Right on track...

Tom Batters
Don Samford

Last Wednesday, as heavy winds blew hard enough to dislodge branches and catapult garbage cans into other neighborhoods, some track and field coaches may have told their girls to go inside.

Eureka High School girls coach Don Samford was not one of them.

Instead of taking shelter from the brutal gusts, he had his girls run the hill off the side of the track.

“The wind was at their backs, though,” Samford said, laughing. “So, that helped.”

All laughing aside, the message was clear as track practice started last week: You better work hard.

Samford said he does not want his girls, who won a team medal and several individual medals at the state finals last spring, to forget the hard work that earned them the medals in the first place.

“It helps to remind them of the value of hard work, but, with this group, I’m not worried,” he said. “They know what got them here. Hard work and dedication.”

Multiple medal winner Natalie Puent, who ran on all four relays; and Kelsey Heinold, who holds the school record in the pole vault, graduated.

Top hurdler Virginia Ely and senior sprinter Elly Vance, a member of two of school record relays, decided not to come out for track.

All others, including seniors Kalla Gold, Shelby Kupferschmid, and Jacey Hartman, are back. Those three have their names scattered all over the Eureka record book.

Gold holds the school record in the 400-meter dash and 100-meter dash and she was part of the school-record 4X100 and 4X200 meter relay teams.

Kupferschmid is the school record holder in the triple jump. She is also part of three school-record relays (4X100, 4X200 and 4X400).

Hartman is part of two school-record relays.

“Jacey is like a Natalie Puent. She can do it all,” he said. “She doesn’t get the recognition she deserves. But, just look at what she’s accomplished. She’s going to have another fantastic season.”

Samford said Kupferschmid has the potential to win a state title in the triple jump (as well as three relays), and Gold, the defending state champion in the 400-meter dash is “in another stratosphere.”

“They (Gold and Kupferschmid) are really, really special athletes,” he said. “When you’re around them every day, you get to appreciate them even more. They work so hard, and they are such a pleasure to coach ... They definitely have the potential to be the best in the state.”

So, even before the Hornets hit the track, the expectations are sky high.

And, then there is some extra motivation:

If Eureka brings home a state team trophy this spring, it will set an all-time state record for most team girls track trophies (six).

“They want to win the state championship,” Samford said. “But, I told them, ‘Let’s just try to win a trophy.’ That would be OK with me.”

Samford has 49 girls on his roster —the most he’s ever had in his 22-year career — and there is strong competition at just about every event.

“We have so many talented girls here. That’s the hardest part. When a girl has worked so hard, and then I have to tell her that she didn’t make a spot,” he said.

The departure of Puent and Vance leaves open spots on three school-record relays (4X100, 4X200, and 4X400), and Samford is already agonizing over the decision.

“There are a few girls in the mix to fill those spots. I might use a couple different girls,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough choice.”

Junior Michaela Balducci, sophomore Josie Hodel and freshman Serena Meiss are among a deep group in the running to fill those relay spots.

Balducci is also one of the top returning discus and shot put throwers, along with seniors Kayla Bryant and Lexi Bauman. Senior Taylor Watson is the top returning distance runner.

“We’ll rely on her a lot,” Samford said.

Watson and senior Kelsey Young will likely get two of the spots in the 4X800 relay (the only relay event that did not set a school record last year).

The junior class includes distance runners Ashley Crawford and Kayla Hilligoss, jumper/sprinter Chelsea Pentecost and Caitlyn Martin, who was injured last year.

“Kayla has been working really hard. She could have a really good season for us,” Samford said.

The sophomore class is loaded with athletes with state medal hopes.

They include: Kylie Alwood (high jump), Molly Schertz (pole vault, hurdles), Haley Steffen (pole vault), Nikki Danner (long jump, triple jump), Darci Eastman, Kendal Geuvens, Kinsey Herrman, Paige Knapp and Katie Schwanke.

Meiss, Meaghan Beatenhead, Taylor Krile, Quincy McSweeney and Steffani Wiegand are part of a talent-laden freshman class.

“Our underclassmen are really good,” Samford said. “That bodes well for this year, and for the future ... I’m sure I probably left a bunch of people out. We have so much talent from top to bottom.”

Eureka opens its season Saturday at the Charleston Indoor Invitational. Its first home meet is April 16.