By TED RADICK
The calendar has turned to May, the weather has turned at least somewhat warmer and it’s time for track and field athletes to sharpen up before the conference and postseason meets begin.
Saturday will be good time to start at the Liberty-Benton Invitational.
“You circle the important dates, and this is one of them,” Liberty-Benton girls coach Pat Wagner said.
Field events Saturday begin at 9 a.m. Running preliminaries start at 10:30 a.m., with the running finals set for 1:30 p.m.
“You look at the individual events, and there are state-caliber people in every event,” Wagner said. “The throws are incredible, the distance running with (Arlington’s Arden) McMath and (Van Buren’s Rachell) Resnik and (L-B’s) Megan (Bartel) and the Pandora girls will be fantastic.”
Indeed, the fields for the girls 1,600-, 3,200- and 800-meter runs are stacked. Five expected entrants in the 800 are in the top seven of the current Courier honor roll, led by L-B’s Leah Recker at 2:30.40. Cory-Rawson’s Hannah Roebke, a state placer in the even last year, is right behind while Resnik ran in the event at state last season.
The girls 1,600 features five of the top six in the honor roll. McMath (5:25.80), Resnik (5:32.28), Bartel (5:35.70), L-B Kate Baumlein (5:40.70) and Pandora-Gilboa’s Breana Hovest (5:43.01) are all capable of winning.
The same is true in the 3,200, where Bartel, McMath, Hovest and P-G’s Olivia Velasquez all come in with times within 10 seconds of each other.
Wagner ticked off nearly every event as something special: Arlington’s Lauren Willow enters the meet with a 5-3 high jump; Arlington and Pandora-Gilboa’s relay squads will make noise; Leipsic’s Holly Averesch has the state’s best discus throw this season at 149-8; defending state pole vault champion Willow Thompson of Arlington is back to defend her invitational championship.
And then there’s Columbus Grove. If there’s a team that can challenge L-B for the girls team title, it will likely be the Bulldogs. Grove is loaded with quality throwers, is solid in the rest of the field events and has plenty of talent on the track led by senior Julia Wynn in the springs and junior Sydney McCluer in the hurdles.
“They’re a strong, strong team,” Wagner said. “Really, if you look at it, Grove, Arlington, Van Buren, Pandora and hopefully us are all strong teams.
On the boys side, L-B coach Jack Quisno also pointed to some outstanding individuals. Otsego’s Cole Gorski stands out, Quisno said.
“He was the indoor pole vault state champion at 15-6,” Quisno said. “He can sprint, he can hurdle, he can long jump, he can pretty much decide to do whatever he wants to on any given day. He’s that kind of special athlete.”
Another standout is Bluffton’s Noah Stratton, who sits atop The Courier honor roll in the 400 (50.30) and 800 (2:02.60). Van Buren and Columbus Grove, meanwhile, will bring their usual crop of talented distance runners to the meet; the Black Knights’ Ted Simmons (4:38.90 in the 1,600) and Grove’s Colton Grothaus (10:15.60 in the 3,200) highlight those squads.
Quisno said his Eagles are getting healthy after battling a rash of injuries in the early part of the season. Dylan Cornwell has a top pole vault this season of 15-0 and will be back in action after a hamstring injury. Also returning in a relay event is Chase Cook, a four-event state placer last season who has also been battling hamstring woes.
“Waynefield-Goshen will be a team to watch, coach (Chris) Grothaus has Columbus Grove right back in the thick of things and Bluffton has a nice squad,” Quisno said. “It will be an interesting meet.
“Because of the history we’ve had with the strong Bluffton teams, the strong Columbus Grove teams, the Carey girls teams, it is a competitive meet. It holds a lot of the teams that will go against each other in districts, and the district is one of the toughest in Northwestern Ohio if not all of Ohio.”
By TED RADICK