Entering a new season at Newcomerstown High, there will be a new but familiar face leading the boys' and girls' track teams with Donnie Stevens moving up from the junior high level to lead the varsity.
Stevens had been coach at the junior high level for the Trojans for the past five years, and will now take over for the departed Josh Branch.
"When coach Branch left, I just felt it was something I wanted to do," Stevens said. "I had a lot of these kids at the junior high level, so the transition should be a smooth one for the most part. I'm excited for the opportunity and just ready to get started."
In the early going, Stevens has already discovered the differences between coaching at the junior high level compared to a varsity sport.
"There is a lot more involved at the varsity level...that's for sure," Stevens explained. "Just a lot more stuff you have to be on top of besides coaching the kids, such as paperwork and that sort of thing."
The NHS boys' squad features a roster of 28, including 14 lettermen for the Orange and Black.
Senior lettermen back include Josh Deal (shot put/discus), Austin Trzop (sprints), along with juniors Dylan Anderson (sprints/jumps), Bret Burrier (pole vault/sprints), Darnell Crider Harris (shot put/discus), Tristen Durr (shot put/discus), Cody Hall (sprints), Logan Lehman (pole vault/sprints), Danny Lovrinic (distance), Nate Marinucci (distance), Derek Stamets (distance), Austin King (sprints) and sophomores Marcus McVey (shot put/discus), Kyle Pritchard (distance).
"We have 28 boys out this year with a good mix of youth and experience," Stevens said. "We should be able to be competitive in most events this year and we are excited to get started with the season."
Freshman performers for the Trojans will be Devin Croft (hurdles), Jason Garland (sprints/shot put), Quenten Garretson (shot put/discus), Dylan Little (sprints/hurdles), J.C. Maddox (hurdles/jumps), Gage Miller (distance), Collen Mozena (distance), Braden Taylor (distance) and Mason Walkup (distance).
Three of the incoming freshmen could make an early impact according to Stevens.
"Braden, Dylan and Devin all had a lot of success at the junior high level," Stevens said. "They all could help us out this year, they are good kids and all of them are hard workers.
Senior Chandler Shryock makes a return to the track team for the first time since his sophomore year, and hopes to have the same kind of success he had on the gridiron for the Trojans' football team.
"Chandler is a real good athlete and we are glad to have him back out," Stevens said. "He will probably be a sprinter for us and might work in to a few other spots."
Another first-time performer will be sophomore Bril Dansby (sprints/jumps).
"Bril will also help us out in the sprints," Stevens said, "and maybe on some relay teams. We'll see how it goes as we get those spots all figured out."
In looking ahead to the Inter-
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Valley Conference race, Stevens feels a few teams could be out in front of the pack.
"Garaway should be the team to beat," Stevens said. "They just have a real solid program and will be right there. Then you have Sandy Valley and Ridgewood who should be strong also. We just hope we can continue to improve and be peaking at the right time."
On the girls' side, the Lady Trojans might not have the numbers but do have some quality experience back led by senior three-time state qualifier Cydney McMillan (pole vault/sprints) and a total of 12 returning letterwinners among the 17 athletes on the team.
Last year, McMillan in her third straight trip to the OHSAA state track meet where she finished ninth in the Division III pole vault with an effort of 10-0.
Also back are NHS are regional qualifiers junior Krista McVey (shot put/discus) and sophomore Paige McMullen (long jump/sprints).
"We have a lot of experience back led by Cydney," Stevens said. "She's a three-time state qualifier and just has a great work ethic and is a great role model for the rest of the girls. Plus we have a pair of regional qualifiers back in Paige and Krista."
Other letterwinners back for the Lady Trojans include seniors Ashley Wheeler (hurdles), Alexes Sanders (distance), McKala Goodwin (distance), sophomores Jocelynn Lenhoff (shot put/discus), Tamara Lezette (shot put/discus), Sara Miller (shot put/discus), Kaseana Gandy (sprints), Elizabeth Patterson (jumps/sprints) and Erin Burrier (high jump/sprints).
"Our numbers may not be great," Stevens said, "but I like our talent level throughout the team. I think we will be very solid in middle distance and field events this year."
Freshmen on the NHS roster looking to contribute will be Morgan Bunner (shot put/discus), Sammie Ortt (sprints), Monica Mowery (pole vault/sprints), Hope Mozena (distance) and Kezdynn Stowers (shot put/discus).
"Just like in the boys, Garaway, Ridgewood and Sandy Valley will be real strong this year," Stevens said. "I just hope we can hold our on and be competitive, I think we can as long as we stay away from injuries as with our small numbers depth could be a factor."
Stevens is fortunate to have a large coaching staff to assist in getting the Trojans ready for a new season.
Assistant coaches include Jack Lenhoff, Troy Mozena, Chris McClellan, Nate Smith, Steve Durbin, Jeff Burrier, Tom Addy, Steve Meeks and on the junior high level Christine Schlabach and Bill Laffery.
"We have a good group of kids to work with," Stevens said. "They have been working hard to get ready for the season and everybody is just anxious to get started."
Newcomerstown opens the season at the Claymont Early Bird Invitational on Saturday, March 30.