The Rolla track and field team is prepping for another fresh season, which kicks off at the Waynesville Open on Friday, Mar. 17. Rolla has a slew of athletes returning for both track and field events, but they also have a nice mix of fresh faces to push the upperclassmen. All in all there are 115 kids making up the track and field program, all of them pushing each other to keep improving.
The relay teams should continue to shine on the boys side, with several members returning from their relay teams. Nick Janke and Mike Jennings return to the 4X400 team, which they led to an eighth place finish at State last season. They also have senior captain Devin Seest returning to the 4X800 relay.
Janke is expected to be Rolla's top scorer this season. He was a State Qualifier last season in 300 hurdles, high jump and triple jump, alongside the 4X400 relay. Janke was both All-Conference and All-District in each of the last two season.
Another big point scorer for the boys will be another senior captain, Xaviar Douglas. Like Janke, Douglas takes part in the high jump, long jump, triple jump, as well as running sprints and relays. Douglas is a two time All-Conference and All-District athlete as well.
Other returning All-Conference athletes are juniors Landon Adams and Caleb Turner in pole vaulting alongside sophomores Bryce O'Connor in sprints and Namezie Orizu in hurdles.
One of the newcomers to keep an eye on is Colton Franks, who has been bumped up to varsity as a freshman in both discus and shot put.
Some boys who have shone noteworthy improvement so far and should make an impact this spring include senior Colton Headrick in the javelin, Colton Moore in hurdles and Brandon Burris is distance running events.
The girls squad is well represented at every grade level, with several young runners and jumpers looking to make a splash.
When it comes to returning athletes, it starts with senior Addy Brow. Brow splits time between the soccer pitch and track, but she is a returning State Qualifier. She runs in both the 4X400 and 4X800 relays as well as distance events. On top of making it to State, she is an All-Conference and All-District runner.
Taylor Stevens is another senior who will make a massive impact. She is another State Qualifier, who broke the school record in pole vaulting multiple times last season. Her personal best currently sits at 10' 7". She was a Conference and District Champion last season and she'll look to repeat in 2017.
The third senior to have a major role is Celia Parson. She was an All-Conference and All-District discus thrower last season.
Juniors Courtney Colench and Savannah Womack, alongside sophomore Olivia Holmes are among the top returning athletes for Rolla. Colench was All-State, Conference and District last season in the high jump. Womack set a new school record for javelin last season, as the sport is returning to the fold at the State meet. Because it was new last season, she didn't have many events to throw in throughout the year, so she's looking to make a bigger impact this season. Holmes is a returning All-State runner in the 400 and 4X400 relay. She also runs in other sprinting events and was All-Conference and All-District as a freshman last season.
There are a slew of freshmen that are looking to make their mark this season. Emma Puetz, who qualified for State in cross country in the fall, should be one of Rolla's top distance runners this season. Loran Pritchett has been the Lady Bulldogs' top triple jumper so far in practice and should be in the mix in several jumping events and the hurdles. Mya Burken will be on several relays and long sprints. She may add some field events as the season goes on.
Head coach Don Knapp is looking forward to this season, mostly because of the strides he thinks his athletes can take this season.
"(I'm looking forward to) Seeing the athletes improve, have success, and improve in all of their events. That is one of the great enjoyments of coaching. We hope to have several kids make it to the State Championships,. We want to have team success at our meets and possibly see some new RHS records set. We have several athletes that could put their name on the All-Time record board this spring," said coach Knapp. "That is not easy to do, because we have been very fortunate and have had many outstanding athletes go through our program. We have over 10 recently graduated athletes currently competing in college Track programs right now. That shows how good many of our previous athletes have been. They set the bar pretty high, and many of them are in our all-time top 10 list and some are on our record board. They have left some pretty good performances for the current team to shoot for. Our athletes this spring are very motivated to do well, have success and achieve those levels."
While there are a lot of great events to look forward to, the top of that list is the Rolla Track Classic. Large events like that will also help Rolla continue to improve on their way to Ozark Conference and District meets and hopefully several members making trips to State.
"We want to do well at all our meets, but the two home meets we have are special. We have one early season home meet against Salem and want all our athletes to do well at that meet and of course the Rolla Track Classic at the end of April. By then the athletes are in good shape, have trained on their events for two months, and are ready to do well at our home track. Plus it is our Senior recognition day and that makes it special," said coach Knapp. Rolla has an outstanding facility for Track & Field. It is a good track surface; we have new stands; and our equipment is good, so having home meets and using our facility is great for our teams. Plus the community support being at home is always good. The kids love to run on their home track. Late season, we tried to peak for the Conference and District meets. The boys won District in 2015 and almost won again in 2016. They only missed winning by 6 points. They had a great meet both years. The girls team won District last year in 2016; then they won the state semi-final Sectionals meet; and finished the season by placing 6th overall at the Missouri State Track Championships. That was a great season for the Lady Bulldog Track team. So the late season meets are always on our radar."
As far as expectations, Knapp keeps things simple. He just wants to see his athletes continue to put in the work to improve and do their best.
"To do their best each day at practice and at meets. Success does not happen because we want it, it happens because we earn it. It takes time to get to top levels, and lots of effort and training. The successes of our previous athletes shows this year's team they can be successful too. Our past outstanding athletes did the workouts and training too, and we tell our team 'Look how well they did and where they are now'. We use things like that to motivate and show the kids what is possible. Then it is up to them to use their ability and effort to get as far as they can. Each person is individual in their ability and we adjust the training schemes to fit their talent level. They put in the effort; and then hopefully they get the results," said coach Knapp. "We ask the kids to set personal goals, both short term and long term ones; and we ask them to set realistic team goals for the season. Then we remind them of those goals throughout the season. Doing their best, going beyond what they have done previously, and giving great effort are what we expect. Helping the team and going the extra distance is always important too.
Knapp continued, "We emphasize relays at every meet. It might be one event, one relay, but that one relay involves 4 runners. So that helps with team success. We have several meets that are mostly or completely relay oriented - even the field events are relays. Each performance adds to the event & team total. We like that; and it motivates the athletes to do their best and help their team too. Of course it is always nice to see kids set personal records, but setting a school record for RHS is exciting too. So our main emphasis for each athlete is great effort, doing their best, and contribution to the team. We are always trying to win the conference and the district meets, in addition to our regular season meets. Many of our conference schools are in our District. We compete in class 4 at the state meet level."