Double-digit participants a possibility for MHS girls

Bobcats coach Chad Pietig admits last year was far from ordinary.

Taking advantage of an unseasonably warm spring, the Marshalltown girls’ track team hit the ground running en route to qualifying 11 events for the state meet.

A quick look through the MHS record books and it’s clear Pietig was referring only to the weather – not his team’s success – in standing out from the usual.

“Compare this to last year and we’re behind in our training, but the weather was so nice,” said Pietig, whose squad – per usual – spent much of its early season training inside the Roundhouse due to the snow, cold temps and soggy conditions.

“Last year was an anomaly and not the norm.”

One thing that has been the norm at MHS – sending a large contingent to the Blue Oval.

Last season marked the third straight year the Bobcats qualified a double-digit number of entrants, while the program has averaged over eight since 2005 according to Pietig.

Despite losing several key cogs from the 2012 unit, MHS has another talented roster in tow with a combination of seasoned veterans and promising underclassmen.

“We have a lot of state experience coming back in our junior and senior class,” said Pietig, whose squad welcomes 28 newcomers. “The upperclassmen have done a great job of pulling (the newcomers) along and taking them under their wings. I’ll watch a workout and those new kids are running stride for stride with our upperclassmen.”

Senior Eisha Oden, who placed 11th in the 400 at Drake last May, is one of several setting the example.

“Eisha is so versatile – she can long jump, high jump and run anything from 100 to 400,” Pietig said of the multi-sport athlete, who also competed in the sprint medley, 4×400 and 4×200 last year in Des Moines. “She is about as fierce of a competitor as you can have and yet still one of the nicest girls and best leaders you could ask for.”

Chione Brooks (sprint medley, 4×200) and Saryn Case (4×400) also bring back state relay experience, while Mykal Wildman, who missed much of the previous season with mono, is off to a quick start this year. Jasmine Scott has shown promise in the long jump, while Tabby Steffensen and Cassidy Blackford are two newcomers that Pietig has high hopes for.

Sophomore Rachel Blagg anchors a solid mid-distance crew that also returns three-fourths of last year’s 4×800 quartet in Michaela Huey, Wynn Tan and Kari Smith.

Blagg, who was amongst the state leaders in the 800 and 1,500 throughout the year, missed the cut for state while battling some tough circumstances late in the season.

“Rachel was running off the charts last year,” Pietig said of the cross country standout. “Her grandmother passed away at the end of last season and I think it was hard for her to focus and deal with all that. She ended up not qualifying, but she certainly had the ability to be there. She is a top-notch runner to lead our distance group.”

Pietig points to the throwing events as one of the most competitive groups on the squad with up to four girls vying for the two varsity spots in both shot and discus.

“They would leapfrog each other all year long last season and so they all got some varsity experience,” Pietig said. “That’s what you want to see. That’s what makes everyone better.”

That same mindset will be in play for the Bobcats, which open the outdoor season Tuesday in Waukee against a loaded field that features five of the top six teams at the 2012 state meet.

Along with the host Warriors – the reigning state champs – the meet also includes Dowling, Urbandale and Valley, which took the next three spots, while Des Moines Roosevelt was sixth.

It’s nothing new for the Bobcats, who are used to battling the heavyweights in an always- competitive conference.

“It’s the usual suspects,” said Pietig, whose squad moves from the CIML Iowa Conference to the reconfigured Central Iowa Conference. “They all have numbers and strong tradition, but that only makes us better. We may never win those big meets, but we can certainly win events and push ourselves to be the best we can.”

It’s the exact recipe Marshalltown is looking for in hopes of punching its ticket in as many events as possible for the Drake Relays before prepping for the state meet.

“That’s why I like those meets,” Pietig said. “We go to those to run with the best because they’re going to push us and make us better.”

Holed up indoors for the majority of the season so far, the Bobcats are excited for outdoor competition of any kind.

“Our kids are tired of practicing,” Pietig said. “They’re ready to race, they’re ready to jump and throw.”