NWL T&F looks to gain experience
Just about every team in every high school sports lacks experience heading into the 2021 season.
With no 2020 season, this year’s class of sophomores and freshmen are all new to the varsity level, while their junior and senior counterparts who might have competed during their early years of high school are now two years removed from the last varsity competition.
Northwestern’s track and field teams will not only lack experience, they’re also somewhat young teams that will look to learn and improve during the upcoming season. Despite the youth and inexperience, the Tigers will still expect to be competitive in the Colonial League and in District 11.
The Tiger boys team graduated several point-scoring athletes who might have had successful seasons in 2020, including Rhys Fenstermaker (pole vault), Mike Marrazzo (throws), Joe Pleban (long distance), Michael Rebert (mid-distance), Matthew Renner (mid-distance), Deven Bollinger (sprints), Luke Hallman (throws) and Gabe Miller (throws).
The team does return a nucleus of talent and should have some athletes who score a chunk of points for the team in every meet.
While those losses will be tough to overcome, the Tigers do return Tony Beidler (senior, sprints and hurdles), Andres Garrido (senior, jumps), Rhys George (senior, pole vault), Brandon Smeltz (senior, sprints), Jared Stitzel (senior, mid-distance, javelin and hurdles), Justin Rodda (senior, sprints, high jump and long jump), Cole Chukoskie (junior, distance), Josh Heilman (junior, mid-distance), Cayden Kuhns (sophomore, hurdles and pole vault), and Nate Vincent (junior, mid-distance) to the pack.
“We will be looking to get points in sprints, long jump, and high jump from Justin Rodda,” said fourth-year head coach Chuck Groller. “One of our strong areas this year should be our mid/long distance group, which includes key returnees Jared Stitzel, Cole Chukoskie, Josh Heilman, and Nate Vincent. Rhys George in pole vault should be one of the top pole vaulters in the Colonial League. Like the girls, we are a very young team. We will challenge these young men to do their best, but ultimately have some fun and enjoy their season.”
Like other spring sports programs that were unable to compete last season, Groller and the Tigers were devastated to be kept away from competition. But the lost time has brought renewed purpose and perspective to the program.
“Our goal was to come out of the regular season as champions and to have a strong showing at the Colonial League Championship meet,” he said. “Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, it’s very sad to say we will never know what could have been. On a positive note, we cannot wait to christen our new track and field facility with a home meet, on March 30, against Bangor and Palisades. Our athletes, parents, and community are very excited.”
Northwestern also has talent in Joe Chukoskie (junior, distance), Sam Bower (sophomore, distance), Matt Santana (sophomore, distance), and Zachary Santana (sophomore, distance), many of whom helped the Tigers capture their second straight District 11 Class 2A cross country team title this past fall. A mixture of youth and experience could have Northwestern’s track and field program in line for similar success this season after going 5-6 in the Colonial League in 2019.
“We are hoping to be competitive, and we are looking at our senior leadership to pave the way for our underclassmen,” said Groller. “We are still a young team with a lot of unknowns. Time will also tell how these young men respond to the challenges that lie ahead.”
Graduates Kristen Brown (mid- and long distance), Allison Costa (mid- and long distance), Jillian Fink (sprints), Carly Fogal (sprints, long and triple jump), Alexandra Hallingstad (sprints), Allyson Myers (sprints) and Sydney Sevrain (javelin) have all departed from a squad that went 9-2 in the Colonial League in 2019.
But Tigers’ head coach Chuck Groller, now in his seventh year leading the squad, still has plenty of talent on this year’s team. Kate Betz (senior, sprints), Lauren Hinks (senior, mid-distance), Caitlyn Miller (senior, throws), Lauren Schellhamer (senior, sprints), Molly Boushell (junior, hurdles), Jakayla Holmes (junior, mid-distance), Kirsten Mauer (junior, jumps), and Emma Nelson (junior, jumps) will be counted on to help the squad maintain its high level of success.
Amy Andreoli (sophomore, pole vault), Ashley Haas (junior, pole vault), Kailyn Jones (senior, mid-distance), Angelina Klein (sophomore, distance), Sarah Yeakel (junior, jumps), and Faith Yost (sophomore, hurdles and jumps) will also be key contributors for Northwestern.
“Overall, we have few girls that ever participated in a varsity track meet,” said Groller. “We will need to count on Kate Betz, Lauren Schellhamer, Lauren Hinks, and Caitlyn Miller to lead with their experience and senior leadership. We are a very young team with a lot of unknowns, but we do have good athletes coming from other Northwestern Lehigh sports teams. With the inexperience we have as team, we will have some challenges. Only time will tell how good we will be. Most importantly, I want them all to have fun and enjoy the season since we didn’t have one last year.”
Like other spring sports programs that were unable to compete last season, Groller and the Tigers were devastated to be kept away from competition. But the lost time has brought renewed purpose and perspective for both the program.
Time will tell what this season brings for Northwestern, but Groller is excited for the opportunity to find out.
“Unknowns and challenges will be the theme this year for our girls,” he said. “We have a few returning athletes with experience, as well as some younger inexperienced team members with athleticism. Our senior and junior leadership to those younger girls has been awesome. Time will tell how quickly the younger, inexperienced athletes can build their confidence to face the challenges that lie ahead in meet competition.”