WEST LAFAYETTE -- Entering a new season on the track, both the boys' and girls' teams at Ridgewood High will be looking to move up a spot in the Inter-Valley Conference standings following second place finishes last season for each team.
For the boys, a new coach but very familiar face takes over in coach John Slusser who moves from the baseball diamond to the track this season. Slusser served as head baseball coach for 16 years, before resigning this season to try his hand leading the boys' track squad. Slusser enjoyed a very successful run with the baseball program, guiding the Orange and Black to seven Inter-Valley Conference championships, seven sectional titles and three district championships during his tenure.
Now Slusser will try to translate that success onto the track fortunes for the Generals, but has already found a major difference in the two jobs which is a plus.
"Track is not as time consuming as baseball was," Slusser said. "That's one of the reasons I made the switch, I have a son and two daughters involved with track and this will give me more time to follow them. If I stayed with the baseball job, it would have been very difficult. It was a tough choice, but my family comes first and it was the right call."
With just 21 boys out for track, those low numbers will be Slusser's first concern.
"With just 21 guys, my first job is going to just try and fill all the events," Slusser said. "So right now, that's my first order of business getting ready for the season."
Leading the way for RHS will be a total of seven lettermen. At the top of that list of the returnees are a pair of regional qualifiers in sophomore Jarret Art and junior D.J. Varrian. Art who was a regional qualifier last year in the long jump and ran a leg on the 4x200 regional qualifying relay team while Varrian also was on the 4x200 relay squad.
"Off their success last year, we hope that Jarret and D.J. can continue to improve and be leaders for us," Slusser said.
Junior Jarrod Lindig and sophomore Blake Feldner are a pair of lettermen who Slusser will be counting on to lead his team in the field events. Last season, the pair took a backseat to veteran throwers Evan Jones, now at Michigan State on a football scholarship and Joe Holmes.
"It's time for Jarrod and Blake to step to the forefront now," Slusser said. "They didn't get a lot of work last year, but hopefully learned some good lessons. I'm confident they are ready to have solid year for us."
Other lettermen back for the Generals are senior Lindy McConnell (distance), sophomores Thor Reed (distance), Matt Saylor (distance/hurdles), Jarret Art (long jump/200/relays), and Phillip Shannon (400/4x800).
"We're going to lean heavily on our young guys with just one senior," Slusser said. "They have some ability, now its just a case of stepping up and getting the job done."
A pair of those young guys in freshmen Cole Lillibridge (sprints/hurdles) and Garret Foster (sprints) could be ready to make an early contribution according to Slusser.
"Both Cole and Garret had a lot of success at the junior high level," Slusser said. "It's a big jump, but I'm confident that could help us out this year. They have a good future ahead in track."
Rounding out the boys' roster for RHS are juniors Tommy Layman (shot-discus), Tevis Whitt (100/relays), David Hunt (pole vault), along with sophomores Trevor Fuller (shot/discus), Ben Hostetler (distance), Colton Buchanon (shot), Derek Ridenour (hurdles), Hugh Hart (shot put/discus), Nathan Schwartz (distance) and freshmen Billy Bailey (sprints/long jump), Travis Vickers (distance).
Slusser will be assisted by vetran track coach Chris Cabot, who served as head girls coach
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for six years at RHS.
For the Lady Generals, coach Brendan McKee enters his second season at the helm and welcomes back seven letterwinners from last year headlined by a pair of regional qualifiers.
Senior Victoria Wiggins (high jump/100) made it to the regional level in the high jump and on the 4x200 relay team, while junior Jessika McCoun (400/relays) was a member of the 4x800 relay squad.
"Vicoria is one of our top sprinters and is going to be counted on in field events also," McKee said. "She also brings a lot of leadership to the table. She's almost like a second coach for me and does a great job with the younger kids."
"Jessika already holds the school record in the 400," McKee said. "She's very talented and is looking to get to regionals in the 400 and then to state if she can stay healthy."
Sophomore letterwinner Hollie Schwab (hurdles) will be a key in leading the charge in a weak area for the Lady Generals, according to McKee.
"Hollie is doing hurdles and that is a weak area for us," McKee explained. "Last year she was part of our sprint relays also, I'm looking for her to step up in that area also now that our seniors are gone."
Rounding out the returning letterwinners will be seniors Mackenzie Bates (shot put/discus), Stormie Curry (distance), along with juniors Cora Thompson (hurdles), and sophomore Winter Preston (distance).
"Last year, we placed second in the IVC and we look forward to being competitive in our league again," McKee said. "We had athletes competing in June last year and I am looking forward to having new athletes taking us back to compete at state again."
Newcomers that McKee feels could make a difference for the Lady Generals are sophomore Joy McCune (pole vault/sprints) a transfer from Newcomerstown and freshman Laura Crawford (sprints) and sophomore Amanda Lowery (high jump/sprints).
"Laura will be counted on to help us out in sprints, she'll probably run the 200-400 and maybe the 800," McKee said. "And Amanda will help us out a lot, she's very versatile and will be a real asset for us."
Completing the Lady Generals roster are seniors Krista Thomason (sprints), Anna Powell (sprints), along with juniors Megan Wartenbee (sprints), Joanna Eberwine (shot put/discus), Emily Mourer (sprints) and sophomores Bryse Gilmore (shot put/discus), Kenzie Spires (sprints), and Alexis Perkins (hurdles). A total of 13 freshmen round out the RHS roster including Alexis Zimmerman, Tayna Watson, Ashley Weller, Morgan Moody, Ashley Espenchied, Brittany Lusk, Cassandra Dolick, Kelsea Gallagher, Makayla Blackstone, Kendra Wartenbee, Lindsay Mullett, Kristin Milligan, Carley Israel, Holly McCoy and Ashlynn Carnes.
"We will have a lot of new runners this year and we will have a dedicated group of girls that will keep us competitive for the up coming years," McKee said. "I'm confident heading into the season and the girls are working really hard to get better each and every day."
Nate Carpenter will serve as McKee's assistant coach this year.
Ridgewood opens the new season at the Claymont Invitational on Saturday, March 30.