The Swain County High School Track and Field program began the season with lofty aspirations. The girls program returned the most points from last year’s state championship meet, while the boys program set their eyes on their first conference championship in over a decade.
“I think you will see a level of confidence in our program this year where the expectation is to be successful as opposed to just being competitive,” Coach Ian Roper said. “We have had more athletes working throughout the off season to prepare for this spring track season than ever before. They are hungry and recognize the opportunities they have as a team.”
The girls program looks to improve on a solid 2019 season that saw the Lady Devils finish 5th in the state. They return 13 state qualifiers on this year’s squad, including: Monica Riordan (state runner-up in the 300 hurdles); Jessie Lohman (state runner-up in the 100 hurdles); Jenna Marr (3rd place pole vault); and Natalie Stuckey (5th place shot put). The other returning state qualifiers are: Rebecca Duncan, Emily Ulaner, Faith Parker, Mallerie Clampitt, Abby McLeod, Bri Ross, Isabelle Green, Jadyn Perez, and Sierra Jackson.
The Lady Devils also add talented freshmen to the mix in Amaya Hicks (mid-distance), Gracie Monteith (distance), Kendall Ogle (hurdles/Pole vault) and Amelia Rogers (pole vault).
“I am excited for the influx of new talent into the program. They are very fortunate as they will benefit greatly from the veteran leadership of our returning upperclassmen,” added Roper.
The boy’s program is looking for a breakthrough finish in the Smoky Mountain Conference this season.
“We have been runner-up in the Smoky Mountain Conference four out of the past five seasons,” said Coach Roper. “I feel we are a much more balanced team this season and will be able to score points in events we haven’t been competitive in over the past several years.”
Roper points to the addition of newcomers Austin SanSouci (distance), Andy Ledford (mid-distance), Matthew Gray (pole vault), Conner Hyatt (Sprints), Judaiah Littlejohn (jumps) and Donnavin Groenwold (mid-distance) as a reason for higher expectations.
“When you add our new track athletes to what is an already strong returning group, you have to be bullish on our potential,” he said.
The returning athletes are led by a dominant throwing duo of Nick Millsaps and Michael Winchester. Millsaps had the 3rd best discus throw in the state last season. Jesus Sauza (hurdles), Gaige Jones (sprints) and Dhruv Senghani (distance) are expected to be veteran leaders for the boys’ team in the running events.
The Swain County Track team hosted the WNC Kickoff Invitational this past Wednesday at the Cherokee Central Schools track. With 15 teams in attendance, Swain finished 2nd overall in the girl’s division and 4th overall in the boy’s division.
“I’m extremely happy with our performances today,” said Coach Roper. “We share a lot of athletes with the other spring sports and did not have our full contingent of boys or girls, but the ones who were able to be with us competed well.”
There were several standouts among the girls’ performances. Monica Riordan won both the 100m and 300m hurdle events. Her 14.72 in the 100 hurdles set a new school record and was highlighted by Milesplit USA as an elite performance. Riordan finishes in both races were the fastest thus this season in the 1A classification.
Natalie Stuckey won both the shot put and the discus event. Her throw of 102’ in the discus was a personal best and ranks as the best throw this year in the 1A classification.
Jenna Marr and Amelia Rogers finished 1st and 2nd in the pole vault and are currently ranked 1st and 2nd in the state respectively. Other girls who had exceptionally strong performances include Gracie Monteith (3200), Mazie Helpman (200), Phynley Meyers (1600), Savanah Smith (shot), Reah Dingle (jumps), and Amaya Hicks (relays).
On the boy’s side of the meet, the Maroon Devils were led by strong performances in the field events.
Michael Winchester and Charlie Lambert both placed in shot put, while Nick Millsaps and Michael Winchester both scored in the discus.
John Schuler and Matthew Gray finished 2nd and 3rd in pole vault, respectively. Austin SanSouci (3200), Donnavin Groenwold (400), Landon Matz (300H), Jackson Pittard (300H) all placed for the boys in the running events.
Both teams like all other middle and high sports in the state are now on hold until April 6 over coronavirus prevention set by NCHSAA.