Eureka High School Girls Track

Tom Batters
Kalla Gold crosses the finish line way ahead of the pack in the 4X400 meter relay at the state finals last year. The Hornets won medals in five events and brought home a third-place team trophy.

Don Samford went into the state track and field finals with a pretty good feeling, but not that good.

“I knew we would have a chance to do well, but we actually exceeded our expectations,” said Samford, coach of the Eureka High School girls track team that brought home a third place team trophy and a car trunk full of other medals at the 2010 state track and field meet.

“We had to be on top of our game in every event, and that’s what happened. Everybody performed at their best. It was a great accomplishment,” he said.

Don’t expect to hear Samford take too much of the credit, though.

Even though he was recognized as a national coach of the year candidate for his efforts, Samford said the girls (and their families) deserve the credit for the track program’s success last year and in years past.

“I could say it’s me or my system that I run, but it really isn’t. It’s the girls,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have a great group of girls every year. They are good kids who work hard. In many ways, that’s a credit to their parents.”

The Hornets have won 13 Sectional titles, a state championship, two runner-up trophies, a third-place trophy, and countless individual state medals during Samford’s storied career as girls track coach.

He was one of eight finalists for the national coach of the year award presented by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association last year. He was honored with the other finalists at a banquet in Sioux Falls, S.D. in June.

“That really was a shock,” Samford said. “Some of those coaches (the other finalists) had multiple state championships and had coached Olympic athletes. Just to be mentioned with them was quite an honor.”

Bring on spring

Last week, Samford sounded like he was ready to start the season, and who could blame him?

Many of the athletes who won state medals last year are back this year.

All four members of the state champion 4X200 meter relay and state runner up 4X100 relay teams return.

Only one member of the state champion 4X400 relay team graduated (Kelsey Holman).

Kalla Gold, who won the state title in the 400 and anchored two relay teams, is back (she is only a junior), and Samford said she is one of the favorites to win the 400 once again.

“As long as she stays healthy, I can see her winning that again,” he said.

Gold, senior Natalie Puent and junior Jacey Hartman return to the 4X400 relay team that won the gold medal in dominant fashion last year (more than four seconds ahead of Byron).

Sophomore Chelsea Pentecost and juniors Virginia Ely and Shelby Kupferschmid are the leading candidates to fill Holman’s spot on the 4X400.

Samford said Kupferschmid may also move to the high jump, which would help fill Holman’s spot (Holman was fourth in the state in the high jump last year).

Kupferschmid, Puent, Hartman and junior Elly Vance all return to the 4X200 relay squad that edged Plano for the state title last year.

Kupferschmid, Vance, Puent and Gold return to the 4X100 relay team that finished second to Melrose Park by just .17 hundredths of a second.

Even with the relays so much in tact, Samford said he is open to mixing up the lineups to include some of the younger runners such as sophomore Michaela Balducci.

“We’re grooming Michaela to fill Natalie’s spot next year, so we’ll see how she does this year,” he said. “Her form looks so much better already, and she might be one of our top throwers (shot put or discus), too.”

Samford said the 2011 group of throwers is the best he’s had in many years.

They include junior Lexi Bauman.

“I think she (Bauman) is ready to make a run at State in the discus,” he said.

Laura Magnuson, a state qualifier on the 3200-meter run last year as a junior, graduated early.

Samford said freshman Haley Steffen could emerge as the team’s top distance runner.

‘It’s never easy’

Samford said he likes his team’s chances at bringing home another state team trophy and a few more medals, but he said it isn’t a guarantee.

“We have a lot of talented girls coming back, but there are a lot strong teams in Class 1A.”

Samford is already going over the numbers in his head.

About 40 points will usually get you a team trophy.

“We can get to 40,” he said. “It won’t be easy, but I think we can get there.”

Practice has started, and, even though it is too cold to do much outside, Samford has been busy.

He recently hooked up the VCR and showed his relay runners last year’s state final races.

“We looked at the baton exchanges closely,” he said. “They were pretty good, but I think we can get even better.”

He said state champion Byron has everybody back, and perennial powers Central Catholic (second place in 2010), Sherrard (fourth), and Breese Central (fifth) are loaded with talented athletes.

“Don’t ever count Eureka out, though,” he said.