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Woodridge girls track team aiming to run down league title

5/1/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

PENINUSLA — Through April 28, the Woodridge High School girls track team was 5-0 overall in dual meets, including a 3-0 mark in the Portage Trail Conference.

Outside of the league, the team has beaten Kent Roosevelt and Archbishop Hoban high school.

“Coming into the season, I felt like we had one of the better dual meet teams we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said head coach Jeff Howard, who has been with the program for 20 years. “We’ve won a couple of big relay meets and we’ve just got really good balance. We don’t necessarily have the high-end, state quality [runners], but we are probably as good as we’ve ever been across the board. We have a lot of talented sprinters and some good, young throwers. We also have the best hurdle crew we’ve had since I’ve been here. We broke the school record in the shuttle hurdles already.”

Howard said Woodridge lost some key contributors from last year’s team to graduation, but some notable additions to this year’s squad are helping to keep the program strong.

“We lost some quality kids, but I think, depth-wise, we picked up a really good freshman class,” he stated. “I think we filled those holes nicely. We filled in with a bunch of young kids, and the ones who came back are better and more experienced this season. We have a good balance, with a lot of freshmen contributing. That’s a big deal for us and it bodes well for our future.”

According to Howard, this year’s senior class is led by “three really outstanding” distance runners.

“Madison Spreitzer is going to run at Kent State [University] next year; Erin Kiley is going to run at John Carroll [University] next fall; and Allyson Dryer is either going to end up at [Indiana University or] Pennsylvania or at Youngstown State. So all three will be collegiate runners,” the coach said. “They are just tremendous students and they are all tremendous runners. They’ve done a nice job. They are probably our three most experienced seniors as far as big meets. They’ve been part of four state meets in cross country. They are great kids and great leaders for us.”

Three more key seniors on this year’s team, Howard said, are pole vaulters Kelly Lockemer and Jen Pung and middle-distance runner Rachel Starbaggi.

“Those girls really have a lot of varsity experience for us,” the coach stated. “They have been very committed to the program and they’ve done a really nice job for us.”

The team’s leading point-getter so far has been junior Aijah Albert.

“She’s having a really good year,” Howard said. “She’s a great little long-jumper, and she runs the hurdles for us. She’s probably our best short-hurdler. Last year, she was the league champ in the 300 hurdles. She gives us a lot of flexibility.”

Overall, Howard said, this year’s team has shown continuous improvement throughout the season.

“We are running faster just about every week. Our times are dropping, and we seem to be hitting season bests every week. I think the kids are doing a real nice job of getting better and better,” he said. “I hope we stay together and continue to support each other.”

Woodridge’s top goals this season, Howard said, include a league title, a top-three finish in the district, a top-six finish in the regional and to “qualify for several events at the state meet.”

“We’ve got a lot of kids doing a really nice job, and I want to see us hit it right at the end of the year,” he said. “I think we can win our league meet. I think that if we can stay healthy, I don’t think anybody in the league can beat us.”

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