The first step toward success for the Stow-Munroe Falls girls track and field team this season is to stay healthy.
So far, so good for the Lady Bulldogs.
During the off-season last year, Stow lost both Amanda Kimble and Jessie Stout to anterior cruciate ligament tears. That definitely had an effect on the Lady Bulldogs' 2016 campaign. However, they suffered no such losses during this past off-season.
However, Stow did suffer some losses to graduation, as the Lady Bulldogs do just about every year.
"Kallie VanCoppenolle will be missed in the high jump and discus," said Stow head coach Aaron Morris. "We will miss Cynthia Johnson-Smyth in the shot put. And we'll miss Abbey Markley, who filled in a lot of relay spots for us all season long."
In 2016, Stow finished with a record of 4-3 in dual meets. The Lady Bulldogs also placed fifth at the Suburban League Meet.
"The postseason went mostly as expected," said Morris. "We knew that we would struggle in the conference when we lost Amanda Kimble and Jessie Stout to ACL tears over the winter. Kayla Thompson and Sara Kasper qualified to regionals, Kayla in the long jump and 100 hurdles and Sara in the pole vault. Sara even vaulted at regionals with a severely sprained ankle."
Thompson and Kasper, both seniors, are among Stow's key returning athletes this year. Thompson holds school records in both the 100 high hurdles (14.94) and the long jump (17-feet-11), while Kasper holds the school mark in the pole vault (11-feet-4).
Also returning is senior Maria Cistone, who holds the school record in the high jump with a height of 5-feet-2.
Other top returners are juniors Tessa Pitcovich and Sophi Perez. Pitcovich was a cross country state qualifier and Perez set the indoor school record in the 3,200-meter run this past winter.
"We should look a lot like last year," said Morris. "We will be dominant in the hurdles and strong in the three jumps. Our distance squad continues to improve and should score a lot of points for the team this year."
As far as weaknesses are concerned, Morris indicated that his team is relatively inexperienced in some areas.
"Our sprint squad is still pretty young, but we will have Amanda Kimble back, which will help us a lot," he said. "We're also very young with throwers. We have some promising talent there, but it will take time to see how much they improve as the season goes on."
According to Morris, the Lady Bulldogs will have their hands full in the National Division of the Suburban League.
"Our conference has a lot of talent and is well coached across the board," he said. "I expect perennial powerhouses like Nordonia, Twinsburg, and Brecksville to be towards the top of the conference again. We will do our best to stay with them."
Staying healthy is a top priority for Stow. That's because one of the Lady Bulldogs' major goals is to finish higher than fifth at the league meet.
"I hope to place higher in the conference than we did last year," said Morris. "If we keep our athletes healthier, it should be a lot easier for us to do. Also, I'd like to see more individuals qualify to the regional meet. I feel that we have a good chance to get several athletes to both regionals and the state meet.
"I also hope to qualify another shuttle hurdle relay team to the New Balance Nationals this summer. Since our weekend meet schedule is so light this year, we will not have very many opportunities to qualify. So this could be a big challenge for us."
Morris is entering his 15th season as the head coach at Stow. His assistant coaches are Dave Manthey (pole vault/high jump/hurdles) and former Stow great Melanie Winters (hurdles/long jump/high jump).