MOUNT VERNON — Kathy Thayer loves coaching the Mount Vernon track & field team. She sees it as a sport that brings people together. And with 107 athletes, including 58 newcomers, under her purview, there was a lot of coming together with the Yellow Jackets.
“It’s a sport that allows everyone to be involved,” Thayer said. “I always tell the kids that this sport is not one where I have to cut people. That’s what I enjoy most about coaching this sport. You can just come out and be a part of the team for social aspects and that’s completely OK. You’re there to stay in shape. You’re there to create a healthy lifestyle for yourself and that’s a long-term benefit of being on the track team.
“Then there’s the other part of the team that’s competitive. They want to work toward a state-level competition and they want to have a future in track & field post-high school. It’s a sport that’s open to all athletes and all people that want to get involved.”
The athletes were just starting to come together in March, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The season was postponed and ultimately canceled.
Thayer doesn’t think missing out on the season will hurt the competitive athletes.
“They are the kids that are going to continue to work out no matter what,” Thayer said. “Obviously, it helps when you have a competitive season because you see a short-term goal.”
The lack of competition pushing those athletes may hurt, though.
“It’s difficult when you don’t have people to push you,” Thayer said. “It’s difficult when you don’t have a short-term cycle to help you achieve those goals. It’s just hard when you don’t have a coach to help you to push you or someone to run with to help you.”
The boys team finished third in the Ohio Cardinal Conference and seventh in the state in Division I last year, led by Sam Bethea, who won the title in the 110-meter hurdles. He was first state champion for the Yellow Jackets since 1999 when Brett Coffing won in discus.
The boys team also lost Noah Stephens and Eric Wagner, who qualified for regional in the 4×400-meter relay along with returners Alex Mullins (senior) and Erich Rhodeback (junior). The Jackets finished fifth at regional last season behind champion Pickerington Central.
The girls team, which finished fifth in the OCC, had to replace regional qualifier Delaney Short, who qualified for regional in the pole vault last season.
Senior Cory Berg, a Nebraska-signee, is fresh off of winning the state indoor championship in the high jump. Berg also finished third in the 400-meter, a nice tune-up for the new outdoor season.
At the state meet last year, Berg finished second in the 300-meter hurdles and tied for 14th in the high jump.
“He was on track to win state this year (in the 300-meter hurdles),” Thayer said. “(His) jump of 6-9 (at the indoor championship) would have set him up well for the outdoor season. Even when he finished third in the state in indoor, his time (48.96) was only a sixteenth of a second away from his (personal record) outdoor last season. So, he would have dropped that time significantly and that would have impacted his 300-hurdle time as well. He was set up in a lot of events to do well.”
“I definitely was set on winning the hurdles,” Berg said. “I wanted to go to the New Balance national and have a good showing there.”
Berg said it was too early in the season to figure out which events he was going to compete in. He wanted to return to state in the high jump, but the event takes place too close to the 200-meter, where he also wanted to compete. The season was canceled before he had to chance to figure it out.
“There’s nothing we can do about it, so I just kind of sit back and let whatever happens happen and don’t think too much about it,” Berg said. “I don’t let it bug me too much. Just make the most out of every day, I guess.”
Conversely, senior Mia Tracey, a sprinter, was looking forward to one last season of competitive athletics before moving on to the Columbus School of Art & Design in the fall.
“I was just really, really upset because we had our last track meet without us even knowing about it,” Tracey said. “It was just really heartbreaking because we thought we had so much more time to improve. Handing off that last relay or finishing for the last time … that kind of closure was just taken away.”
Tracey worked on her endurance in the offseason.
“I started pacing myself,” she said. “I started running a mile a day and tried to shorten the time down. That’s a lot for a sprinter, but I decided I need to (improve) my endurance. It’s all about speed, yeah, but endurance is a big thing too.”
Tracey returned from last year’s squad along with fellow seniors Abby Adu, Megan Curry, Harper Ernst and Bettie Waggoner and sophomores McKenna Brokaw and Alexis Strong.
Freshmen Ella Conway and Sarah Phillips were newcomers that would have competed in sprint. Senior Hayden Lingel and junior Abba Heironimus returned as hurdlers.
On the boys side, Rhodeback and Mullins returned, along with senior Dylan Snyder; juniors Damion Blubaugh and Alex Cook and sophomore Dylan Dowell. Senior Wyatt Kirby was a newcomer that would have sprinted.
Sophomores Logan Taylor and Mitchell Taylor and freshman AJ Fonner would have competed in hurdles.
Senior Duncan Hardy and junior Jordan Treber were returning distance runners, joined by newcomers in sophomore Logan Kirby and freshman Matthew Salvucci.
Seniors Luci Quinn and Madi Stradley and sophomores Joy Neighbarger and Olivia Reddy were returners on the girls team with freshman Sophia Zoldak joining the fold.
Curry, Ernst, Heironimus, Lingel and Tracey would have jumped for the girls team.
Seniors Grace Allen and Kacie Pappas and junior Stella Bainbridge returned as throwers along with Stradley.
Mullins, junior Sam Phillips and Logan Moore returned as jumpers on the boys team along with freshmen Cody Allen, Toby Boggs and Jack Craigo.
Junior Alan Kramer, sophomores John Mazza and Nate Stradley highlighted the boys’ throwers.
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