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Michaela Butler of the Liberty-Benton girls track and field team, and the Eastwood boys team may be the best bets to do damage come June at the Division II state meet.
Butler, a sophomore sprinter, won the 200-meter state title last June with a time of 24.63, was second in the 100 (12.03), and ran on the 400 relay squad the reached state.
Six of Butler’s seven siblings preceded her on the Liberty-Benton track team. Her brother, Seth, was a three-time D-III state champion (2008-10) in the 800, and another brother and sister also placed at state.
“It’s genetics,” L-B coach Pat Wagner. “Her brother [Seth] was an excellent runner and he’s now at Colorado State. The records she’s breaking now at our school were held by her older sister Ashley. Her brothers Jason and Aaron were also very good. There are seven of them that ran track here, and she’s the baby, the last one. It appears she has the most raw talent, and she’s also a hard worker.”
Last year L-B was fourth in the D-II girls state team standings with 34 points (18 from Butler), but the Eagles senior discus duo of Alex DeVinentis and Liz Streaker, who placed first and third at state, have graduated.
Katie Hyre, a senior, returns from the Eagles’ state-qualifying 400 relay team.
Butler will add the long jump to her repertoire.
“It’s interesting,” Butler said of her family’s track legacy, which also includes her father, Mark, and older relatives. “I’ve been around it since I was 2, and I’ve grown up with it. I never thought about not running track.
“Absolutely I’m fortunate. It’s more like they showed me how to not quit and how to persevere. I’ve seen each one of them overcome injuries, and they never let that affect how they performed.”
In boys competition, Eastwood seems to have the parts in place to improve on a 13th-place finish at last year’s state meet. The Eagles were D-II state champions in 2009 and 2010, and were runners-up in 2008.
Coach Brian Sabo’s team is paced by juniors Tim Hoodlebrink, who placed fourth in the 400 (1:55.09) last season at state, and the versatile Devin Snowden, who was seventh last year in the 300 hurdles (39.43), and also ran on Eastwood’s fourth-place 1600 relay team and its sixth-place 400 relay squad.
“When I was running [the 800] at the regional meet last year my coaches told me, ‘Tim, you’ve got nothing to lose. You might as well just run as hard as you can,’ ” Hoodlebrink said. “I led the whole race, and then they caught me at the end.
“I felt pretty good about running that way, so I felt like I could run like that every single time. I go as hard as I can until I’m done. Everyone’s going to eventually die out at some point of the race, so you’re just got to go.”
Sabo said Snowden is capable of competing well in 10 of the 13 individual events, plus could run in any of the four relays.
“I just do whatever it takes to make the team better,” said Snowden, whose best events are the long jump, 300 hurdles, and 400 relay. “Our track program is great. We have great coaches who push us to be the best that we can be, and along with that we push each other.
“That allows us to open new doors and do great things. I think we’re a top-five team at state, as long as we keep working hard and keep pushing each other to be the best that we can be. I think we can do a lot of great things this year.”
The Eagles had a good preseason barometer.
“We were second at the state indoor meet [in the winter],” Sabo said. “Some of our relay guys have set some pretty lofty goals and, as long as we stay healthy, we want to get as many people as possible to the state meet. “Then, if we wind up fifth or 10th, then so be it. We feel like we’re a top-five team, but we don’t really talk about it. If everybody reaches the goals they want to reach, we know we’re going to be up there. You just have to do it that day.”
Also helping the Eastwood cause are four returning relay team members — seniors Steven Bruning (400), Gabe Fredericks (1600), and Joey Salinas (1600), and junior Brennan Seifert (400).
Some other top boys athletes who return after placing at state in 2013 include the Wauseon junior duo of Noah Castle (fourth in discus, 169-5) and Quintin Rettig (seventh, 1600, 4:21.02).
“Noah is an extremely hard worker who put in a lot of time in the weight room during the offseason,” Wauseon boys coach Joe Allen said of the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Castle. “He’s an excellent athlete in basketball and football as well.
“I think that competitive drive in other sports has helped him a lot in the discus. He’s a big powerful kid.”
Allen is also confident in Reiser’s potential.
“Quintin is pretty talented,” Allen said. “What really helps him this year was being at the state meet last year, and being all-state in cross country as well.
“That just helped him build his endurance even more. He had nice speed already, and putting the endurance with the speed I see him having a big year. I expect Noah and Quintin to be in the top four at state.”
Bryan senior Brandon Poncsak (fourth, 110 hurdles, 14.60), and Delta junior Tyler Fraker (seventh, pole vault, 14-6) are other state qualifiers who return.
Wauseon also has two girls who placed in state events a year ago.
Junior Taylor Vernot, who was the D-II state cross country champion last fall, was sixth in the state 1600 (5:07.25), and also qualified in the 3200 (11th place).
Her sophomore teammate, Seneca Wyse, placed third in the 400 (56.14), and also qualified in the 100 and 200. Wyse won all three of those events at the Northwest Ohio Athletic League meet, and placed second in the long jump, as a freshman last May.
“Taylor is a very hard worker and she puts a lot of time into her training year round,” said Wauseon girls coach Robin Fisher. “We expect a lot of great things from her as far as her ability level as a junior.
“She’s a defending league champ in the 1600 and 3200 and we’re expecting the same things from her this year.”
Fisher also has high expectations for Wyse.
“Seneca also ran cross country, and worked hard in the offseason,” Fisher said. “She’s been in the weight room quite a bit, and we’re expecting big things from her. She’s great kid and we hope to see her defend her league titles, do well in the postseason, and hopefully go on to state again.”
Napoleon sophomore Peyton Lee placed fifth at state in the 100 hurdles (14.98) last season, and the Wildcats also return three members of their 3200 relay team which reached state in 2013 — seniors Marissa Cramer and Alexa Sonnenberg, and junior Sarah Waisner. Cramer also reached state in the 400.
Oak Harbor has four girls returning who reached state last year, including three members each from its qualifying 800 relay and 1600 relay teams. In that group of Rockets are juniors Allie Jett (800 and 1600) and Karis DeWalt (800), and sophomores Athena Eli (800 and 1600) and Andrea Cecil (1600).
Lake returns two members of its state-qualifying 400 relay team — senior Nicole Pennington and junior Jordyn Taylor.
Genoa sophomore Carly Gose reached state in the 800 last year, just missing out on the honors podium, placing ninth (2:17.96).