The defending Class 1 state champion Van-Far boys track and field team has one main focus for the 2019 season. That is to win the EMO Conference title for the first time since the 1970s.
While they are still expected to have postseason success, it’s the conference title that eluded them by just a .5 point last year.
“The optimism is high,” said Van-Far head coach Kevin Baldwin.
“…We’re just trying to focus on winning conference. We want really bad to win conference this year. The kids want it. I want it. We lost it by a half point last year. We feel like we have something to prove. If we can keep performing well, we think we have a chance to do it…If we can compete well in conference, it should set us up for the next three meets after that.”
Though the team did lose Sharrod Connor to graduation, who ran sprints and was the anchor on the 4×100 and 4×200, the Indians have so much depth it’s scary.
An example of this came at a meet in week one in the 4×100.
While Jacob Gardner, Verlyn Johnson, Parker Wallace, and Trevor Crider won their event easily, an open meet format allowed Baldwin to enter a second relay team.
He entered a freshmen group of four runners that included Brennan Wheeler, Brogan Wheeler, Tony Garland, and Preston Burnett. The relay team took third in the meeting beating Palmyra’s number one 4×100 team.
Wallace returns after taking second in the 400 meters at state last year and missing a state title by just .16 seconds.
Garner was ninth in the 200 meters last year. He recently won an open 100 race and will also help out in other events like the pole vaul, in which he qualified for state a season ago.
Crider will focus efforts on hurdles while Josh Hodde returns from injury and will focus on hurdles, the long jump, and triple jump events.
Walter Salmon Jr. is also expected to help in jumps as he is set to continue his career on the collegiate level.
After Van-Far scored no points in the triple jump a year ago, in an early meet, Salmon Jr., Brennan Wheeler, and Latrell Wright each earned team points at a recent open meet.
Dillion Minor has taken on the 200 and 400 meters and should score points for the Indians after focusing primarily on the high jump a season ago.
As for distance, all-state runner Lathyn McMorris returns. He will be joined by Sam Hazel and Tyler Robinson. Those three runners, and a runner yet to be selected to give Crider a rest, will make up the 4×800.
As for throwers, Kyle Ebers will led the way in the discus.
Nathan Beatty (shot put, discus) and Alex Flowers (shot put, javelin) will also be looking to score points.
Younger throwers Max Rode and Dayton Sanders should make an impact as well.
In the high jump, Trevor Lower, Ben Cassaday, and Julian Holtkamp are working to pick up team points.
Baldwin went on to say that after graduation this year, some folks assumed the program could take a step back.
Early season results are showing the team is just deeper and the freshmen are proving that they may help to carry the torch for the seasons yet to come. Van-Far has a total of 32 athletes out for the squad this year.