DANVILLE — Stability in an athletic program starts at the top. Second-year coach Hillary Hess was charged with leading the Danville track & field program before the 2018-19 season. One of the first tasks on her list was bringing in bodies.
“Last year, I think (grades) seven through 12, we only had less than 30 kids and this year we were up to almost 60,” Hess said. “So, we were excited about growing the program.”
What’s the key to growing a program?
“Last year, we had a really good season (and) we had a lot of fun,” Hess said. “The key is that the kids that ran last year, we talked to them. ‘Get your friends involved. Tell them to give it a try.’ Because they had joined the team, we had them recruit.”
This year’s varsity program features 26 athletes split between 14 boys and 12 girls, so going up against Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference programs like Fredericktown, Highland and Mount Gilead whose numbers are closer to 100. The Blue Devils managed a seventh-place finish in both boys and girls last season.
Juniors Haley Furay and Rachel Wilson and sophomores Alenah Boeshart and Brooklyn Hess qualified for regional in Division III last year in the 4×200-meter relay. Boeshart also qualified in the 100-meter dash.
“We were excited to see what they were going to do this year,” Hess said. “Every year, you get a little stronger and a little faster with a little more experience.”
Hillary Hess thought senior Skyler Kerr had a chance to reach regional this year. Kerr, a sprinter, hurdler and long jumper last season, used his farm to train for the season.
“I’d take the jogs through the woods and we have a flat stretch of road and I’d just sprint that,” he said. “I had hurdles set up in the woods so I could practice. I’d also run on the road for long distances.”
But the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was upset,” Kerr said. “Track’s been a part of me since seventh grade. I’ve always enjoyed it. I’ve met many of my friends in track — even from other schools.”
“I was pretty upset,” senior Brianna Thomas said. “I understand why it had to happen, but it really sucked. I was definitely preparing for my senior year. I felt really good about it because I trained really hard.”
Thomas has been a sprinter for most of her career. But she was looking forward to branching out in the long jump this season.
“I never did any field events,” she said. “I mostly just did running events. So, I wanted to try something different and see how that went.”
Danville is flush with sprinters on both the girls and boys teams. Along with Furay, Wilson, Boeshart, Brooklyn Hess and Thomas; junior Samantha Addair and sophomore Leahandria Hood also returned.
Seniors Vivian Hawk and Addy Lucas and freshmen Jaylyn Workman and Briana Ewalt were newcomers that would have sprinted as well.
Along with Kerr, juniors Aiden Bell and Thor Pitsenberger and sophomore Anthony Odu were sprinters who were back from last year’s boys team.
The Devils also got back seniors Langdon Johnson and Alex Holt, who returned to the program after a year off.
“(Johnson) is an awesome sprinter,” Hess said. “So, I was so excited to see what he was going to be able to do as a senior. He was a great football player for Danville and just a great athlete.”
Junior Hunter Durbin and freshmen Jackson Loyd, Mason Huffman, Ryan Lucas, Peyton Horn and Max Payne were sprinters new to the boys program.
Danville does not have a cross country program, which is something Hillary Hess hopes will change.
“They started a cross country program when I was in high school and it ran for few years,” she said. “The school will fund it if we had someone that wanted to (coach) and enough kids that wanted to participate. I really think we would. It’s just getting somebody to do it.”
For now, it means the distance program is low on numbers. Pitsenberger and Durbin would have middle distance runners this year and Huffman would have run distance.
Senior Xander Adams and sophomore Logan Blessing were first-year athletes that would have run distance.
Senior newcomer Katie Severns was the only girl that would have run distance this season.
“We’re never going to be Fredericktown in distance unless we change what we’re doing with a cross country program,” Coach Hess said. “We have triple to quadruple the amount of kids interested in the junior high program. If we can get them excited about it and keep them in (distance), then I think you’ll see (our numbers increase) in the future.”
The girls team was stacked with throwers with Hawk, Severns, Lucas, Addair and Workman and Brooklyn Hess, Wilson, Thomas and Ewalt were all jumpers.
Odu and Payne would have thrown on the boys team and Holt, Bell and Johnson were jumpers.
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