A new track and field season begins on Saturday (Dec. 2) at the Tiffin Alumni Open, and as is the case with Ashland's men's and women's indoor and outdoor programs, the expectations are high.
The Eagle men are coming off 2017 national finishes of second indoors and tied for third outdoors, as well as a 2017 outdoor Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference team championship. Ashland's women, by contrast, are a team on the rise – one that is on the cusp of national prominence once again.
"The expectations coming into the indoor season are to patch the holes left by graduation," said head coach Jud Logan, beginning his 24th season with the Eagles and 13th as head coach. "When you lose a Bryn Campbell, Jordan Crayon, Jason Zahn, you look at what those guys have meant to this program and the number of points they scored at the conference and NCAA level, that's tough to just replace."
The throws cupboard isn't close to bare for the Ashland men. Sophomores Alex Hill and Nick Zak both are returning indoor weight throw All-Americans, and senior Elijah Talk took second in the nation indoors in the shot put a season ago. Add returnees Jim Toth (junior), Jake Glass (sophomore), Brandon Sicurella (junior) and Stephen Pop (junior), and that is more than enough depth for the men in the throws.
The wild card in this group is true freshman Brent Fairbanks. Throwers don't normally compete in their first year as an Eagle, but Fairbanks made himself an exception.
"We were going to redshirt him, but we decided to pull his redshirt," Logan said. "He's training so well now, we think he can be a difference-maker in year one. We think we can use him right away."
Another true freshman who is going to compete right away is Ashland native David Amstutz. Logan noted how rare it is to have one true freshman thrower, let alone two.
Ashland's top difference-maker outside of the throws on the men's side is junior Myles Pringle, who, in just two collegiate seasons, has earned two national championships, six All-American awards and a slew of Eagle records.
"Myles has to find a way to be good in both events at the right time," Logan said, "and when I say both events, it could potentially be as many as four events (200-meter dash, 400-meter dash, high jump and a relay)."
The other top men's returnee in the sprints is sophomore Paul Murray, while sophomore Arthur Greenlee IV is the top men's hurdler coming back. Joining that mix is freshman Trevor Bassitt, who Logan said is coming on faster than he anticipated.
"We're probably counting on more true freshmen than we ever have, but that will be a really nice blend with the guys that we have coming back," Logan said.
On the women's side, Logan said last year that the team was two years away from competing at a national level. That would put the Eagle women a year away now – and Logan hasn't varied from his stance.
"It is coming together," he said. "The women are going to be a top-10 team in the country again, and push to get up on the podium (in 2018)."
Senior Megan Tomei will be back to lead the throws group outdoors, so the top returning indoor throwers on the women's side will be junior weight throwers Natalie Helenthal and Mackenzie Leigh, and redshirt freshman Gianna DiPippo in the shot put. The future is bright there, as well, as five freshmen will redshirt and look toward 2018 to begin their Eagle careers.
Sophomore Amber Otermat returns to the pole vault after a strong rookie campaign, and Logan said, "She has a sense of focus this fall like I've not seen."
Another sophomore, Paula Wollenslegel, is a top returnee in the jumps, as is senior Hannah Bartlome. The women's multis group is buoyed by the return of senior Marie Hammer, while the veteran leader of the women's sprints group is senior Haley Gregory.
The top freshman in a talented group of first-year performers is Taylor Dziatczak in the multis. Logan is looking to Dziatczak as a potential NCAA qualifier out of the gate.
"The women's team, still in that step away," Logan said. "That doesn't mean we're not going to have incredible, breakout performances, because we have improved our depth. Way more depth on the women's side than we've ever had.
"I want to position the women's team to have the success the men's team has had."