Since they joined the brutal Suburban League National Conference four years ago, the Black Tigers have been on the outside looking in.
First-year Cuyahoga Falls head boys track and field coach Robert Hoon is determined to change his new team’s not-so-glamorous history.
Hoon takes over a program that finished 0-7 in the vaunted National Conference last spring.
Hoon joins the team after spending the past four years as an assistant coach with the boys and girls track and field teams at Anderson High School in Cincinnati.
"I coached alongside Hall of Fame coach Andy Wolf and Theresa Gross," he said. "Together, we sent several athletes to state over the past few seasons in both distance and sprints."
Hoon, a graduate of Licking Valley High School in Newark, hopes to reverse the fortunes of a squad that has fallen on hard times in recent years.
"A significant focus on my part is building this program back to the level that we expect from Cuyahoga Falls," Hoon said. "We have an exceptional group of young men who are dedicated to their sport and representing their school.
"I am beyond grateful for these athletes and very excited about the season."
The Black Tigers lost five key performers from last year. They are distance runners Bronson Luksza, who qualified for a regional meet in the 3,200-meter race, and Jay Wilson and sprinters Dylon Campbell, who is running at the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Eric Roman and Tyler Gibson.
Luksza and Wilson were members of Falls' 3,200-meter relay team that reached the regional competition last spring.
Nonetheless, there are some promising pieces that can help Hoon build his team into a successful program quickly.
"We have some very strong and talented returning athletes," he said.
Two of those returning athletes are junior distance standouts Jack Wilcoxson, a 2017 state qualifier in cross country, and Anthony Nichols, who was the cross country team's top performer for much of the fall season.
"Both battled nagging injuries last year, but have trained exceptionally well and I'm confident both will rebound with a great junior year," Hoon said. "We are also very excited about our young underclassmen and their potential."
Hoon is particularly stoked about his throwers. Leading the way are seniors Ryan Freeman, Evann Reid, JJ Callahan, Thaw Hein and Blake Ross.
"Our upperclassmen throwers are, perhaps, our biggest strength for our program this year," Hoon said. "They have been training incredibly well this off-season and we are looking forward to a successful senior year."
The one major area of concern for Falls is the sprinting corps.
"Our sprinters were hit hard by graduation and non-returning runners," Hoon said.
Fortunately, the cupboard isn't completely bare.
Junior middle distance runner Tony Sondles, who has committed to run at Mount Union, returns.
Other returning varsity sprinters are senior Justin Hinkle, junior Logan Urich and sophomores Isaiah Campbell and Christian Casto.
"We have some very strong and talented returning athletes," Hoon said.
Hoon also has some promising freshmen on the roster.
They are sprinters Noah Blake, Charles Payne and Jaden Pornichak and distance runner Koby Dunford. Sophomore distance runner Lukas Keeverkamp has been impressive, as well.
"Our program has been infused with young running talent this year," Hoon said. "Noah Blake, Charles Payne and Jaden Pornichak have exceptionally bright futures in our program. All three have worked tirelessly on technique and present us with multiple options where we can place them.
"We are very excited about Koby Dunford and Lukas Keverkamp. We expect both of them to add depth to our team and push each other to become great runners. They have spent a great deal of time with our upperclassmen and provide our program with many options moving forward."
Hoon's assistants are longtime boys head cross country coach Bob Koch, who will handle the distance runners, Don Noe (throwers) and Scott Wallace (sprinters and vaulters).
The conference powers aren't going to go away anytime soon. The National Conference expects to be as formidable as ever.
"We are in a conference with many talented programs," Hoon said. "I expect us to be competitive throughout the year and if we stay healthy, we could have some strong performances later in the year.
"While that is important, we also want to groom our young athletes to ensure we are taking care of our program for years to come."
Hoon knows there will be some bumps in the road, particularly during the early stages of the season.
Fortunately, though, Falls may be on the verge of turning the corner.
"Although we lost some talent from last year, I feel very confident that our returning upperclassmen will anchor our team this year," he said. "Many of our guys endured some difficult injuries, especially our distance runners, so keeping them healthy will be a big priority.
"As we move through the season, I expect to utilize different rotations until we see exactly where our young athletes will blend in. That being said, we are tremendously excited about their potential and the depth they offer."
The Black Tigers are scheduled to make their 2019 debut at the Longstreth Relays Saturday at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson. The competition is set to begin at noon.
Falls is scheduled to visit National Conference foe Twinsburg Wednesday at 4 p.m. The Black Tigers are set to participate at the Lakeview Relays April 5 in Cortland. The competition is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.