational in Bluffton, S.C.C and the Glenoak Golden Eagle Elite meet. With goals such as winning all dual meets, placing in the top three at all invitationals and winning the Federal League championship, it's safe to say that the boys team is anxious to see how the ongoing situation unfolds.
"The kids are ready to go. This year because of schedule we get an extra week of practice that has been great to evaluate all the talent this team has," Stayer said. "Anytime you can have an extra week to work with 130-plus kids it is a win win situation."
The girls, meanwhile, entered the season with a lot of questions. New faces line the roster and having school paused for the time being and sports with them adds to the challenge.
"(We have) lots of questions on the girls side. We need to find a sprinter that can break through this year," Stayer said. "Where we can hang our hat is our distance kids. We are even deeper than in the past. The girls have been putting in a ton of work this off-season."
Returneers such as senior sprinter Sophia Adolph, sophomore distance runner Sofia Istnick, junior distance runner Lauren Stayer, sophomore middle distance runner Alyssa Henzel, junior distance runner Allyson Bailey and senior jumper Divya Patibandla anchor the roster.
The have sprinters Kayla Kelley and Bridget Nunley back as well, with the new faces including distance runner Kailey Zagst and sprinter Lindsey Lemus.
Prior to the season, the girls set the same goals are the boys, thought Stayer noted they face different challenges of their own.
"I think the girls are cautiously optimistic about this season. They have been putting in the time and getting better every day. They seem to really want this year to be special," Stayer said. "The last few years have been tough; they have lost several meets by very small margins, and they want to make sure they do what they can to change those outcomes this year."
So far, the global pandemic has been the biggest game changer and while the Ohio High School Athletic Association suspending its winter tournaments recently, spring sports are part of the waiting game as the powers that be see how the situation develops and when schools are back in session. For now, all the coaches and athletes can do is wait and try to remain as ready as possible.