Boys’ track preview: Sherando’s Smith leads a talented group of returners
WINCHESTER — On Feb. 19, Sherando senior Chris Smith watched his boys’ basketball season end when the Warriors fell to Millbrook in the Region II, Division 4 quarterfinals.
Four days later, Smith was in Lynchburg, winning a Group AA state indoor high jump championship with a mark of 6 feet, 6 inches — one inch better than what he did to win the Group AA outdoor high jump championship in the spring, and equaling his personal-best.
Let’s just say the rest of the state might want to monitor Smith this spring.
“He had two-and-a-half days of practice, and then he goes out and jumps 6-6 and wins a state title,” Sherando coach Tom Grim said. “I joked with our high jump coach [James Minney] that [Minney’s] got his work cut out for him this spring.”
The biggest question with Smith now seems to be, “How high can he go?”
The talk after Smith won the outdoor title last year was that he needed to change his approach to the bar if he truly wanted to reach his potential, and he’s done that.
Smith used to start his run even with the right high jump standard, unlike most elite high jumpers, who start at least a couple of yards outside the standards to generate more speed. Smith is now starting farther outside, allowing him to approach the bar with more speed and momentum.
“I could see him going 6-10, possibly even 7 feet,” Grim said. “That would be awesome.”
Smith headlines a Sherando squad that should still be a district contender despite losing several talented athletes from a team that scored well in every postseason meet, including when it took second at the district meet.
With Handley and Millbrook — which brings back senior Justin Neff, who took second in Group AA in the discus last year — both appearing to be stronger than last year, the race for the district meet title could be an intense battle. Defending champion Skyline, which returns defending 3,200 state champion Thomas Madden as well as other top athletes, will also be in the mix.
In the Bull Run District, a Clarke County team led by senior Zach Campbell (third in Group A in the 1,600, seventh in the 3,200) will try to improve off of last year’s sixth-place finish in the Bull Run District meet.
Following is a glance at each area team:
Coach: Tom Grim, 14th year
Last year: 2nd in Northwestern District meet; 3rd in Region II meet, 11th at Group AA meet.
Key losses: Devon Newman, Travis Ritter, Joel McAuliffe, Ben Hatton.
Top returning athletes: Chris Smith, Sr., jumps/sprints; Seth Chewey, Sr., middle distance; Justin Hammer, Soph., distance; Ryan Hindle, Jr., distance; James Reese, Sr., distance; Brandon Litten, Jr., hurdles; Landon Ridge, Jr., sprints.
Newcomers: George Turner, Fr., sprints; Jerrell Harris, Jr., sprints; Adam Nordling, Sr., throws; Ben Avery, Fr., throws.
Outlook: Though Smith’s specialty is the high jump, Smith has shown in the past that he can do great things in other jumping events, and on the track.
“He runs so smooth, I think he could score in any event we put him in,” Grim said.
When Grim says that, he means the distance events as well, but the Warriors seem to be set up better than most there. Reese was second in the district in the 3,200 last year, Hindle was third in the 1,600, and Chewey and Newman were third and fifth, respectively, in the 800.
Grim likes the Warriors depth, and he thinks newcomers Turner and Harris will add a great deal to the team’s sprinting corps, and All-Region II football offensive lineman Nordling could be big in the throws.
“We think we’ve got some depth, and we definitely want to make a run at a district title,” Grim said.
Coach: Mike McKiernan, 2nd year
Last year: 3rd in Northwestern District meet; 9th in Region II meet.
Key losses: Derek Dowrey, Keith Harris, Jean Sergile, Chris Arslan.
Top returning athletes: Jim Thomson, Sr., distance; Justin Washington, Soph, sprints/jumps; Killian McPartland, Sr., hurdles; Jarett Cestaro, Soph. jumps/sprints; Dontae Mauck, Soph., jumps/sprints; Jordan Dowrey, Jr., throws; Solomon Finley, Jr., sprints/jumps; Kyrell Davis, Sr. sprints; Stuart Carper, Sr., sprints.
Newcomers: Darion Robinson, Sr., jumps; Aaron Aarslan, Fr., distance; Will Dearing, Soph., hurdles.
Outlook: McKiernan likes the depth of the Handley boys this year.
“I feel really good about our boys,” McKiernan said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do, and we should be able to compete in the district race.”
McKiernan feels the Judges’ depth is going to allow the team to put together some impressive 4x100 and 4x400 relays this year.
Two people who appear to at least figure prominently in the 4x100 are Washington and Mauck. They took fifth and sixth, respectively, in the district 100 last year, and Mauck is coming off an indoor season that saw him place fourth in Group AA in the 55. McKiernan said both went over 20-6 in the long jump during indoor, and they figure to excel in the triple jump too.
