HARTINGTON — The Hartington-Newcastle track program came into the spring with a lot of optimism on both the boys and girls sides and now the flame has been quashed quite a bit as they wait to see if they will get back to competing again.
Boys track coach Blair Kalin has seen the Wildcats become a regular state contender, but the coronavirus may be his team’s toughest opponent to date.
“It’s a waiting game,” Kalin said. “It’s got everyone kind of wondering what’s going to happen. We are encouraging the kids to work out on their own. It doesn’t look good for the rest of the spring, especially when you have colleges closing down their seasons. I have never seen anything like this before.”
Kalin said he is very disappointed for the student athletes.
“We’ve had some good track seasons over the years, and we had seniors with their last shot. I truly understand that people are making the right decision to keep people as safe as possible,” he said.
Long-time girls coach Laura Noecker has had track as a part of her life for 40-plus years and this moment in time has her take a long look at things and think about the idea of losing a season.
“I have never not been on a track team or never coached one,” Noecker said. “It is just bizarre to think we would have a blank page in the yearbook. What are we going to do, take selfies of ourselves?
“We have some young athletes that were really excited about getting on the track. It’s just disappointing for those kids.”
Senior thrower Matthew Meisenheimer was disappointed in having his season put on hold, but he sees the big picture.
“It’s unfortunate to say the least,” Meisenheimer said. “It’s a great disappointment. It’s unnatural and for me personally, it was a disruption of my routine being cooped up and not being able to go outside.”
Noecker found some positive spin for if the season were to be closed down permanently for the wellbeing of others.
“It would be a perfect season: No wins, no losses, right?” she said. “These are common sense kids who aren’t partying on the beach right now in Florida. These kids are from rock-solid, common sense families that will be OK with us not having a season because of safety and the nature of the beast.”
IF the season restarts…
A state team that won the Mid States Conference, the Hartington/Newcastle boys and Kalin are armed and ready for more this spring.
They will have to move forward without Lincoln Phillips, who finished as state champ in the 100 and long jump, but the Wildcats are looking equipped to do so following a third-place finish at the Class D state finals last season.
They return Kobe Heitman, Zach Burcham, Meisenheimer and Jake Peitz who help in short and long distance running and field events.
“We have a solid sprint and jump group that would be our strength,” Kalin said. “Meisenheimer in throws is a strength.
“Our weakness would be our experience since we have a very young squad this year. We may struggle early this season, but I look for us to improve as the season progresses.”
The Wildcats should see tough conference and district competition from Allen and Osmond according to Kalin, but with a two-time state title program in recent years at his direction, Hartington/Newcastle should be in the mix again.
“Our track program has been very consistent over the years, with several meet wins as well as conference and district titles,” Kalin said.
Noecker is in her 29th season leading the Lady Wildcats and they come off a 26th place state finish in Class D a year ago.
“Last year’s season was absolutely riddled by illness and/or injury,” Noecker said. “I have not seen this type of season for our girls for at least 30 years. It was beyond frustrating to watch athletes who wanted to complete and had a solid chance to score simply not be able to meet their own set goals and team expectations.”
That would be no stretch for a program that won the state title only a year earlier and Noecker says she did not enjoy fielding an “average” team a spring ago.
“Average in not a word to explain how our Wildcat track team has performed in the past 20 years,” she said. “It looks as if we are back to building the program again. I have a lot of young girls out this year and to say that they have a lot of energy is an understatement.
“I hope and pray this virus does not hinder the energy with which we started our first week of practice.”
Three girls did go to state last year and they return, including Abbe Morten, who competed in the pole vault.
“We have a solid group of upperclassmen that really do a good job of leading this team in work ethic and accountability,” Noecker said. “Our Juniors, Keeley Weipen, Makenna Clarkson and Keanna Korth, are a solid threesome and I simply love their commitment and work ethic.”
The Lady Wildcats also have seniors Aspen Jansen (shot put) and Autumn Lammers (sprints and jumps) to help lead the charge.
“I anticipate them to be some of our top scorers,” Noecker said.