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Star-studded senior class leading Fairfield girls' track

By MICHAEL LEACH, Ledger sports editor | Mar 26, 2013
Jessica Lamb, pictured, returns to lead the distance crew one final time.

Lately, seniors have been a commodity hard to come by in the Fairfield girls’ track and field program.

The team was without any a season ago, and the year before that it had just one fourth-year student. That drought is all set to change this year, however, as 11 familiar faces return for one final go-round.

With the senior class undoubtedly leading this year’s charge, long-time coach Ron Hunerdosse and his assistants welcome back a loaded squad. All eight of their state qualifiers from last season return, so it’s no surprise who will again supply the team its star power.

“We’re going to be leaning on Sydney Howard and Jessica Lamb quite a bit,” said Hunerdosse.

One of the most decorated runners in Fairfield’s history, Howard is back for an encore after easily winning both the Class 3A 100- and 200-meter dashes at the state track meet in Des Moines last May. Over Howard’s illustrious career, she has placed in both sprints every single year, and she has also added state medals in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays.

“It doesn’t really get any better than returning a double-state champion,” Hunerdosse said of Howard. “There are a lot of places to put her. She has a little more versatility than most power sprinters have because she’ll go run a 400 for us.”

Likewise, Hunerdosse could go on and on about what Lamb brings to the team. The mid- to long-distance runner has also become a fixture for Fairfield at the state meet, where she most recently finished seventh overall in the Class 3A open-800. And while the half-mile is her specialty, Hunerdosse said Lamb could realistically help the team in just about every non-field event.

“She can run anything from a 200 to a 3,000. She’s probably the most versatile runner we have … for someone who doesn’t go over an object,” said Hunerdosse.

Still, he said, a team is only as good as the sum of its parts. What the rest of the Trojans do or don’t do will greatly impact the kind of season Fairfield experiences.

“Most teams have a star. If you’re lucky you have two stars, but it’s the rest of the team that wins meets, wins conference championships and gets your relay teams to state. You know what the stars are going to do, but you have to have the rest of the team step up.

“I told them, ‘If you’re willing to put the sacrifice in to beat somebody, that’s going to help our team a lot. But if you’re going to be settling to finish behind that kid, that’s going to hurt us,’” he added.

Hunerdosse can count on several additional seniors to put the sacrifice in, starting with previous state qualifiers Sidney Baumann, Cierra Bielinski, Hannah Sobaski and Erin Thompson.

Bielinski and Thompson are two of the four pieces back from the state-qualifying 4x200 relay team, which placed eighth in Class 3A last spring. Howard and junior Marisa Repp were also on the medal-winning relay.

Everyone from the team’s state-qualifying 4x800 relay also returns for more, including seniors Lamb, Thompson, Sobaski and junior Sesali Martin. Together, the quartet placed 14th out of the top 24 teams in Class 3A last spring.

And in the field, Baumann will be looking to pick up where she left off last season in the discus. The senior thrower had a breakout season which was capped by a 13th-place finish at the state meet, and the Trojans hope for another big season out of the multi-sport athlete.

“I think we’ll need to score big with Baumann in the discus. We’ll need big points out of her just to keep pace with some teams,” Hunerdosse said.

Repp also made it to the state meet as an individual last spring, and all signs point to an even better season for the all-purpose junior. Repp qualified for state in the high jump and was on the state-qualifying 4x200 as a sophomore, yet she has shown comparable skill in the hurdling events. Repp just missed the state-qualifying mark in the 400-lows last season and often led the shuttle hurdle relay to the finish line.

Other seniors who didn’t qualify for the state meet last season but will play an important role on the 2013 squad are hurdlers Grace Smith and Danielle Garrison as well as long distance runners Sage Richmond, Brianna Redmann and Holly Bennett.

Hunerdosse also sees potential in several underclassmen, starting with returning sophomore sprinter Mackenzie McClure, who is one of the quickest 200-meter runners on the team, and sophomore hurdler Alexis Ring.

Rookies Taylor Ferrel and Abby Melcher already made a big splash on the cross country courses in the fall and figure to provide some much-needed depth in the middle distances. A third freshman harrier, Chloe Spalla, also saw some time at the varsity level in cross country and could help out in the lengthier races.

Freshmen Emma and Gabrielle Kuehl, Mackenzi Harwood and Brittany Hoskins could make an immediate impact in the shorter distances. Molly Ryan, another ninth-grade sprinter, will get a crack at the high jump behind Repp.

As for the long jump, Hunerdosse said it will be anyone’s for the taking.

“There are a few ideas for the long jump, but right now we’re just trying people there,” the head man said.

Meanwhile, the hurdling crew is deep yet inexperienced.

“Our hurdlers have to get better, but there won’t be any lack of effort there. Our kids will work hard, and [assistant coach] Andrew Hopper will work really hard with those hurdlers,” said Hunerdosse.

Like the hurdles, the throwing events could also take time to come together. Sophomore Madison Roberts is back occupying the No. 2 spot in the discus after getting valuable experience there as a rookie, and junior Brooke Stever has been penciled into the No. 1 spot in the shot put. Juniors Sara Adam and Erica Topping, sophomore Tateum Oropeza and freshman Sierra Vogt are all inexperienced but provide depth in the two events.

“We didn’t score much last year in the shot put, but it’s encouraging knowing the work they’ve put into it,” said Hunerdosse.

In the early going, the Trojans will lean heavily on the success of their distance runners as well as the sprint crew. Hunerdosse’s hope is for the Trojans to peak at the right time as they look to qualify more than the seven events they sent to state last spring.

Standing in the Trojans’ way is a deep Mount Pleasant squad that snapped Fairfield’s streak of three straight conference titles last year. The rival Panthers finished second at the regional meet and grabbed state titles in three separate events.

“I like our kids, but I’d say Mount Pleasant is the favorite to win our conference again. They have a great shot putter. They’ve got great hurdlers, high jumpers, long jumpers, and they’ve got good distance runners. They’re going to be tough to beat,” said Hunerdosse.

Win, lose or draw, Hunerdosse added the team has been a great one to teach so far.

“They’re a solid group of kids and they’ve been great to work with,” he said. “If you’ve got great kids to work with every year, you can feel blessed.”

Fairfield wrapped up the indoor season last week and, weather permitting, kicks off outdoor competition Thursday at the Mount Pleasant Co-Ed. The squad follows with the Fairfield Relays April 2.

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