McKiernan is also looking forward to seeing how a couple of pickups from the basketball team adds to what the team already has in the high jump (Cestaro tied for fourth in the district, and McKiernan believes Robinson should help there and in the triple jump) and hurdles (McPartland was third in the 110 hurdles and fifth in the 300 hurdles, and McKiernan is looking forward to seeing how Dearing can help there).
Thomson — who placed second in the district in the 1,600 last year — was the area’s fastest in that event as a junior.
Coach: Matt Stegmaier, 8th year
Last year: 4th in Northwestern District meet.
Key losses: Joey Bynog, Aaron Clark, Anthony Ingle, John Simms, Cody Wright, Joe Davet.
Top returning athletes: Owen Bales, Jr., hurdles/jumps; Mark Bohler, Jr., distance; Sawyer Michelitch, Jr., jumps/sprints; Logan Shiffler, Jr., throws; Matt Vitagliano, Jr., jumps.
Newcomers: Danny Aldstadt, Sr., distance; Landon Rutherford, Jr., throws.
Outlook: Out of all the area teams, James Wood might have suffered the most losses in terms of elite performers, but Stegmaier believes he definitely has some up-and-coming talent.
And he also knows he has people that are dedicated to the team — James Wood made cuts this year to promote a competitive environment.
“Nothing for them is going to come easy,” Stegmaier said. “We want them to be in shape and ready to go. I think we’ve got a strong group of juniors that are going to keep us competitive.”
Among the returnees, Bales figures to provide the most consistent performance. He was second in the district in the 110 hurdles last year, and he opened this season by placing fourth in the 20-team Brian Watkins I-95 Invitational Saturday at Brooke Point High School.
And for the newcomers, Aldstadt should be a strong addition. A two-time state qualifier in cross country, Aldstadt is running track for the first time after previously playing soccer in the spring.
Coach: Kevin Shirk, 2nd year
Last year: 5th in Northwestern District meet.
Key loss: Brennan Piotter.
Top returning athletes: Justin Neff, Sr., throws; Logan Rodeffer, Sr., sprints; Tre White, Sr., sprints/jumps; Adrian DeNeal, Sr., sprints/jumps; Connor Faint, Jr., hurdles.
Newcomers: Tyler Cox-Philyaw, Fr., distance; Nick Helmut, Sr., sprints/middle distance.
Outlook: Based on how Millbrook opened the season Saturday, Shirk has good reason to think the Pioneers are capable of challenging for the top spot in the district. The Pioners got numerous strong performances to take fifth at the 20-team Brian Watkins, six spots ahead of defending district champ Skyline.
White had second-places in the long jump and triple jump, while DeNeal took fifth in the triple jump. Shirk believes Faint should be one of the best 300 hurdlers (third in the district last year) in the region this year, and he took third Saturday.
Neff will have his work cut out for him as far as winning a state championship — E.C. Glass’s Matthew Zajac is back after beating Neff by 16 feet last year — but he is another member of a strong senior class that includes Rodeffer (fourth in the district in the 100 last year) and Clarke County transfer Helmut, who tied for the area’s third-fastest time in the 200 last year and was third in the Bull Run 400 last year.
As far as the freshman class, Shirk couldn’t be happier from what he’s seeing from Cox-Philyaw, who placed 10th in Group AA in the 1,600 at the indoor state meet in 4:39.98, and on Saturday, took fourth in the 1,600 in 4:34.88 and sixth in the 800 in 2:05.40.
“He’s been amazing,” Shirk said. “He’s seems to be getting stronger every day, and we expect big things out of him.”
Coach: Andre Kidrick, 7th year
Last year: 6th in Bull Run District meet.
Key losses: Chance Ramey, Alex Sefton, Peter Levi, Nick Helmut.
Top returning athletes: Zach Campbell, Sr., distance; Chris Collins, Sr., hurdles; Luke Estep, Jr., throws; Peyton Shiley, Sr., throws; Matt Dietz, Jr., distance; Dane Duncan, Sr., distance; Jack Parker, Sr., all-around.
Newcomers: None mentioned.
Outlook: Clarke County lost some strong athletes, and the main thing that Kidrick is looking for is to see his team peak at the end.
“I don’t have any real expectation for the boys right now, but they could do well,” he said. “By the end of the year, they might surprise some people.”
With Campbell back, Clarke County definitely has someone to push the distance team, and Dietz (fifth in the district in the 800 last year) and Duncan could make that group one of the Eagles’ stronger ones.
The return of Collins for Clarke County will also be big. He was the area’s fastest in the 300 hurdles last year, and at the Bull Run meet he placed fourth in that event and sixth at the 110 hurdles.
After taking sixth in the district in the discus last year, Shiley will be expected to lead the throwers.
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1