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GIRLS TRACK PREVIEW: Plenty of state qualifiers returning this season

A number of state qualifiers return this season, hoping to make it back to Shippensburg again this year.

Included among them are Jim Thorpe’s Katrin Cavanaugh and Kaila O’Connor, Palmerton’s Nataly Walters, Northwestern’s Faith Yost, Northern Lehigh’s Katelynn Barthold, Panther Valley’s Izabella Bochicchio and Marian’s Carly Minchhoff.

Below are capsules on all 10 area teams:


SEASONED STAFF … Frank Miller returns for his 17th season with the Olympians. The seasoned mentor also brings in an experienced staff in coaches Joe Jaskot, Eric Moore, Walt Bevilacqua, Will Cameron, Mark Rosenberger, Marie Rosahac, Allie Rossino and Meghan Rosahac.

EXPERIENCE GALORE … Returning with fire in their eyes are Nicole Carroll (Sr., Mid-Distance), Ehlauna Penn (Sr., Sprints), Katrin Cavanaugh (Sr., state qualifier, Jumps), Aurora VanAuken (Sr., Hurdles/Sprints), Aubrey Bonner (Jr., Mid-Distance), Kaila O’Connor (Jr., two-time state qualifier, Sprints/Hurdles) and Olivia Rosenberger (Jr., Mid-Distance, Pole Vault).

NOW JT ALUM … Thanks to wearing a cap and gown this past June, the presence of Katelyn Bos, Laura Clarke, Meghan Rosahac, Ivy Stauffer and Leah Wasko will not be seen around the track or field this season.

OTHERS TO WATCH … With offseason workouts, and continued hard work in preseason, several Olympians are potential talent to watch this season. Gabrielle Cinicola (Sr., Distance), Dani Rimsky (Jr., Throws/Jumps), Celia Rodriguez Gonzalez (Jr., Distance), Aubrey Holland (So., Throws/Jumps), Mara Levins (So., Throws), McKenna Jackson (Fr., Jumps), Lindsay Patton (Fr., Distance) and Kelsey Patton (Fr., Sprints/Jumps) are those individuals ready to compete.

NUMBERS CONCERN … “With a roster of only 22 girls dual-meet wins will be tough to come by due to lack of overall depth,” said Miller. “In addition, with the graduation of Laura Clarke and Ivy Stauffer, there are zero experienced throwers on the girls’ team right now. There is substantial potential that with practice, the girls can become competitive by the end of the season in those events.”

STANDARD SET … “The season will not be judged by dual-meet wins and losses but how the team performs in the postseason events, including the League Championship Meet and District 11 2A Championships,” said Miller. “The key returning girls all have big meet experience with some big meet successes led by Kaila O’Connor and Katrin Cavanaugh. Overall, the individual goals of the student-athletes are high and their approach and work ethic will give them the chance to achieve those goals in a tough Schuylkill League Division 1 and District 11 2A.”


DEPTH HELPS … Unlike some recent years, the Indians feel they have more than adequate numbers on their girls’ team this spring. “We have about 50 girls on the team,” head coach Erica Pagotto said. “We’re excited about the depth that we will have.”

FRESH STARTS … Pagotto is excited about the possibilities of a freshman class that should be consistent point scorers. Autumn Clewell (throws), Emmalin Curtis (throws), Sadie Monk (jumping), Olivia Serfass (hurdles), Morgan Serfass (jumping) and Leah Uyvari (throwing) all will be keys to the team’s success.

JUMPING HIGH … Seniors Haley Ginder and Isaballa Mystkowski are back to pace the jumping events. Ginder (high jump) and Mystkowski (pole vault) both placed second in their respective events at the Schuylkill League Meet last year. “Hailey had success in the high jump last year and will do well this season,” said Pagotto. “Isabella is a great team player, and she’s even teaching others the technique she uses in the pole vault.”

