MATTOON — The Mattoon boys track and field team graduated some key athletes from last year's roster. Noah Patterson was a state qualifier in the sprints and ran in the relays. Michael Smith ran in the sprints and relays and did some jumping for Mattoon. Austen Epperson, Alec Raboin and Greg Thorne were all key relay and distance runners for Mattoon last season.
But the Green Wave also have plenty of Class 2A state experience returning, and Mattoon coach Jarad Kimbro has already seen improvement out of some of his younger athletes. Combine that with a couple of new additions, and Kimbro thinks his team has plenty of depth coming into the 2018 season.
"It will be hard to replace some of the guys that we had last year, but I think that we have more depth than we had last year," Kimbro said. "I also think that many of our field event people have improved quite a bit and will add some points in meets that we did not get last year."
Senior Mitchell Kremer is hoping to make a good amount of noise at the state meet this season. As a sophomore, he made it to state as a member of the 4x800-meter relay team. That relay team made it back to state last season, and he also ran on the 4x400-meter relay, which qualified for state.
His best event last year, though, was the 800-meter run. He qualified for the finals and finished in sixth place with a time of 1:57.22. Four of the five runners ahead of him were seniors, and eight of the 11 runners in the 800 final were seniors, putting Kremer in a good position to finish higher in the event at state this season.
Kimbro said Kremer is a team leader out on the track.
"Mitchell's goal is to go out and win every race that he is in," Kimbro said. "He is a lead-by-example person. He rarely says anything, but his teammates know what he expects out of them every day. Mitchell is so talented that we have not decided exactly where we are going to use him this year. He can be competitive in everything from the 400 and up, so he gives us a lot of options. As far as the 800, he would like to place higher than he did last year at the state meet."
Senior Justus Donaldson is one of the key contributors who returns. Last season Donaldson qualified for the state track and field meet for the first time, and he did it in two events. He qualified in the 110-meter hurdles and the 300-meter hurdles.
"Justus has set some very lofty goals for himself for this track season," Kimbro said. "He has also put in a lot of work on his own prior to the season starting. It is going to take a little bit of time for him to get into track shape with basketball just finishing up, but when he does, I think he will be one of the best hurdlers in the area."
Donaldson has some competition in the hurdles from his own teammate. Sophomore Jacob Weder won the 60-meter hurdles on Saturday at the Apollo Conference indoor meet with a time of 9.95.
"Jacob has improved significantly since last season," Kimbro said. "I think most of it has to do with an increase in strength. At the last meet, he was able to three-step all of the hurdles, and he improved his PR by a second. Logan Winn and Logan Retzer are also showing improvement in the hurdles. It is nice to have some competition there so they can push each other to get better each day at practice."
Ethan Grasl made a big jump from his sophomore to his junior season. He qualified for the state meet in the high jump. He's already cleared 6-4 at the Marion indoor meet this season.
"Ethan ultimately wants to make it to the state meet and then place once he gets there," Kimbro said. "He jumped 6-4 at the first indoor meet, so it is hard to tell how high he will end up at this year. He has the potential of making it to the finals at the state meet this year. Only time will tell."
Junior Payton Smith qualified for the state meet last season in the discus. Smith leads a talented group of throwers, and Kimbro sees that group taking a step forward this season and thinks Smith has some big tosses in him.
"Payton and Gunner Runyon should help us score points at about every meet," Kimbro said. "Both of these guys have invested a lot of time and effort into this offseason. They are both throwing 45-feet-plus in the shot put in indoors, and they both have more in them. Payton should also be a force in the discus. He is another guy that has big goals for this season, and he is doing everything in his power to make those happen."
In the sprints, senior Michael Brown has been a solid sprinter for the team the last couple of seasons. Junior Jack Pilson finished in sixth place in the 60-meter dash at the Apollo indoor meet. Junior Elmon Taylor finished in second place in the 200-meter dash at the Apollo indoor meet.
"Michael just finished wrestling, so he is still getting in track shape at this point, but he is definitely my go-to guy in the sprints and the long jump. He is another good leader that shows up to put in the work that is required to be a good track and field athlete," Kimbro said. "Elmon has been a nice addition for us this year. He is going to be another person that can help us in multiple events. We are looking at having him be the leadoff leg in the 4x100 and 4x200 at the moment.
"Jack has put in a ton of time in the weight room and in speed development this offseason, and it is paying off for him at this point."
Sophomore Caden Price went out for track this season and has already opened Kimbro's eyes. At the Apollo meet, he won the triple jump with a distance of 36-7 1/2. He also placed third in the long jump at 19-3. Kimbro said Price can clean up some things with his jumps yet.
"Caden kind of came out of nowhere in the jumps so far," Kimbro said. "He plays football and decided to come out for track this year and told me he jumped in middle school, so that seemed like a good spot to start him at. He has a long way to go technique wise, but he is making good progress."
Mattoon is at the Mahomet-Seymour indoor meet on Tuesday.