Almost exactly a year ago, high school track and field was among the many activities that came to a crashing halt when the Chinese virus, also known as the coronavirus and COVID-19, invaded the United States and swept around the globe.
The entire outdoor track and field season at all levels--from middle school to the Olympics--was lost. But on Monday, March 1, about 60 Chadron High boys and girls began working out to get ready for the 2021 season that opens this month.
The roster is about evenly divided between boys and girls.
The 2020 season was expected to be a great one for the Chadron High girls. The Lady Cardinals were coming off one of their best seasons in years and might have been even stronger last spring. The previous year, Coach Blakelee Hoffman’s girls won both the Best of the West and the Western Conference championships for the first time and scored 112 points to miss winning the title at the rugged Bayard B-C-D Meet by only two points.
Chadron’s hopes were high because all of the team’s mainstays with the exception of thrower True Thorne, who had graduated, were returning and a promising group of freshmen would have joined the team.
“We weren’t just looking forward to repeating as Western Conference champs, we were looking at the bigger picture,” Coach Hoffman said last April. “Now, we had a good shot at being district champs and we were looking to scoring lots of points and finishing in the top five at state.”
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Of course, nothing can be done about the lost season and everyone involved is happy that the 2021 season is on the horizon. Hopefully, the Cardinals can pick up where they left off and be a contender at each of the eight meets they are scheduled to enter this spring.
The season will open with the Chadron State Indoor Meet on Saturday, March 20. CSC Coach Riley Northrup said seven Panhandle teams have already entered.
The Chadron girls should be strong in the distances since all the members of the Cardinals’ cross country team that won five of its six regular season meets last fall, placed second at the Class C-5 District Meet and was fifth in Class C at the State Meet are on the track team’s roster.
They are Mackenzie Anderson, Makinley and Micaiah Fuller, Aliyah Mills, Grace Pyle and Leila Tewahade, In addition, two more capable runners who missed all or a part of the 2020 cross country season because of injuries, Aspen Graves and Emma Witte, have recovered and will compete this spring.
In addition, Emily Beye, who had the fastest time in the 100 meters among Northwest Nebraska sprinters in 2019, is preparing for her senior season. And, Tatum Bailey, who had a best of 5-foot-4 in the high jump, won the event at five meets and tied for fourth in Class B at the state meet as a freshman two years ago will be resuming her promising career.
Coach Hoffman is disappointed that more members of the football and boys’ basketball teams didn’t report for practice last week, but said she’d still welcome their presence. The roster does include Nathan Burch, Carter Ryan and Gavin Sloan, the Cards’ three state cross country meet qualifiers last fall.
In addition, Daniel Wellnitz and Michael Sorenson, who ran with Burch on the Cards’ competitive 4x800 relay team, are on the team again.
“Particularly with the weather being so nice last week and so far this week, I think everybody is happy to be outdoors and getting in shape,” Hoffman said. “We’re looking forward to the season.”
The Cards will have their Twilight Meet on April 23 and host the Western Conference Meet on May 1.
Hoffman, who is also the Cardinals’ head volleyball coach, has experienced the thrills that track and field can provide. She was a three-time Wyoming State Meet champion in the high hurdles and also won the gold medal in both the 300 hurdles and long jump for Torrington High School.
She has capable assistants. They include long-time helpers Clete Budler for the throwers and Eric Calkins for the middle distance runners, Maggie Gregory for the distance crew along with Hoffman’s husband, Willie, once a standout high jumper at Chadron State and later the Eagles’ top assistant coach several years. He’s working with the jumpers.