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St. Croix Central track teams young, but ready to compete

Heidi Hoolihan hands off the baton to Katheryn Holter during one of the relays for the St. Croix Central girls in last Tuesday's Blue Devil Open at UW-Stout.

Graduation has taken a toll on the St. Croix Central track teams each of the past several years, but the resilient Panthers continue to bounce back.

The Panther coaches expect their teams to again be competitive in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference and in the WIAA Division 2 tournament series.Ben Lamb is the senior member of the Panther coaching staff. Former co-head coach Amanda Webb departed for Spring Valley, so John Tackmann has stepped into the co-head coach role for the Panthers. With roughly 50 athletes out for the two Panther teams, numbers aren't plentiful, especially in the freshman class. But there is quality on the Panther roster, among its veteran athletes and among its newcomers.
Lamb said the Panthers have a good core group to build a team around. He points to juniors Josh Freyholtz and Jason Matteson as leaders of the attack. Lamb feels that Freyholtz could reach state in any of four field events, with pole vault being his favorite.“Josh is arguably one of the best track athletes I've seen here at Central,” Lamb said.Matteson joins Freyholtz to give the Panthers another jumper who can be a threat to win conference titles.Lamb said he expects big things from junior Decker Grass in the throwing events.“He just scratched the surface last year as a sophomore,” Lamb said.The distance races should also be a strong source of points, after junior Jordan Bringgold qualified for the state cross country meet. Where the Panther boys need to get things figured out is in the shorter races on the track.
Lamb said he hopes the Panthers can be one of the contenders for the D-SC boys track title.“There's not a team that will run away with it,” Lamb predicted.Lamb is just as optimistic about the girls' chances. He said Mondovi is the favorite heading into the season, but he thinks the Panthers could be right up contending with the other top teams.The SCC girls have a balance of talent that could help them be a surprise in the conference. Senior Kayla Pabst is healthy and she's a threat to win the discus and shot put events. With Madison Malecek and Emma Landry, the Panthers should be able to continue their tradition of producing girls who are strong in the long and triple jumps. The Panthers have two solid pole vaulters in Brooke Kopacz and Becca Isnardi. Lamb said it's taken a few years, but competing in the pole vault has caught on at Central. In the first years the coaches had to beg athletes to try the pole vault. They now have nine athletes practicing the event.
The Panthers have a number of girls who can perform well in the 100-400 meters. Lamb said one of the keys for the girls will be finding girls who can score points in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meter races. Two of the best chances are Lauren Moll and Courtney Carlson, who established themselves as quality distance runners in the cross country season.Central began its season by taking some of its more experienced track athletes to the Blue Devil Fieldhouse at UW-Stout last Tuesday. For the girls, the bright spot was Pabst, who set a personal best in the shot put with a toss of 36 feet, 8 inches. This fell four inches short of the school record and placed eighth in the meet. Kopacz was also an eighth place finisher for the SCC girls by clearing nine feet in the pole vault.Freyholtz led the Panther boys. He placed fourth in the long jump and he was fifth in the pole vault, where he cleared the 11-6 height. A surprise for the Panther boys was senior Brandon Smith, who tied for sixth place in the high jump.The Panthers now have two weeks to prepare for their first outdoor meet of the season, which they will host on April 10. The Panthers fully expect to hold this meet on time, because one of the team parents used a snowblower to clear the track last week. Lamb said the field events may not be held because of wet grounds, but barring inclement weather, the track portion of the meet is expected to be held.
Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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