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Track and Field: Distance running, throwing lead Wingers

Jesse Nelson and Tony Casci have been able to find success together.

In the fall, Casci was an assistant coach for the Wingers’ cross-country team – with Nelson as head coach – that had the boys’ team qualify for state and had an individual qualifier from the girls’ team.

And as Casci takes over the boys’ track and field team, he and Nelson are back at it, hoping to continue autumn’s success.

“It’s going well so far. Tony and I work well together,” Nelson said. “He’s very knowledgeable and passionate about track.  It has been a very smooth transition.”

Said Casci, who replaces Adam Nelson as the boys track coach after being the Wingers’ sprints coach last year, said, “It’s been a little bit more challenging, and it has really tested how organized I am with the lineups and how I’m recording everything … but it’s a lot of fun. I love doing it.”

With Jesse Nelson and Casci at the helm, the Red Wing track teams share the same strength as the season gets under way: distance running.

For the boys, three members of the Wingers’ 4x800-meter relay that qualified for state – Aiden Winn, Joppa Olone and Darrick Jackson – return to the lineup. Some of the varsity members of the state cross-country team – Winn, Jackson, George Nemanich,  Meyer Beckner, Joe Partington and Ryan Schnaith – also will suit up for the boys track team.

“Our strengths are definitely going to be the distance and middle distance on the track,” Casci said.

For the girls, Jasmyn Armstrong, who qualified for state in cross-country, joins a strong distance and mid-distance group that includes Lindsay Scribner, Elise Leise and Kianna Stewart.

“The distance group from the 400 on up is going to be very solid and will be scoring a lot of points for us this year,” Nelson said.

Senior Emily Stegora comes back as the girls’ top hurdler and sprinter, while fellow senior Ashley Elford will offer some depth in the sprints. At last year’s Section 1AA championship, Stegora ended the year with a personal-best time of 15.55 seconds in the 100 hurdles.

“I know she’s hungry to take that next step and get to the state meet in the hurdles,” Nelson said of Stegora. “She’ll also be valuable to us in terms of leadership and setting an example for the sprinting and hurdling groups.”

In sprints and jumps, Casci is presenting a challenge to his track athletes: Be prepared to compete in up to three or four events this year.

“My goal this season was to make sure everyone has their main event – they know what their main goal is – but to also have those secondary events that can help us out points-wise when we need to.”

The guy Casci hopes can lead that utilitarian role is senior Lucas Knowlton, along with athletes like senior Frankie Drazkowski and sophomore Grahm Johnson.

“He’s good at leading off our sprint relays like our 4x100 and 4x200, and he’s really good at the long jump and we’re going to see if he can help us out in the triple jump,” Casci said of Knowlton. “He’s also a hurdler as well. He’s one of those guys that’ll have a full plate every meet.”

In the field, Red Wing will be anchored by its throwers: senior Jennifer Salter for the girls and junior Nick Connelly for the boys. Nelson is also hoping for a strong output from senior pole vaulter Angie Lam.

“Mike Ehlers, our throws coach, just does an outstanding job year in and year out making sure these throwers are one of the top groups in the conference and in the section,” Nelson said.

Nelson added for the girls: “Jennifer Salter is coming off of second place in the shot put last year (at the Missota Conference championship, 32-1 ½ feet). Sophomores Sara Kelly and Caitie Turcotte also make up that core group of throwers for us.”

Casci said for the boys, “One of our strengths are definitely going to be the throws with Nick Connelly and Grahm Johnson.”

The Wingers’ first outdoor meet is scheduled for April 3 at Hastings. The first home meet – a triangular against Farmington and New Prague – is slated for April 22.

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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