RAISING THE BAR … Mystkowski, who also competes in the 100 hurdles, the 4x100 relay and the triple jump, likes the early chemistry that has formed on the team.“Compared to last year, we have a lot more freshmen open to jumping events,” she said. “We should do well there. We also have had a number of opportunities in the running events. Our team chemistry is getting there, and there is plenty of potential with this team.”


PUTTING IN THE WORK ... Marian head coach Justin Huegel made the most of the offseason. “We were able to have another solid indoor track and workout season to give our kids a baseline for preparing for the upcoming spring season,” he said. “We had a lot of our girls come and work on a daily basis and, with many of those athletes in the underclasses, it was encouraging for them to set the standard for the rest of the team when spring practice started.”

BUILDING SOMETHING SPECIAL ... That effort has Huegel eager for what the Fillies will be able to accomplish this season. “Our girl’s team is looking as strong as ever. We have a great mix of underclass talent and upperclass experience. We only graduated two senior girls last year, so a lot of our athletes have competed in a lot of big-time meets and are ready to do the same this year. With returning state qualifiers and potential state qualifiers in several events, this has the makings of being a landmark year. That mix allows us to keep our goals the same of having success at the division level, qualifying as many athletes as possible for the Schuylkill League and District 11 championships, and for the State Meet in Shippensburg. The excitement that is around the program right now is contagious and we are excited to get on the track to start competing.”

COMING AND GOING ... The Fillies will have to replace Grace Curnow, a state qualifier in the 400 last season, and Isa Genao. Returning will be Rebecca Boyle (Sr., jumps/sprints), Eliza Bauder (Sr., hurdles/jumps), Kerrigan Digris (Sr., sprints/mid-distance), Jenna Goff (Jr., throws/jumps), Ashley Pleban (Jr., hurdles/sprints/throws), Zoe Salter (Sr., throws), Fatikha Tiktova (Sr., jumps), Emma Ashfield (Jr., mid-distance/distance), Abigail Kluck (Jr., mid-distance), Carly Minchhoff (Jr., sprints/throws), Caitlyn Kovatch (So., sprints/jumps) and Lizzie Pikitus (So., sprints).

AND THAT’S NOT ALL ... Keep an eye on Makenna Jacobs (Jr., sprints/jumps), Erica Boyle (So., sprints), Ava Fritz (So., mid-distance/distance) Alyssa Porambo (So., throws) and Mia Rinaldi (So., hurdles/jumps) to also contribute this season.


NEW FACES AND NEW OUTLOOK ... Head coach Mike Lehtonen has liked what he has seen from his youngest runners. Emma Heil is expected to be a contributor in the distance runs, and fellow frosh Natalie Moffitt, Evelina Mayak, Taylor Everk, Ariana Williams, Nicole Zarayko and Skylar Frey should be in the mix.

“Emma (Heil) made a name for herself as a freshman in cross country,” he said. “Coming off an injury to end the season, she will look to regain her form as the season goes on.”

STRONG CORE ... Northern Lehigh will look to build around Katelynn Barthold, who qualified for states in the 1,600-meter run, and her sister Dakota, who has been strong in hurdles. Zoe Hathaway and Kendall Snyder should both be factors in the jumps and sprints. Delaney Szwast and Mikayla Gordon both should handle the middle to long distances. “The Barthold sisters will be major contributors for us, and they both are working hard,’ said Lehtonen. “Zoe Hathaway will have big goals in the high jumps and sprints. Kendall Snyder has gotten better every year, and looks to be one of the top jumpers in the league.”

KIRK TO LEAD THE SHIP ... Senior Caitlin Kirk appears ready to take charge of the unit. In just her second season with the shot put, discus and javelin, Kirk has high expectations. “As a senior, I am very happy to be leading this charismatic and fun team,” she said. “My goals for this season are to continue to grow and hopefully hit over the 110-foot mark, as well as continue to improve on my shot put and javelin throws. “I hope to advance through the season with improvements in mind and qualify for leagues and districts with the ultimate goal to make it to states.”

