Southwestern Conference title is for the taking in 2014
By Ryan Kaczmarski and Joe Ostrica
The Westlake High School girls track and field team is coming off its surprising second-place finish at last year’s Southwestern Conference championships, and will not be able to sneak up on anyone this season with it multitude of returning letter winners.
The returners include seniors Julie Appel (hurdles), Barbara Bobal (throws), Madison Dunlap (middle distance), Katherine Garruto (sprints/long jump), GabbyGraviho (sprints/long jump), Grace Jenkins (distance), Morgan Jenkins (hurdles/pole vault), Elisa Khawam (sprints/long jump), Hayley Lyle (throws), Kelsey Melendez (throws), Taylor Salamone (discus) and Jasmine Welch (distance); juniors Elise Brizes (hurdles/pole vault), Katie DuBois (middle distance), Morgan Hansen (distance), Madeline Lee (distance), Lianna Nordwig (sprints), Erin O’Neill (throws) and Sadie Roff (hurdles); and sophomores Michelle Appel (middle distance), Maya Bauer (hurdles), Robyn Hageman (distance), Taylor Hood (hurdles), Lauren Hurst (sprints) and Olivia Wilson (pole vault).
The Demons will also have the addition of sophomores Savannah Potter (throws) and Allie Smith (sprints) to bolster the varsity squad.
“We return the vast majority of last year’s team, but even more so than last year, we will need to emphasize and develop our depth in order to compete well this season,” Westlake girls head coach Travis Haselswerdt said. “With Lauren Hurst and Lianna Nordwig, we look solid in the sprints, while our hurdle team, led by Sadie Roff and Taylor Hood, should compete well in most relay meets.
“Madison Dunlap and Michelle Appel should anchor our middle distance team, while Madeline Lee and Robyn Hageman will do the same with the long distance crew,” he added. “In the jumps, we’ll be looking for Elisa Khawam, Elise Brizes and Gabby Gravino to take the lead while Taylor Salamone and Haley Lyle, who finished eighth at the Akron indoor state championships in the shot put, look to return to regionals. This group gives us a very nice core, and if we candevelop some new athletes and freshmen, we should be a competitive team in the SWC this year.”
Pay to Play has had an impact on the overall numbers for Westlake this year, as the team has shrunk from 103 members, to 67 this year.
Due to construction at the new high school, Westlake will not host any home meets this year, which means the Westlake Relays will be canceled in 2014.
The North Olmsted High School girls team will be missing last year’s state qualifiers and school record holders Becky Szabo and Myk’a Walker, who both graduated. Hailey Reines, the school record holder in the 1-mile event, also went on to college, along with hurdler Taylor Welch.
This means the Eagles will be relying on younger kids to fill in those empty roles on the team, including juniors Emily Johr (distance), Danielle Yasenchack (sprints), Brooke Biliniski (discus) and Rachel Sadlon (shot put); and sophomores Stephanie Salazar (distance), Naomi Walker (sprints), Caitlin Rodriguez (sprints) and Hannah Griswold (distance).
“Danielle Yasenchack, a part of our 4×100 state-qualifying team had knee surgery this fall from a soccer injury and will be slowly returning to the track,” Eagles head coach Michelle Sanborn said. “Many freshmen look promising to help out on the varsity squad, including sprinters and jumpers Sarah and Samantha Bereznay, Emma Stec and Allison Gouch in the distance events.”
According to Sanborn, the core of the team is young and should be able to grow together.
“Our top performers are juniors and sophomores,” she said. “We are looking forward to the present and future of this team. That team seems to work hard together.
“High jump, long jump and hurdles are events with many new faces, learning the most complex techniques,” Sanborn continued. “It will be a rough year with not having much depth, but I can bet on this team being given their best and working hard all the time. The girls will be trying new events that are out of their comfort zones.”
With former head coach Yvonne Craigo transitioning to assistant coach, Jeff Arra is now taking over head coaching duties for the Avon Lake girls track and field team. Arra has been in the program between Learwood Middle School and the high school for 10 years.
“Our decision to switch was based on my ability to manage some of the off-season training that we’ve implemented across the board,” Arra said. “Outside of combining coaching responsibilities, we are the same staff that has been on board for the past five years.
Seniors Kimi Byron (pole vault), Jessica Lambert (distance) and Casey Toy (distance) are back and will serve as team captains.
“We have a core group of returning athletes to the track this spring,” Arra said. “We expect Charlotte Ward and Casey Toy to compete to get to the podium in the hurdle events at conference. Our distance team with Katie Faber, Marisa Gerrone, Audrey Spensley, Allie Spensley and Esther Killius have had great off-seasons and we expect them to compete in the distance events.
“Freshman Victoria Harper has looked very strong in the shot put this winter as well. Each of the sprinters help us add to our depth. We need to improve our sprint relays.”
The Shoregals have a large team this year with 68 currently on the roster. “The girls have worked hard all winter to improve this season,” Arra said. “They have had a great attitude in practice and they are pushing each other to get better. We have a strong group of hard-working, returning letter-winners; however, we are a very young team with a lot of athletic ability. We are really excited to see how all the pieces fall together this year.
“In the past few years, we’ve relied on two or three athletes to make up the bulk of our points at the SWC meet. I’d like to believe that we are building a program that has more depth. My goal is for us to score more consistently across the board with more girls in more events.”
The Olmsted Falls High School team returns the core of last year’s squad, including seniors Helen Baszuk, Marley Bell, Kate Ferster, Salina Salamah, Brieanna Simmons and Vicky Wilson; juniors Jessica Kukura, Liz Neudeck and Alexis Phillips; and sophomores Julia Burnell, Courtney Howe, Stormie Kadar and Franseca Klypchak.
“This girls team has seen an increase in number of athletes out for the team,” Bulldogs head coach John Novotny said. “The team’s strengths will be a deep group of distance runners and a solid group of throwers and jumpers.
“The challenge is replacing two state qualifiers in the sprints and hurdles who graduated last year.”