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Pekin girls reload with 17 freshmen

By MICHAEL LEACH, Ledger sports editor | Mar 27, 2013
Courtesy of: Sigourney News Review Members of the Pekin girls’ track and field team are pictured, from left, front row: Jerrica Allman, Victoria Eckley, Maleaha Earnest, Monica Cooley, Maranda Baker; second row: Samantha Wright, Mallory Reed, Caylee Swearingen, Gabbi Earnest, Nikole Arendt, Devin Dailey, Taylor Lock, Amber Lankford, Allison Lankford, Haleigh Dage, Erica Johnson; third row: Mickey Reynolds, Payton Lock, Gwynne Wright, Cassidy Tolle, Sloan Reighard, Shelby Williams, Taiylor Morgan, Maggie Brown, Tessa Winn; back row: Tiana Slaney, Whitney Horras, Bridget Fritchen, Beth Atwood, Jessica Horras, Hanna Hager, Tayler Winn, Whitney Philips, Shae Oostra and Kaylee Garrels.

PACKWOOD — Don’t let their youth fool you.

While half of the 2013 Pekin girls’ track and field team is freshmen — 17 of 34, to be exact — there might not be a more balanced squad around. In addition to a solid group of returning state qualifiers, the Panthers welcome in one of the deepest rookie classes in years.

The high expectations begin with a stable of long distance runners, several of whom helped Pekin to a runner-up finish in the Class 1A state cross country meet this fall.

Junior Samantha Wright, a two-time multi-event state qualifier, is one of the distance crew’s top returnees alongside other 2012 state qualifiers Maleaha Earnest, a senior, and sophomore Whitney Horras. All three were on the 4x800 relay that placed ninth at last year’s state meet.

The rest of the distance crew is young yet talented.

Freshman Gwynne Wright burst onto the scene last fall as the cross country team’s No. 1 runner, placing fourth individually in the Class 1A state meet. Ninth-graders Sloan Reighard, Taylor Lock and Payton Lock were key members of the state runner-up team, as well, and will play an equally pivotal role on the track.

Freshmen Devin Dailey and Tayler Winn also figure to be important to the distance crew’s success in 2013, said head coach Sarah Wright.

“The distance and middle-distance crew has more depth and numbers than previous years,” Wright noted.

In the sprints, Wright expects her runners who have state meet experience — seniors Maranda Baker and Victoria Eckley, junior Jessica Horras and sophomore Mallory Reed — to lead the way. Other key returnees to the sprints include senior Jerrica Allman and juniors Mickey Reynolds, Tiana Slaney and Taiylor Morgan.

“Our sprinters will rely on some upperclassmen ... to help guide a group of freshmen who have potential to be key runners this season,” said Wright.

The head coach said some of the rookies with potential include Nikole Arendt, Allison Lankford, Amber Lankford, Cassidy Tole and Beth Atwood.

Reed and Morgan will be key pieces in the hurdling events along with senior Monica Cooley, sophomores Danielle Cooley and Caylee Swearingen and freshmen Tolle and Atwood.

The throwing events will also have some depth, and Baker is an important piece of the Panthers’ puzzle in both throws.

“Maranda has been a key thrower for the Panthers every year and has set her sights at qualifying and throwing at the state meet in both events,” said Wright.

Other returning throwers include juniors Jessica Horras and Slaney and sophomore Bridget Fritchen, and they will be challenged by freshmen Shelbie Williams, Shae Oostra, Tessa Winn and Kaylee Garrels.

Atwood and Taylor Lock are expected to contribute right away in the high jump. Rounding out the field events will be Eckley and freshmen Reighard, Arendt, Tolle and Gwynne Wright in the long jump.

The Panthers begin defense of their conference and district titles at Monday’s Dennis Anderson Relays at Davis County.

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