ON THE RISE ... Lehtonen is optimistic his unit can register some noteworthy point totals. “The girls seem to have some depth and talent spread around to many of the events,” he said. “The freshman class could play a big role for the success of the team. However, there is a significant amount of experience from the upperclassmen. Strengths could include the distance department and jumps, while the team might get tested in the sprints.”


CHANGING PLACES ... The Tigers will drop down from 3A to 2A for both the girls’ and the boys’ teams, marking the first change since 2014. Head coach Chuck Groller, who is in his ninth season at the helm of the girls team, appreciated the move. “Last year, we were going against teams like Liberty and Parkland. It has been tough for us to compete. We feel that we will be more on an equal playing field with the teams we face this year.”

TRIPLE THREAT ... Senior Faith Yost finished sixth in the high jump at the state meet last year. She captured the high jump, 100 and 300 hurdles at the Colonial League meet and was the 100 hurdles and high jump winner at districts. Yost tied a record in the high jump (5-5) set by her aunt, and set a new school mark in the 100 hurdles. She figures to be a favorite to return to states in all three events this spring. “She works very hard and can go far in all of her events,” added Groller. “Faith also is a leader on this team.”

SPRING IN THEIR STEP ... Groller has been impressed with the underclassmen in his group. He has a combined 30 freshmen and sophomores, many he expects to make an impact this spring. Nora Silifes (sprints/jumps), Carsyn Van Norman (sprints), Brook Balliet (sprints) Sophia Cornell (distance), Megan Fornwalt (hurdles/jumps), Kelcy Pedron (distance) and Sophia Penny (distance) are all sophomores who should figure in the mix.

UPPER HAND ... Along with Yost, Groller will look to juniors Katie Brensinger (hurdles/throws), Sadie Fenstermaker (throws), Abigail Pomajevich (sprints), Grace Yost (pole vault/throws) and Kaia Grantham (sprints), and seniors Amy Andreoli (pole vault), Naomi Glassberg (sprints), Alicia Hunsicker (hurdles), Angelina Klein (distance) and Sarah Renner (sprints) for their experience and guidance.

GROWING PAINS ... In spite of a core of upperclassmen, Groller anticipates his club could take some time to season itself. “We are very young,” he said. “As long as we stay healthy, we will be competitive in every track meet. As the season progresses, we will get better and stronger.”


BUMP IT UP ... Head coach Mike Gombert noted that his girls team should have a significant increase this spring, going from 18 athletes last season to 33 this year. He has realized his newcomers must mature down the stretch. “These athletes have to perform at a high level at every meet, and our newcomers must develop quickly for the team to enjoy success.”

HIGH POINTS ... Senior Emma Martinez, juniors Emma Snyder and Jessica Heydt, and sophomore Nataly Walters are back as the top point scorers from last season. Walters brought home a seventh-place medal from states in the long jump after she collected a first in the league and a second at districts. Heydt was first in the shot put at leagues and third at districts. Snyder was third in the high jump and Martinez was fourth in the 1600, both at the league meet.

FAMILIAR CAPTAIN ROLE ... Martinez and Sam Perloni will serve as captains this spring. Martinez, who was a captain last year and has an older brother and sister who served in that same role in the past, has taken a cue from last year’s captains. “The captains last year showed me the ropes,” she said. “My older brother and sister showed me the importance of leadership. We have some strong upperclassmen and a good group of underclassmen. We will be competitive in every meet, and it will be exciting.”

SUPER SOPHOMORE ... In addition to her seventh-place state finish in the long jump, Walters finished 12th in the triple jump in Shippensburg last year. Walters also ran the 100 and 200 in which she finished 10th and 18th respectively at the Big Show. Entering just her sophomore year, Gombert is anxious to see what she can do this year. “Nataly is a tremendous athlete,” he said. “She had a great season last year, and she will only get better.”

