Woodridge boys track looks to run with state's elite again

Steve Batko
Woodridge Bulldogs

Losing the 2020 track and field season hurt in many ways, but with an influx of a new spring, there is plenty of hope in the Woodridge boys team camp.

“Losing that normal year of progression is bigger than it would seem,” said Scott Mercer, the third-year Woodridge head coach who enters his 14th year overall.

“Our seniors were sophomores the last time they competed,” added Mercer. “Freshman and sophomore boys don’t typically shoulder a lot of responsibility and are eased into being counted on.”

Besides having to determine team depth charts in so many events, there are many more factors in play – both for the coaches and then for the student athletes.

“These kids have all lost a step in the progression and will be asked to jump into roles right now that they aren’t necessarily properly prepared for,” declared Mercer, a 1984 Bulldog graduate who has state championships in both track and cross country.

As for safety protocol measures, the team is in great shape and hopes to have a full season.

“The kids have done a fantastic job following all the guidelines for COVID,” explained Mercer. “Our normal routines have been significantly changed, but the kids have seamlessly adjusted.”

This spring will mark the track debut of Woodridge competing in the Metro Athletic Conference.

Woodridge has captured a league title for 12 consecutive years and looks to be a threat this season as well.

The season opener for Woodridge is April 3 as the Bulldogs will compete at the April Fool’s Triangular at home against league rival Lodi Cloverleaf and Orrville.

“Going into the start of the 2021 track and field season, we really only know what we can expect out of our distance crew,” said Mercer.

“Lucky for us, we have the Division II state champion cross country team and it is led by the individual state champion in Ryan Champa, and that is a solid foundation for the team."

Having an individual state cross country champion like Champa really helps a senior class. Champa ran 10th in Ohio in the 3,200-meter race in 2019.

In addition, Woodridge also has senior distance runners Caden Hibbs and Zayd Elkurd returning for what promises to be a banner final season.

Hibbs ran in the 3,200-meter relay that was fourth in Ohio in 2019 and the regional qualifying 1,600-meter relay.

Elkurd ran a leg in that very same state-placing 3,200-meter relay when Woodridge shined in the regional championships in 2019.

“We expect a lot this season from Hibbs and Elkurd and they will score big for us,” said the coach.

In addition, senior twin brothers are back in Andrew Lauck and Ryan Lauck, who along with junior standout Aaron Dutt, sophomore Seth Singer, and junior Drew Shaheen, competed in the cross-country championships.

“We obviously have a lot of experience in our distance running and versatility,” remarked Mercer. “The Lauck twins both have great experience in the mile and two-mile races.”

“I think as the season progresses, all of our kids will find their niche, and I also think that some of the distance runners and our depth will fall down into the 400-meter range to help and also compete in the relay events,” he added.

Senior thrower Angelo Regec is back after a successful 2019 campaign. He will throw the shot put and discus.

“Angelo performed well as a sophomore and he could be poised for a big year,” said Mercer.

Other returning seniors who may be solid scorers include Dom Stasik (sprints, sprint relays), Nic Tafini (hurdles), Jacob Looman (sprints, sprint relays, and Jacob Samerdak (throws).

Kyle Carey is another junior that also brings solid experience, according to Mercer.

“This year, Kyle will be our top returning 400-meter runner,” said Mercer.

Mercer also believes that junior Cooper Defrange will also help the club with his versatility.

“Cooper will contribute in the high jump, long jump, and pole vault,” said the coach.

Junior newcomer Kaeden Cyc is another quality thrower for the Bulldogs, along with sophomore standout Oliver Mayer. Woodridge has depth in the weights.

Woodridge also has young sprint talent, led by freshman Jack Novak.

“Jack potentially could be our most talented sprinter in the 100,” offered Mercer.

The coaching staff includes co-head coaches Jeff Howard (the girls head coach and cross-country head coach) and Mercer, who helps instruct all over and including sprinters, plus assistant coaches Mike Duve (sprints/hurdles/long jump), Aaron Mayer (throws), Brian Davis (pole vault), Jacob Mally (sprints/jumps), volunteer pole vault coach Reece Mercer, and strength and conditioning coach Dominic Ravanelli.

Woodridge will open the MAC April 6 at home in a tri-meet against Field and Springfield. The MAC Championships are set for May 13 and will be hosted by Ravenna.

“This is the first year of our new conference and we expect to challenge for the championship as our strength and depth in the middle distance and distance events will put us in a solid position,” said Mercer.

Coming off of a district title in 2019, the Bulldogs will test the Division II waters this season and hope to be in the mix for a promising post season as well.

“Our first goal is to put ourselves in a position to challenge for a league title this season,” said Mercer.