Depth expected to deliver for MHS girls track

The Bobcat girls’ track team may not boast the same star power they’ve had in seasons past. At least, not yet.

But given a little time, Chad Pietig is confident several will emerge from one of the deepest teams in his eight-year tenure.

“We’re probably in one of the better situations we’ve had in recent years,” Pietig said. “We’ve got about 55 girls out and more depth than we’ve had. We’ve graduated some big names over the last couple years and lot of our juniors and seniors have been role players to those big names. We’re looking at a couple to step up and become the new big names.”

Three-time state qualifier Chione Brooks is one of those contributors ready to emerge and leads a talented sprint crew that features roughly a dozen athletes vying for a varsity spot.

Juniors Jasmine Scott, Cassidy Blackford and Karli McClure along with sophomore Tabby Steffensen all bring back experience from racing on the Blue Oval. Scott and Steffensen contributed on the state 4×200 and 4×400 relays a year ago, while Brooks led off the 4×200.

Helping to offset the loss of Eisha Oden, seniors Emily Murtha and Leah Barkema add to the Bobcats’ depth in the sprints and propel a talented supporting cast that gives MHS multiple options to fill out their lineup. That fierce competition within the sprint group is a common trend on this year’s team, as Pietig believes many of the events will have several athletes capable of snagging a varsity slot.

“With the number of kids we have, there’s a lot of competition going on in practice right now,” Pietig said. “We haven’t had that in years past, kids have been a bit comfortable because there wasn’t anyone there to take their spot.”

Rachel Blagg is the cornerstone of the middle distance contingent as the junior ran on the Bobcats’ 4×800 and 4×400 relays at state last May while also competing in the open 800. Seniors Michaela Huey and Victoria Jones bolster the experience on the distance crew as each ran on the 4×800 with Blagg.

“(Rachel) is our anchor in that middle distance area with the 800 and she also has a lot of ability in the 400,” Pietig said. “Michaela and Victoria bring a lot of experience to the distance group.”

While the graduation of state qualifier Maddison Wignall left an opening in the throwing events, juniors Sam Hughes and Maggie Carnahan proved they’re ready to fill in after strong finishes last season.

“Sam and Maggie really started to come around at the end of last year,” Pietig said. “Sam was pretty close to making it to state in only a few weeks of training in the shot put. We’re really excited to see what those two can do in the throwing events this year.”

Though their first outdoor meet was postponed last week, the Bobcats are already a step ahead of last year’s squad after winter conditions extended through much of early season last spring, limiting Marshalltown’s opportunities to practice outside.

The Bobcats have some areas to shore up in the jumping and hurdle events where they lack the numbers and experience prevalent through the rest of their lineup.

“There’s going to be a long process of bringing kids around – we’re still working and trying kids out,” Pietig said.

“The tough thing is our best athletes are so valuable on the track, you almost hate to take them away from that to try and give them experience in the jumping events. We’ve always struggled a bit in hurdling because we don’t have good numbers there. … The jumping events and hurdles are the two things we need to improve on the most to be a completely balanced team.”

The championship portion of the season – conference, districts and state – remains Marshalltown’s main focus and it will have plenty of opportunities to build up experience starting with three meets this week. The Bobcats open the outdoor season today at Waukee before traveling to Boone Thursday and Cedar Rapids Jefferson Saturday.

While balance and depth are the strongest factors fueling this year’s team so far, Pietig believes a few standouts will emerge along the away to carry the Bobcats to even greater heights in May.

“We’ve got probably one of the most balanced teams we’ve had in my eight years,” Pietig said.

“We have a few superstars that just don’t know they’re superstars yet. I think when they figure that out they’re going to be pretty special. They’ll figure it out soon and I think we’ll have some pretty good things happen for us by the end of the track season.”