FAIRMONT - The Fairmont boys track and field team will use a youth movement to try to earn its 21st South Central Conference title this season.
While the 2013 Cardinals will have 13 returning letterwinners, only one has recent experience at the Class A state meet.
Mark Fruechte is the lone athlete left from Fairmont's state participants last season. The senior ran as a part of the third-place state 4x400-meter relay team. Carson Ricard, Kevin Hanson and Rainier Quade made up the other three legs of the relay, but all graduated, along with Class A state high hurdles champion and 300-meter hurdles silver medalist Ryan Heuer and Joe Driano last June.
ON?YOUR MARK — Members of the Fairmont Cardinal boys track & field team opening the outdoor season by playing host to Martin County West and St. Peter at 4:15 p.m. today in Fairmont include, front row (l-r): Marcus Larson, Levi Gustafson, Mark Fruechte, Justin Barnes, Robert Hamp, Payton Schlomann, Rider Schwieger and Brandon Martin. Second row: Assistant coach Cheryl Hamp, Dustin Slaughter, Zac Ehlert, Evan Ward, Joey Peterson, Tim Tow, Dominick Armstrong, Brian Wilde and Travis Thiesse. Third row: Nate Subbert, Colin Meadows, Jonathan Rahn, Josh Sundblad, Steven Krumholz, Peter Nielsen, Kolin Kelly, Espen Anthony and Josiah Johnson. Fourth row: Head coach Bob Bonk, Thomas Willette, Zac Dewitt, Andrew Anderson, Nathaniel Larson, Luis Figueroa, Anthony Shimon, Anthony Garcia and Peter Erickson. Back row: Assistant coach Scott Geerdes, Christopher Poush, Kaleb Linse, Derek Edman, Zach Brown, Sanguja Hassan, assistant coach Chris Voss and assistant coach Stew Murfield. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
This year's team will look to Fruechte and senior tri-captains Justin Barnes, Payton Schlomann and Marcus Larson, along with senior Brandon Martin, to set the pace.
"We don't have a ton of seniors this year. Barnes will literally set the pace and Fruechte has the state experience. It will be interesting to see how it ends up," said Fairmont coach Bob Bonk.
Barnes will be the leading competitor in the jumping events, especially the high jump, in addition to his running duties in both the sprints and hurdles.
Martin will be the master of the throws, Marcus Larson will be the leader in the pole vault, while Schlomann will add a speed threat in the sprints.
"When I look at the team I don't really see any particular strength that stands out, but we are not really weak anywhere either," said Bonk. "I think things look better than we even expected after last season."
It will be a team effort with four returning junior letterwinners and some promising freshman, if the Cardinals hope to compete with defending SCC champion Waseca.
Freshman Josiah Johnson, who is coming off a top 20 finish in the Section 2A cross country meet in the fall, will likely lead the young runners in the middle- and long-distance races.
Fellow freshman Josh Sundblad also raced during the cross country season and will team up with Johnson for the longer-distance races.
"We have a good group of freshmen this year who work hard. It can be hard for kids who don't have varsity experience to come in and be successful, but I think they are hard workers and might challenge a few of the older runners," said Bonk.
Sophomore Evan Ward has been a surprising speedster early in his second track and field season for the Cardinals. Along with speed for the middle-distance races, Ward will provide some much needed depth to the hurdle events, and both the triple and long jumps.
"The hurdles for guys are always tougher when they first start out because they are so high. Barnes struggled last year, but looks much more comfortable this season and his form is better this year. Ward looks great for being a younger guy in both those hurdle races," said Bonk.
Junior Kolin Kelly has started his track season strongly, sweeping both indoor hurdle races in Fairmont's first action on March 22. Kelly also will compete this season in the pole vault - one of the areas of focus for the Cardinals.
Zac Ehlert, Derek Edman and Zach Brown will be the other returning letterwinners in the junior class. Ehlert will focus on the middle- and long-distance races, with Edman and Brown both dispersing their talents throughout the sprint, jumping and throwing events.
Fairmont will host its first outdoor meet of the season at 4:15 p.m. today against St. Peter and Martin County.
"The first (indoor) meets of the season, and especially the pentathlon are great because as coaches we can try kids in different events or see places that they might excel. There's a lot to work out in the first meets, but the practices so far have been competitive and the spirit and intensity have been really exciting already," said Bonk.