CHEMISTRY BREWING ... Gombert, whose club was 7-4 last season, sees success again on the horizon. Freshmen Emma Rex (distance, high jump) and Sarah Sabo (sprints), and sophomore Claire Thomas (sprints, jumps) are promising newcomers. “The girls have a great attitude, and they are looking forward to the season. We have some athletes who have worked hard in the offseason, and we expect them to be great leaders and role models.”


RETURNING CHAMP ... The Panthers will bring back senior Izabella Bochicchio, who won the District 11 2A shot put title last season and advanced to states, where she placed in the top 15. The senior was the program’s first district champ since 2007. She has led the team in total points scored in each of the last two seasons. Second-year head coach Paul McArdle is anticipating another stellar season for her in throwing events and a return trip to Shippensburg, and potentially a run at the school record.

STRONG CORE ... Panther Valley will also lean on juniors Mikayla Yurichek and Riley McArdle. Coach McArdle praised Yurichek, who is also a starter on the school’s volleyball, basketball and softball teams, as a tremendous all-around athlete with an ability to spring, jump, throw and also run longer distances. Riley McArdle, the Times News/LVHN Volleyball Player of the Year, missed her sophomore track and field season due to injury but is primed to contribute this season in sprinting and jumping events.

SHOES TO FILL ... The Panthers will have to replace several talented athletes from last year’s team, including Makayla Weaver (sprints/hurdles), Sadie Trubilla (throws), Chloe Diekman (distance), Adrianna Taveras (sprints) and Jessica Cabrera (throws).

INTO THE MIX ... McArdle is also eager to see what several newcomers can do this season, including senior River Knoblauch and freshman Moragn Orsulak. Knoblauch, who was sidelined the last two seasons with injuries, should be strong in the 400 and 800, as well as bolstering the 400 and 1600 relay teams. Orsulak will participate in jumps and throws. “As an eighth grader last year, she was impressive in the sprints, hurdles, and jumps,” McArdle said of Orsulak. “Based on her success in volleyball and basketball this year as a freshman, she should have a great chance of transitioning that junior high track success to the varsity level this season.” The squad should also benefit from other newcomers such as Hillary Shreffler (Jr., hurdles/middle distance), Brenda Banks (Fr., throws), Destiny Wentz (Fr., hurdles/relays) and Hannah Shreffler freshman, middle distance).

OUTLOOK ... After being hit hard by injuries last season, the team still managed some impressive individual successes. “I’m excited about the mindset of our girls athletes at PV right now. We had a great volleyball year, a district playoff basketball season, wrestling success, and a positive attitude in softball,” said McArdle. “I think we’ll see a similar winning attitude in track and field too.”


SAVING THE PROGRAM ... Pleasant Valley first-year track and field head coach Isaac Blagogee took the reins of the program when the school was looking for a head coach. Like the boys, Blagogee will have several athletes to turn to for the 2023 season.

RUNNERS ... The Bears will turn to juniors Kaitlyn Guzman and Hailey Klein for middle distance, while Nemani Moon is strong in the sprints. Blagogee emphasized the importance of helping out the school’s track and field program. “I’m focusing on the development of all the athletes,” Blagogee said. “I told them I would show up and help them out as much as possible.”

THROW, THROW, THROW ... The throwing events are more of Blagogee’s bread-and-butter, and he’ll rely on junior Kara Miller for the three events. Senior Norah Jones will also contribute in the shot, discus and javelin.

CLOSING THOUGHTS ... Pleasant Valley is working with a new track and field head coach and the team is looking to have a successful 2023 season. They started on a positive note, reaching the century mark in defeating East Stroudsburg North in their opening meet.


