St. Xavier High School head track and field coach Oliver Mason, entering his 10th season with the Bombers, said his team is not the type of team that does well early in the season or in little meets.
But, when the stage gets bigger, and the pressure builds, that’s when the Bombers let loose.
St. Xavier’s a defending Division I state champion in two events – the 4×800 meter relay and 1,600 meter run. Both had Michael Vitucci in common. Vitucci, a senior signed with Cincinnati, was The Enquirer male track Athlete of the Year in 2014 and he was also the Division I cross country state champion this past fall. Vitucci’s 1,600 state title from last year set a new stadium record with a time of 4:07.96, and the 4×800 team set a new OHSAA state record in a time of 7:36.33. Senior Brad Eagan’s another member returning from the 4×800.
Keep a lookout for senior Connor Stelljes, who was a regional qualifier last season in shot put and discus. Also, senior sprinters Rashon Edwards and Ronnie Fricke. Mason said Fricke pulled a hamstring at the end of last season, cutting his postseason short, and if he can stay healthy, he could be there at season’s end.
“We’re gonna be a late-blooming type team,” Mason explained. “The distance and middle distance crew is gonna be good again. I’m excited about some of our sprint relays, too. This should be as good a season as we had last year from our standpoint.”
There’s a process that takes place every year at Winton Woods. It builds over the course of the season and usually culminates at the state meet.
“It’s gonna be a process, we don’t have much of an indoor season so we use the regular season to progress,” said Winton Woods coach Ron Wright, now in his 16th season. “We have to be careful though, we fizzled out at state last year with injuries and such.”
The Warriors return some nice talent with experience at state headlined by senior twins Christian and Chaz Lumpkin, both of whom are signed to play football at Grand Valley State next season. The Lumpkins were on the 4×100 and 4×200 relay teams that qualified to state last season; the 4×200 placed eighth in Division I. Christian also placed ninth in the 100 meter dash with a time of 10.99. Chaz just missed qualifying to state in the 200.
“Very rarely do I have kids for four years (on the track team) and I’ve had the Lumpkins for four years so hopefully we can send them out on top,” Wright said.
Another member of the 4×200 relay returns in junior Lionell McConnell. Also, look for newcomers junior Kenny Maybrey and freshman Trevon Poole. Wright said Maybrey, who also wrestles and plays football, can sprint, long jump and run relays. Poole’s another football player who will throw discus and shot put. Wright said that he has high hopes for Poole.
Senior Tosh Ferguson also returns after a back injury kept him out all of last season. The Warriors are excited to see what he can do in his comeback.
The departures of athletes like Michael Thomas and Cinque Williams have left some holes to fill for the defending SWOC champion Mount Healthy Owls.
However, head coach Ken Meibers believes he has the athletes to fill those open positions and be one of the best Division I teams in the area.
“We lost four athletes that earned scholarships; that’s a lot in track,” the coach said. “We have to develop the talent we have, stay healthy and come up with the right person to fill the holes.”
Some of the athletes the Owls will count on this season include Dominique Smith, David Montgomery, Hjavier Pitts, Tyler Holley and Chaz Jones and KeAndre Smith.
Meibers expects Northwest and Talawanda to be the biggest competition inside the conference. The two schools finished second and third, respectively behind the Owls last season.
He also believes Lakota West, La Salle, Mason and Sycamore, the Braves and Knights will be major players in DI.
“Northwest could win the state in Division I if they line it up right,” Meibers said. “I like our team; we’re going to see what we can do against them.”
Last year they were young so expect bigger things from North College Hill this season.
The Trojans have 13 returning starters led by senior Christopher Banks, junior Jujuan Linzy and sophomores Meki Sams, Mirell Englemon and Sam Howard.
Seventh-year coach Nathaniel Snow said Banks is a hurdler specialist who was plagued by injury last year. As a sophomore, Banks missed qualifying for state in hurdles by one spot.
Linzy also battled injuries last season, but the year prior he was the opening leg on the relay that made it to state. Howard just missed regionals last season, but Snow said he’s worked hard in the offseason so he should be stronger. Englemon, who will run relays, is very quick and agile, per Snow.
Sams is working his way up to state, Snow said, adding that Sams runs 100/200 meters, also hurdles and is a proficient relay runner.
“We have an opportunity to do something special,” Snow said. “I like (this team’s) commitment; they’ve worked extremely hard. I appreciate that and the enthusiasm.”
Finneytown didn’t have its best season a year ago, but the Wildcats are always ready to run and throw.
With only six returning starters from last year, coach Doug Mink will need some new faces to step into bigger roles. Returning for Finneytown are seniors Stuart Burns, Chris Culbreath, Jacob Heinold, Joey Saunders and juniors Alex Goellner and Luke Brueggemeyer.
Saunders is the only returning regional qualifier. He was on the 4×200 relay that won at the district meet. Brueggemeyer’s a distance specialist along with Heinold. Burns and Culbreath will both score points in discus and shot put. Goellner’s a high jumper, distance and middle distance runner.
Mink said it will be a rebuilding year with so many new faces, and added that those new faces are also very eager to learn the sport.
The Roger Bacon boys track team did some growing up this year, said seventh-year coach Michael Braun, who added that it’s not a rebuilding year but more of a growing year. The Spartans graduated 11 seniors last year and with that a lot of talented athletes.
“I wouldn’t say this is a rebuilding year, but a lot of kids had to grow up this year,” Braun said.
This season, Braun said, he has just four seniors but they’re quality leaders. Senior Drew Stark returns after reaching regionals last year in the 4×200 relay. Senior Nick Shooner was a regional qualifier last season in 110 hurdles, and junior Jordan Williams was a regional high jumper after taking fourth place at districts, he placed 11th at regionals. Braun said that last year was Williams’ first year competing.
Also back are sophomores Sam Johnstone and Tony Luken. Braun said Johnstone is a distance guy who really flew under the radar last year so he could be a surprise this year, and Luken finished second overall in the Greater Catholic League Coed Central Division last season. Braun also likes what he’s seen from senior and first-year runner Slayton Brummett.
ATHLETES TO WATCH
St. Xavier senior Michael Vitucci: A state champion in cross country and defending two-time state track champion last season.
Winton Woods senior Christian Lumpkin: Placed in two events at the Division I state meet last year.
Mount Healthy’s David Montgomery: Was an all-SWOC performer last season in three events.
Winton Woods senior Chaz Lumpkin: Qualified to state in the 4×100 relay and qualified to regionals in 200 meters.
North College Hill sophomore Meki Sams: Look for him to be a state qualifier in possibly multiple events.
Roger Bacon senior Drew Stark: A regional qualifier last season in the 4×200 relay.
Finneytown senior Joey Saunders: A regional qualifier in the 4×200 relay last season.