Track: Wingers approach the starting line
The foundation is there for Red Wing girls’ track and field team to repeat the success of 2016.
The Class 2A True Team champions and runner-ups in the Big Nine Conference last spring, the Winger girls bring back quality runners in the distance events. Elise Leise, Elayna Meyer and Jasmyn Armstrong all return from the team’s state-qualifying 4x800-meter relay while Grace Johnson is back after a fifth-place showing in the 1,600 at the Big Nine meet, followed by a strong fall in cross-country.
Then in the jumpers’ pit, Madisyn Lyons and Paige Patterson return after both qualifying for state last June.
“Last year, we spent the first month just learning how to do things with the new kids,” said Red Wing girls’ track coach Jesse Nelson while the team competed in a pre-season indoor meet in Hastings Thursday. “Once we figured it out, we thrived, or we excelled. In a lot of events, we’re right back where we were.”
Five of the team’s six state athletes return, followed by a pack of girls that came up strong throughout the year, starting with freshman hurdler Elle Thorson and middle distance runner Emily Hart. In the sprinting events, Tyler McGrath, Patterson and Breck Bergin look to strengthen Red Wing’s performance on the track.
Along the way, Nelson has some newer athletes to fill in the holes.
“Some of the young kids are unknown right now,” Nelson said. “We got a lot of eighth-graders on the team. In the past, some of those kids find their groove later in the year. I’m optimistic about what this team can do again and that stems from how things went last year.”
One of the team’s biggest question marks comes in the throws. The Wingers’ top throwers from last year — Ingrid Olson, Caitie Turcotte and Sara Kelly — have graduated.
“Abi Deming, Lily Beford, Libertie Ryan, Kate Sonju and ‘Bubba’ (Muelken) are in the mix in the shot and disc. That’ll help,” Nelson said.
A sprints and high jump coach at North St. Paul for seven years, Becky McQuiston had a little trouble last year splitting time between coaching at North St. Paul and teaching in Red Wing.
Then after boys’ cross-country coach Tony Casci stepped aside after his wife had a baby last fall, McQuiston managed to cut out her commute, becoming the Wingers’ boys’ track coach.
“I teach in Red Wing and I thought I’d take the head coaching position,” McQuiston said. “It was difficult last year. I had an assistant that was covering for me up there but it was tough. It’s nice to be a little closer to where I work and be more of a part of the team.”
With close to 50 athletes out for the boys’ team, McQuiston’s emphasis has been on development for the younger athletes and building up strength.
“So far it’s been really great. It’s about developing and finding where that young talent is going to benefit the team and untapping that potential with those young athletes,” McQuiston said. “That’s what we’re looking forward to most is finding where their niches are and where they’re going to contribute to us.”
McQuiston continued, “Right now we’re looking at strength being a priority for us. We’ve been getting in the weight room. Then it’s technique and learning the fundamentals of sprinting and jumping and taking those pieces and teaching that. Right now, we’re focused on developing strength so that we’re able to apply a lot of force to the track.”
Like the girls’ team, Red Wing will field a strong distance group after the cross-country team’s success in the fall.
“We have a strong distance program, coming off a conference championship and section championship. We’re looking for them to be the leaders,” McQuiston said. “And then hopefully once we get athletes in those field events, we’ll be able to be pretty strong in there as well.”
And while there’s plenty left to learn for the first-year head coach, the early returns were promising at the Hastings indoor meet.
“I’ve heard a few guys come through the line today and say I’m faster than I was last year at this time,” McQuiston said. “We’re seeing a lot of that already starting to translate.”