READY TO COMPETE … Tamaqua head coach Jim McCabe and his coaching staff welcome back several scholar-athletes. Returning for the Blue Raiders is a long list of individuals, including – Alexis Jones (long distance), Amelia McArdle (high jumps), Andrea Betz (pole vault/mid-distance), Ava Agosti (high jump), Avery Dietrich (high jump), Brooke Riley (throws), Cadance Fannock (throws), Gabby Blasko (high jump), Isabella Jones (long distance), Jada Thomas (throws), Kimberly Rudy (high jump), Lauren Hill (jumps), Lucia DeMarco (high jumps), Moana Hudak (throws), Nichole Mushock (high jump), Samantha Plasha (sprint/jumps), Sarah Hope (sprints/jumps) and Gracie Nallon (long distance).

NEWCOMERS … There are several newcomers ready to take it to the limits for the Blue Raiders. Looking to make a name for themselves with the program this season are Addison Rummel (mid-distance), Audrey Nattress (jumps), Ava Jones (mid/long distance), Mia Jones (mid/long distance), Ceanna Gormley (throws), Cecilia Ulicny (jumps/sprints), Destiny Denning (throws), Destiny Steinmetz (throws), Katelynn Fredericks (sprints/hurdles), Kendle Miller (throws), Lamore Gayle (sprints), Leah Black (jumps), Mollie Walker (mid/long distance), Sarah Coccio (high jump), Sophia Callavini (sprints), Adrianna Geronimo (mid/long distance), Isabella Fort (pole vault) and Sophia Bollentino (hurdles).

DETERMINED YOUTH … “Our strength is a young group that will help out in sprints, hurdles, mid/long distance and throws,” said McCabe.

TAKING AN OPTIMISTIC LOOK … Entering this season, McCabe isn’t worried about the outcome of each event. He’d rather focus on what matters the most in his very own eyes. “Success is not determined by wins or losses,” said McCabe, who enters is second season with the Blue Raiders track and field team. “It’s determined by the work you put into getting better in the process of learning how to get better in your event.”


SMALL BUT MIGHTY ... The Wreckers began their offseason training about three weeks ahead of the new campaign. Despite challenges that exist at a smaller school, head coach Ryan Kately has proven the program can be successful, something he hopes to continue once again this year. “Numbers are very high for the boys team and very low for the girls team. However, overall this is the most athletes we’ve had combined boys and girls with about 20. We also have the most middle schoolers come out than we’ve had too. Being a couple of years removed from COVID, I think the numbers for all track programs are starting to build back up. Offseason training has been going well, obviously, we don’t have a track and have limited resources so we have to get creative with sprinters and distance running in a parking lot, and throwers have been in the weight room and gym. We only have myself, and assistant coach Paul DiGennaro coaching as well so we see everything going on at practice.”

NUMBERS GAME ... While Kately doesn’t yet have the depth he would like on the girls team, he is confident the squad’s athletes will compete to the best of their abilities throughout the season. “On the girls side, we only had three girls come out for the team,” he said. “Our only returner is junior Kendall Gerhart, who is multi-faceted as she qualified for leagues and districts last year in the 400 and throws the javelin. The other two girls are very talented freshmen Kelly Reiner and Abby Binder, who are coming off a good basketball season. Kelly is a thrower who impressed last year in middle school. She will make the jump to high school and look to make an impact right away. Abby is going to be a multi-event athlete. She has been impressive working in the hurdles, and long and triple jump.”

OPTIMISTIC OUTLOOK ... Kately is eager to see the program take another step forward this season, both in the record book and in the win column, “We’re very excited about the season, and all of the athletes are itching for warm weather to get outside and are ready to compete,” he said. “We hope to see a lot of school records fall, and build on the last two seasons where we have a couple of wins on the boys side which is hard to do competing against much bigger schools. The goal is to get as many athletes to leagues, districts, and states as possible.”

(Compiled by Patrick Matsinko, Jeff Moeller, TJ Engle and Kyle Magda)

Jim Thorpe track and field athletes go through running drills during a recent practice as they prepare for the upcoming season. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS