First-year Prairie City-Monroe girls track coach Bridget Burns has returned to her alma mater, and with the cast of athletes she has returning from last season, it could be a very successful homecoming.
After three years as an assistant with the Newton girls track team, Burns inherits a solid group that has expectations high for all parties involved.
"So many people think of track as an individual sport. In some aspects it is, but there are team points kept at every meet," said Burns, who also ran in college at Wartburg. "I am hoping to score some big points at meets this year. We are also looking to make a strong showing at our conference meet."
After just two indoor meets and a lot of abbreviated practices due to the weather, the Mustangs are taking a similar approach to most teams in the state by aiming for gradual improvement. Although times and distances are the highest on the priorities list, placing highly or winning a few meets couldn't hurt, either.
Playing the biggest roles in that effort are the Mustangs' returning state qualifiers in senior Kelsey Townsend, juniors Lexi Kain and Abbi Gilson, sophomore Emma Williams and sophomores Courtney Van Houweling, Rachel Peter and Mackenzie Clarke. With that group covering all aspects from field events to sprints and relays, there is plenty of knowledge at the top to spread to the rest of the team.
"The leadership of our seniors and other veteran runners has been crucial to the beginning of this season." Burns said. "Kelsey Townsend is out only returning senior from last year's team, but she is doing an excellent job working hard and leading by example. There are a lot of upperclassmen who are truly stepping up and keeping practices fun and positive as well."
Kain returns as one of the most decorated on the team, having qualified in four events last year. She placed seventh overall in the 200-meter dash and was on the sixth-place shuttle hurdle relay team with Townsend, Williams and graduated senior Macey Walker.
"I think she can do even better this year," Burns said of Kain. She has gotten a lot stronger and is looking pretty good for early in the season."
Not to be overlooked is Townsend, who competed in three events at state and will anchor the team's hurdle events after qualifying for the 100 hurdles. Clarke returns as a qualifier in the 100, Peter ran in the 3,000 and Gilson remains the team's top thrower in field events after qualifying in the discus last season. As far as relays go, the entire 4x400 team of Clarke, Townsend, Van Houweling and Kain will return, while three of the four will be back in the shuttle hurdle relay.
Although most of the attention will likely rest in those events, Burns is also plenty excited about the underclassmen from what she has seen so far. The Mustangs competed in indoor meets at Central College and Iowa State University, giving their new coach something to work with in the weather-shortened practice period before the real competition begins.
"We have been very impressed with our newcomers this year. The freshman class has some talent that we are very excited about," Burns said. "They are very hard workers and seem to be fitting in nicely with the team. The freshman class is going to be a nice addition to our team this year."
Weather pending, the Mustangs will host 10 teams in a coed invitational on April 2.