WEST LAFAYETTE -- Ridgewood High will be looking to take that next step entering a new season on the track with both the girls' and boys' teams each coming off runner-up finishes in the Inter-Valley Conference.
With both teams returning regional qualifiers this season, expectations are high that the Generals might be able to take that next step up in the IVC.
On the boys' side the Generals welcome back 13 lettermen including a trio of regional qualifiers in senior three-year lettermen Jhett Slusser (hurdles/sprint relays), Michael Kelley (400/sprint relays) and senior two-year letterman Javon Merrill (long jump/sprint relays) to set the pace.
Back for his fifth season leading the boys' track program is head coach John Slusser, who doubles as the Generals' highly-successful football coach.
"Its nice to have some hard-working kids like Jhett, Michael and Javon, who had some success," Slusser explained. "They do a good job of providing leadership for us just with their tremendous work ethic. All three will be captains for us this year and do a great job.
"Jhett is good in both hurdle events and has a chance to get to state," Slusser said of his senior son. "Michael, like the other two leaders, just likes the sport of track and that's important.
"Javon is a kid that has really grown up the lasts few years," Slusser explained. "He used to be the type of kid who didn't work real hard, but he has totally transformed himself and now is one of our hardest workers and it's great to see."
Other lettermen back who Slusser expects to play key roles for RHS include senior Anthony Harmon (shot put/discus), juniors Ian Schwab (hurdles/pole vault), Fred Doberstein (distance).
"Anthony is really good in the discus," Slusser offered. "I think he has a chance to get to the regional this year. He has put in a lot of work in the off season.
"Ian is our do-everything guy...but is strong in the pole vault," Slusser said. "He's a real tough kid and a pleasure to coach...he will do anything you ask of him.
"Fred is our distance guy," Slusser said. "He always gives us a good effort and has a great attitude about him every day."
Rounding out the Ridgewood lettermen are seniors Nate Thompson (shot put/discus), Zack Austin (shot put/discus), juniors Tyler Caudy (distance/relays), Jason Stubbs (high jump/hurdles), sophomores Blake Craigo (sprint relays/sprints), Silas Bassett (pole vault) and Xavier Kelley (high jump/pole vault).
"I'm optimistic about this season," Slusser explained. "I feel we will be really strong in sprint relays, the 400, discus and both hurdles.
"Hopefully, we can make some improvement in other events," Slusser added. "The kids are working really hard and giving good effort."
Jamie McCrea, RHS head boys' basketball coach will take some time off the hardwood to serve as assistant coach for Slusser this spring.
The Ridgewood boys' roster also includes seniors Rudy Russell (shot put/discus), Dakota Crites (distance), sophomores Kyle Latham (long jump), Fleix Fluegge (high jump), Teagan Young (distance), freshmen Noah Smith (high jump), Trevor Hawkins (distance), Josh Schumaker (distance), Brandon Starkey (pole vault), Brenton Troendley (pole vault), Grayson Newell (distance), Jacob Evin (hurdles), Isiah Lamneck (spints), Dakota Markley (shot put/discus) and George John (shot put/discus).
Defending IVC champion East Canton will again be the team to beat in the IVC, according to Slusser.
"East Canton will be strong again. They had a lot of sophomores last year," Slusser said. "We hope we can be up there near the top at the IVC meet."
For the Lady Generals, veteran Ridgewood coach Darrell Ball returns to led the RHS program and will have a total of 16 letterwinners back this season. Ball will be assisted by another veteran RHS coach-- Dan Smith.
Headlining the returning veterans for the Lady Generals will be a trio of regional qualifiers -- senior three-year letterman Josey Lillibridge (shot put/discus), junior two-year letterman Taylor Haarman (shot put/discus) and sophomore letterman Alexis Prater (sprints/hurdles/long jump).
Prater qualified for regional in both the long jump and hurdles last season and is coming off an impressive Division II-III indoor state championship in the long jump.
"We're hoping that Alexis can build off the momentum of her state indoor title," Ball explained. "She's a very talented kid who works hard and we expect big things from her this season.
"Both Josey and Taylor had nice years last season making it to regionals," Ball offered, "so we expect them to have big years once again and are looking good heading into the season."
Expecting to contribute to lead the Lady Generals' effort in sprints are senior three-year letterman Alexis Slusser (sprints/hurdles), junior Riley Young (sprints/400), and sophomore letterman Keely Alexander (sprints/pole vault) and Abbey Kellish (sprints).
"I really like all our sprinters. We have seven sprinters I feel very comfortable to use," Ball offered. "Alexis had a real nice year and looks even stronger in sprints this year and will also do some hurdles. Abbey will also do the long jump for us this year."
Rounding out the RHS letterwinners are seniors Tabitha Albaugh (shot put/discus), Emily Kobel (distance), Katie Leitz (distance/pole vault), juniors Elizabeth Lintz (distance), Kiana Bradford (high jump/long jump), Felicity Caudy (high jump), Raquel Foster (sprints/hurdles), Alex Incarnato (middle distance), Sophia Kobel (distance).
"Our strong areas will be in sprints and sprint relays along with long jump with Alexis there," Ball said. "I also feel we will hold our own in hurdles and throws since we've got some depth in both those events."
In addressing an area he would like to shore up, Ball pointed to the distance events.
"Last year, we kind of struggled in distance," Ball stated, "so we would really like to see some improvement in that area. So far, that is looking pretty good with the girls focused on getting better."
A newcomer that Ball expects to have a quick impact this season for the Lady Generals is freshman Grace Gottwalt (sprints/hurdles).
"I look for Grace to be one of our keys in both sprints and hurdles," Ball said. "She's got a lot of talent and looks like she will help us right away."
Ball feels defending champion Garaway will be the team to beat again this year.
"Garaway will be super tough again...they have a lot of kids back," Ball explained. "After that, Sandy Valley could be up there and several other teams fighting to get in the top of the standings.
"We just want to be competitive and continue to improve as the season goes along," Ball added. "You always want to hit your stride towards the end of the season and that's our goal."
Other athletes working to contribute for the Lady Generals include senior Kulanit Cherkeewongse (sprints), junior Alexis Oliver (middle distance), sophomore Taylor Bassett (sprints), freshmen Brianna Brady (shot put/discus), Taylor Keffer (distance) and Jayla McCurdy (distance).
"We're looking forward to the season," Ball said. "We are excited about our returning kids and hope to build on their accomplishments from last year.
"Then we have a good mix of veterans and young kids," Ball offered. "Hopefully, we can punch the right buttons to get the most out of each group and have a successful season."