Manhattan High head track and field coach Jesse Woodard is a busy man these days.
He has more than 175 kids out for track and has been confined to indoor practices much of the spring season thus far, limiting how much his team can actually work on as it embarks on its season, which opens today in Topeka at 3:30 p.m.
“It’s tough, because you don’t know what to expect,” Woodard said. “We spend a lot of time stretching right now, working on flexibility and talking fundamentals. I think the distance will have a little more advantage. They’re used to running on a lot of different surfaces.”
A season ago, Manhattan got some of its most consistent scoring from its distance runners, and the same could be true of this season, with several members of the state-champion boys’ cross country team leading the way.
While the team lost a strong senior class, there are plenty of state qualifiers returning to the team this season.
Jacob Harden and Sam Livsey both competed in the triple jump at state, with Chris Melgares and Michael Melgares both running in the distance races. Tre Daniels also broke through in the 100m dash and Brandon Nowlin made it to state in the discus.
For the girls, Stephanie Shanower returns after making it to state in the shot put and the discus, with Matty Mahan qualifying in the high jump and Alaina Schroeder and Megan Ochoa both running in the distance races.
Those returners, paired with talented underclassmen should give the Indians a strong base to build off of this season.
“We’ve got strong teams all around,” Woodard said. “As far as team goals, we have the same goals every year. We want to win league, we want to win regionals and try to get on the podium. Top three at state is always the goal.”
The Indians carry six straight wins for the boys’ team at the Centennial League meet, while the girls’ team has won four straight.
“That’s our first goal,” Woodard said. “To win the league.”
Woodard said the goal for the first two meets, as well as the JV home meet next week, is to see where each piece will fit best and set a baseline mark to improve upon throughout the year.
“Tomorrow, we’re not looking for any stellar times,” he said. “Next week we go to Washburn Rural and can take unlimited entries, then we get into the Topeka Relays. That’ll be our first big test. There will be team scores and we’ll see some good teams like Leavenworth.
“Today, we’re looking to just get a mark and have something to build off of throughout the year. We don’t want our best mark in the first meet of the year.”