Manhattan High had three individual titles at state track last season.
The two athletes that earned them, Mari Jo Massanet and Logan Mahan, are gone, leaving head coach Jesse Woodard with the challenge of continuing to build his team and cultivate athletes who have the chance to place in event at the state level. Last year’s boys’ and girls’ squads each took fourth at state and won regional titles.
Woodard, in his second year as head coach, knows repeating that success won’t be easy.
“Obviously it’s going to be hard to replace Mari Jo Massanet and Logan Mahan and even Terrale Johnson, who all got big points for us last year,” Woodard said. “But Alaina Schroeder, she’ll be up there getting us points every week, she’s very good. Chris Melgares has been running really well and we’re looking for him to get us points in the mile and two mile.”
Woodard named plenty of other Indians as well who have the chance to make some noise this season.
Among distance runners, Woodard returns Schroeder and Melgares, but also James Leblow, Michael Melgares, Isaiah Koppes, Evan Williams, Emilie Liebe and Emily Van Natta, among several newcomers.
“James Leblow is a senior who will be good in the mile and two mile,” Woodard said. “Then there’s young kids like Michael Melgares and Isaiah Koppes. Emilie Liebe’s back in the 800, which is a good event for her.”
Among sprinters, Woodard will see some new faces take the reins, including ReJoyce Bryant and Chris Martin. Woodard also has seen good things from transfer Christian Mack, who finished just behind 5A sprint champion Joseph Reagan of Seaman.
“We’ve got some younger kids and we had a couple new kids move in on the guys’ side for sprinting,” Woodard said. “Christian Mack, he ran right behind the Seaman kid - they were in different heats - but the Seaman kid ran an 11:06 and Christian ran an 11:09, so that’s a good start. And his hip flexor has been bothering him too, so that’s a really good start. I’m looking for him to do some big things for us.”
In the jumping events, Woodard sees Jacob Harden, Sam Livsey and sophomore Mattie Mahan as athletes capable of contributing points.
“For jumpers, Jacob Harden is probably our most experienced,” he said. “He was probably going to be around a 42-foot triple jumper for us last year until he hurt his hip and basically missed the rest of the season. So he’s back and hopefully he can stay healthy.”
Seemingly a strength for the Indians will be the throwing events. Manhattan returns a host of solid contributors from last year, including Stephanie Shanower, Jacob Holloway, Kaylee Kipp, Kylie James and Brandon Nowlin.
“Stephanie throws the shot and discus, but her main event is the discus,” Woodard said. “She had a bad day at regionals last year and didn’t qualify, but she’s already hit 130 in the discus this year, so that’s good.
“Jacob Holloway in the javelin, he’s set some goals for himself and I think he can be a factor when it comes down to state, but definitely for league and regionals.”
Woodard said he a large number of athletes out for track, giving him a large pool of athletes to choose from.
“I’ve got about 160, 170 kids out for track, which the last two years we’ve been right around the 150-plus range,” he said. “It usually dwindles down, but for the JV meet we had on Wednesday, I got everybody out to either help or compete, and I left around 10 names off the list and still released 150 on the dot. We’ve got tons of kids out, which is good.
“Not everybody is going to be right out of the gate winning gold medals, but I’ve had several kids start in the JV ranks and work their way up to being a varsity contributor for us.”
While the team still lacks the star power it had at the state level last year, the team’s goal remain the same. Winning a Centennial League title is the top priority.
“Our first goal is to get better when we get to league and keep those league trophies coming back to Manhattan,” he said. “Seaman’s going to be tough, and Emporia’s got some good kids, Topeka High always has lots of sprinters, Junction City has lots of athletes. Our first goal is the league title, then go from there for regionals and state.”