Track and field is already the largest participation sport at Cloquet High School, but coach Tim Prosen might set a new record for student involvement this spring. The problem is figuring out how to keep everyone busy.
"We have a few more than last year," Prosen said. "Right now we have about 140 in the high school program, and quite a few in the middle school program. It could be the best I've ever had."
Cloquet has turned into an area powerhouse for a number of reasons - the first being hardworking students and the second being a great coaching staff.
Distance coach Arne Maijala, hurdles coach Tim Anderson, throwing coach Andy Elias and sprint coach Michelle Wick join Dakota Myllymaa (weights), Joe Defoe (throws), Dale Flankey (jumps), Dan Jago (sprints), Kevin Pfeil (pole vault) and five other assistants to give the Lumberjacks a deep group indeed.
And yes, there's talent to work with. The human lightning bolt, Kendra Kelley, returns for her senior season as the defending Minnesota Class AA 200-meter sprint champion, but there's also plenty of depth behind her.
The North Dakota State commit joins sister Katelyn in the sprints, but seniors MacKenzie Brummer (triple jump), Natalie Completado (sprints), Kelly Lorenz (hurdles), Makayla Suominen (throws and sprints) and distance runners Elise Pickar, Payten Schneberger and Kaitlyn Simmonds are also strong competitors - and those are just the seniors.
"Our sprinters will be tough, and it's a really balanced team," Prosen said.
Cloquet is the defending boys and girls Lake Superior Conference champion as well as the defending Section 7AA True Team champion in both genders.
On the boys side, Alex Leuzzo got a taste of the state meet last year in the triple jump and state entrant Blaine Bong returns in the 400. Throwers Luke Konietzko and Jordan Leimer join triple jumper Riley Leslie, sprinters Andre Peters and Colton Wenneson and jumper Dru Senich as senior leaders.
"The depth in both teams is really good," Prosen said. "In addition to all the seniors, we have a few new faces I expect to make an impact on our team."
But for everyone to get their chance, you have to have good coaches and Prosen returns to that subject repeatedly.
"There are 18 events per gender," he said. "There's something out here for everyone, but you need coaches to cover all the specialties. It's really fun to walk through the halls before we get outside and see the kids doing their core work, kids in the weight room and in the gyms, and the hurdlers running."
The team's first meet is Friday, March 22, at the University of Wisconsin-Superior's indoor track, followed by a scheduled outdoor meet in Rockford, Minn., on April 5 before an indoor meet April 13 in Ashland, Wis.
"We're probably about two weeks from getting outside to practice," Prosen said. "We don't stress about that. We just train and we know that the first few weeks, that's how it is. Some years are easier than others, but we focus on the technical things we can do inside."
That will give Prosen time to learn his new team.
"There's always room for more kids," he said. "We coaches will never be complacent about that. If we do a good job, we'll be what kids want to be a part of and grow up with as young adults. The kids are the best recruiters - they are the ground level."
Carlton coach Nicole Paulson has a smaller roster, but no less enthusiasm. Seniors Remington Laveau and Kaitlyn Johnson lead the girls and Jayden Swanson is the only senior boy. The Bulldogs have 21 athletes in the girls program and 20 boys.
"Our girls team was strong last year and we expect more of the same this year," Paulson said. "They have a culture of hard work and dedication They hold themselves and each other to high standards, and they push hard to achieve their goals. They have a lot of talent, but it's their work ethic that will ultimately bring them success."
Freshman Alexis Thompson reached the section final in the 300 hurdles and Laveau has the goal of setting the school record 200 meters, which would get her to state on standard. Sophomores Elizabeth Hey, Ella Palmer and Emma Cid join freshman Morgan Laveau as future leaders.
"Morgan competes like she's been doing it all of her life," Paulson said. "Like her big sister Remingten, she always has another gear when it matters."
The boys team is searching for consistency. "That's because we've had so much turnover in members," Paulson said. "We feel confident that as the younger boys mature they will find the same success as the girls."
Swanson reached state last year in the triple jump and Paulson says juniors Matt Santkuyl and Adam Hey are poised to contribute as well. Swanson, junior Ben Talarico and sophomore Seth Mlodozyniec are team leaders.
Wrenshall coach Nick Moran has 34 athletes out for track, but only two seniors.
He lists Kaden Olesen, Kris Kaspari, Dylann Ebarb, Hannah Lattu, Gavin Trettle, and Cheyanne Carlson as being ready for big seasons.
"They are all upperclassmen that have been around for multiple years and are well respected by the rest of the team," he said. "They all have great leadership capabilities and motivation."
Olesen and Ebarb reached the section finals last spring in the 1,600 meters and the 110 hurdles respectively.
"We have a motivated group of athletes that's working hard to get better every day," Moran said. "We'll have a good mix of experience and youth and good leadership. We've got high hopes for the upcoming season."
MOOSE LAKE-WILLOW RIVER
Moose Lake-Willow River coach Tony Andres has 103 athletes out this spring - a school record.
There are 53 girls and 50 boys out for track, with seven seniors - Lexi Tekippe, Charis Blacklock, Kennedy Janke, Kjersten Weisert, Sarah Michels, Meghan Granquist and Ellie Anderson - leading the girls team. All have been with the program for at least five years.
The boys have eight seniors: Anakin Oswald, Aiden Szczyrbak, Danny Lilya, Matt Laine, Logan Peterson, Sean Jungers and Bill Kenyon.
"I think we could have a very good season," Andres said. "Our girls numbers are by far higher than they have ever been, and our core athletes are now one year older as well. We also only graduated 3 girls from last year's team. I expect our girls' team to compete for the Section True Team Title. I think they can also compete for the top 2-3 spots in the conference meet.'
"Our boys team has the potential to be very competitive as well," he said. "We return a lot of starters. We did lose a few key seniors but hopefully will be very balanced across all events this spring. "
Danny Lilya was the Class A Category I state champion in wheelchair shot put and discus and is back to defend his title.
Esko is traditionally known for its relays, but coach Gary Beaudot says this year's team should be more balanced overall.
There are 58 young Eskomos out for track, with 34 of them in grades 9-12.
"We are a very young team," Beaudo said. "We are excited to see gains in our field events and hurdlers from last year's young underclassmen."
Middle-distance runners Sam Rengo and Lucas Bourgeault are expected to help lead the young Eskomos this spring. "Their positive influence on other athletes is contagious," Beaudot said. "We also hope Aaron Moore's instant success last year will carry over."
All four of the Esko relay teams reached state last spring along with pole vaulter Tate Olson, 400-meter springer Isaiah Arntson, Rengo in the 800 and shot put thrower Nolan Bush.
The best news for Beaudot is that all three sprint relay teams are back in their entirety, meaning that despite their youth, Esko may once again be well-represented at state in June.