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Fairmont girls track & field adapting to changes

CARDINAL CAPTAINS — Fairmont captains, from left, Carissa Saxton, Hannah Neusch, Vanessa Bliesmer, Laura Thompson and Ellie Hernes, will guide the Cardinal girls track & field team into its season-opener at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Wilson Field in Blue Earth. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — A new meet format, new rules and a lot of new competitors.

Fairmont Cardinal head track & field coach Bob Bonk said there will be a lot of new aspects to this year’s season after missing last year because of the COVID-19 sports shutdown.

The first major change Bonk mentioned was a limit to competitors during meets.

“The bottom line is you’re not supposed to have more than 250 athletes at the meet,” Bonk said. “And so many of our meets, probably a majority, are going to be boys then girls or girls then boys.”

This year’s meets might take a little longer than usual, with the boys teams going through all of their events before leaving the track so the girls teams can run theirs or vice versa, instead of all the events running back-to-back.

Another new aspect this season is a group of new competitors who were not on the varsity roster last time the Cardinals hit the track in 2019.

“It feels good and weird,” Bonk said of getting the runners back on the track after nearly two years. “It’s good, because we have a nice turnout, a lot of potential. I think the kids seem enthused, you know, anxious just to do something. It’s weird in that, probably close to three-fourths of the ones on the roster, we’ve never coached before, we don’t have very big senior and junior classes, we have big sophomore freshman classes. So that compounds it, and then everybody’s wearing a mask, and I still don’t know some kids, which is totally unheard of.

“What helps is all the coaches are back, it’s a veteran group, they all know what they’re doing. I can just send them there and not worry about them. It would be really tough if you were just starting out coaching and you know, needed a lot of help and guidance.”

The Cardinal girls do have a roster that includes experience coming from a combined 16 seniors and juniors, including all five of the Fairmont girls captains. Senior Hannah Neusch and juniors Vanessa Bliesmer, Ellie Hernes, Carissa Saxton and Laura Thompson will help from the leadership roles this year.

Nine sophomores, 13 freshmen and three eighth graders will fill out the Cardinal girls roster.

Thompson and Hernes bring state experience back to the Cardinals. Thompson ran on the 4×400 state relay team and competed individually, finishing eighth in the 3,200 meters in 2019, while Hernes earned a seventh-place medal in the triple jump at the most recent Class A state meet.

The Cardinal girls will open their season Thursday in Blue Earth during quad action against Blue Earth Area, Jackson County Central and Luverne.

Fairmont goes into the 2021 campaign with 11 meets, ranging from quads to duals, but filled with other Big South schools.

Bonk said getting to repeatedly face other usual conference powers such as Waseca, Worthington and Luverne will be good for the Cardinals.

Much of this season’s track schedule, including the sub-section, section and state meets, is still to be determined depending on the ongoing pandemic.

“I’d say just getting in the meets,” Bonk said of his main goal. “And have a very minimal number of people that can’t compete. We will be competitive, I mean, we’re going to do alright.”

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