Rangers look to fill big shoes
Paul Kendrick is realistic. As the head coach of the Forest Lake boys track squad which racked up individual state titles and earned second at state as at team last season, he knows he has more than a few spots to fill with the graduation of six state-placers.
“Those guys are hard to replace,” Kendrick said. “I would say this year we have some returning individuals who are strong.”
Two of those include 2013 state participants Pat Murphy and Preston Huddleston. Murphy, a senior, was part of the 4×100-meter relay that captured the state title last year. His classmate qualified for state in the long jump. Huddleston just missed the finals with a preliminary effort of 20-9 1/4.
Kendrick hopes to see Huddleston run sprints as well this season, and to have Murphy excel in the triple jump.
Sophomore Payton Zeidler returns as a 6-3 high jumper, much to his head coach’s delight.
“As a freshman last year, that’s phenomenal, so the sky’s the limit for him,” Kendrick said.
Senior Paul Litecky will earn points in the mid- to long-distance runs for the Rangers. Also in the distance group are several cross-country veterans: juniors Leo Hipp, Quinn Duffy and Chris Delgado, and sophomore Tommy Babcock. Junior Mitch Clayton is another distance runner in the mix.
“They’re hard workers who should improve — that’s another nice, young core,” Kendrick said.
For throwers, Gunner Ewert, Pat Castle and Chris Dodan should excel under the instruction of 1992 Olympian Ron Backes.
Kendrick said he is most excited for some of the up and coming athletes across all events.
“We have some holes to fill, but I really like a lot of the younger guys on the team this year,” he said. “I see some real potential and some real nice, athletic frames that just need experience in training. I’m excited about that.”
Some of those include sophomores Sam Nielson, Drayton Bagan and Tanner Egelkraut in the hurdles. Junior Gavin Morse also returns to the event after injury last season.
Other young athletes to keep an eye on are sophomore Cole Barcroft in the sprints and high jump, junior Ahmad Montgomery in the sprints and sophomore Alex Jakomino in the sprints and pole vault.
Following a two-year leave from pole vault, senior Derek Geisner returns to the team as a vaulter and potentially a long jumper. Junior newcomers Chip Block and Justin Waterman show promise as well as a senior newcomer, Jared Bowers, in sprints and jumps.
Kendrick said potential may turn to production near the end of the season after more experience is gained in events across the board.
“We’ve got some guys with potential to be competitive,” Kendrick said. “Hopefully we can fill some big shoes and field a competitive team. Honestly, at this stage, I never focus on winning. I focus on the process and it seems to take care of itself.”