By BRADEN LAYER
Aside from a pair of 2012 state qualifiers, the St. Anthony girls track team will look almost entirely different this season, including its coach.
Rob Brown has taken over for Kimberly Kabbes after previously coaching the junior high, and is stepping into a program that is heavy on underclassmen.
Only two seniors return to the program, but with that being multi-talented performer Kassy Dammerman and senior sprinter Melissa Bushur, Brown certainly isn't complaining. Dammerman qualified for the state preliminaries in the 100-meter hurdles, just barely missing out on a spot in the finals with her time of 16.57.
"Kassy has put in some adjustments, it should carry her well going forward," Brown said. "She's also a good sprinter."
Dammerman will have to be a jack of all trades for the Lady Bulldogs, running in hurdles, sprints and also participating in the triple jump. Bushur is another senior sprinter Brown can lean on, and the first-year coach said she's a very good weapon to have.
"We're looking pretty solid in the sprints," he said. "That should be one of our strong areas."
Though a lot will fall on the shoulders of the two seniors, Brown can also count on the return of state qualifier Sarah Wortman.
Wortman, a junior this season, jumped 9 feet 6 inches in the prelims of the pole vault at the state meet last year, but recorded a NH (no height) in Saturday's finals at Eastern Illinois University. Brown has been impressed with Wortman's and Dammerman's ability to lead, and says their thirst for competition suits his team well.
"Even though I'm thin on seniors, Kassy and Sara have embraced this role," Brown said. "They love to compete. Our best practices are when I instill a little bit of competition."
Brown has even seen the fiery competitive urge in his freshmen, a large group that will have to step up beyond their years for St. Anthony to produce significant success.
"I've seen some determination in a lot of freshmen," he said. "We're a very young, freshmen-heavy team."
Elizabeth Falconburg is already knocking on the door of the school record in the 400 as a freshman, and Brown says she's got "a legitimate chance at making state."
Falconburg leads a talented crew of mid-distance runners, along with junior Lauren Lynch and sophomore Emily Wortman. Lynch will primarily be used in the 400 while Wortman runs the 800, with Falconburg likely running in both races.
Wortman is also a talented performer in the mile, and freshman Carson Fonner should be a contributor in the distance races as well. Between those four, and a maybe a few others, Brown hopes to piece together a solid 4x800 relay team despite a less than robust roster.
"We're a little thin on numbers in distance," he said, "but we've got some quality runners."
St. Anthony's jumpers fit the bill as well; low on depth, but high on talent. Sophomore Madeline McDevitt should be the top high jumper for the Bulldogs, and Brown said she has serious potential.
"She's been working at it, been focused on it," he said. "We're hoping to make some noise with her."
Dammerman could score some points at triple jump, though it is unquestionably a secondary event, while Sara Raglan provides the Bulldogs with a talented long jumper.
Aside from Woltman in the pole vault, sophomore Aly Esker will give St. Anthony some depth in the event.
"She's started off solid," Brown said. "In her first competition, she was only three inches from her best ever."
The throwers will be Ashley Dieztzen, and that's about it. Dietzen will have to be a wrecking crew of one in the discus, with a few other teammates trying their hands in the shot put.
Brown is readily aware that he has taken over a team that doesn't have outstanding depth, but that hasn't stopped him from setting lofty goals.
"It's kind of a wild card when you have a young roster, even with this kind of talent," he said. "I'd like to get those girls that went to state back, and add a few more to that number."
St. Anthony will begin their season at Robinson on Monday.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org