ELKINS-Rebuilding years are often used to describe track teams that only have seven returning runners. Elkins High School girls Coach Scott Biola prefers instead to think of this year's team as "new and improved."
"Our numbers were awfully lean last year and we graduated five seniors, so needless to say I was a little worried," Biola said. "When I started to see the number of girls who were signing up this year I started to feel a little better, and when we had a turnout of over 30 girls the first week, I was very pleased."
One of the five seniors who graduated was utility athlete and state meet qualifier in the shot put, Ashley Simmons.
Jontasia Sitton, left, and Kathlyne Simmons qualified for the state track meet last season for Elkins High School.
The other two 2013 state meet qualifiers for the girls team included Jontasia Sitton in the shot put and Kathlyne Simmons in the long jump. Both return this year ready to build on last year's success.
"Even though we had a small team last year, we did make a lot of progress," Biola said. "We had a dedicated nucleus that put a lot of effort in and gained technical skills that have carried into this year."
Biola is proud of Sitton's and Simmons' achievements but wants to see more of their teammates qualify for the state meet in Charleston this year.
"I'd like to see those two make another trip to Charleston, and I think we've got some others who could qualify individually. To help our program build though, I would especially like to qualify at least one relay," Biola said.
Top returners expected to see time on the relays include Simmons, as well as sprinters Lindsay Roy (junior), Paige Harrison (junior) and Hailea Harper (sophomore).
"Paige was our Most Valuable Track Athlete last year and she has been the glue that has held our relays together since she was a freshman," Biola said.
Harrison is also a strong hurdler who the coach expects to be competitive in the 300 hurdles, and he plans to build a shuttle hurdle relay team around her.
Two aspiring members of that hurdle relay include seniors Bethany Richards and Ann Urban, who along with fellow seniors Emily Coffman and Brooke McCollam, have been credited for showing great leadership so far.
Top newcomers for the girls team include freshmen Olivia Underwood, Carmensita Underwood, Alexis Brandon, Bailey Topping, Ashlee Bennett, Skylee Watson and sophomore Skout Barger.
"Our new girls have given us a great upshot of talent but what I like most is their attitudes. They've made practice fun and I'm excited about track again," Biola said.
The Tigers will open the season at the Connect-Bridgeport.com Invitational this Saturday. Field events will begin at 11 a.m. and running events will start at noon.
Elkins' first home meet is scheduled for 9 a.m. on April 5 for the annual Irwin Invitational.