After graduating an often talked-about senior class that included an individual state champion last season, the Prairie City-Monroe boys track will experience even more change at the top.
With former coach Ben Anderson undertaking administration duties at Monroe Elementary School, PCM athletic director and football coach Greg Bonnett has decided to undertake a new duty of his own as track coach.
For the time being, at least.
"Ideally, I'd like to have Anderson be the head coach because he was a really good one," Bonnett said. "I'd like to think that I'm just holding the job for him when he wants to come back. But I like track a lot, especially the development in it, so I thought it was important to have good numbers."
Good numbers isn't an issue for this year's Mustangs, as Bonnett's first duty as coach was to bulk up what would've been a depleted roster after the departure of last year's seniors. Using his connections in other sports, Bonnett will try to replace the likes of Jordan Van Roekel, who was a two-time champion in the 400-meter hurdles.
"Most of them are football players, but at the same time I think we only had 12 guys coming back from last year's team," Bonnett said. "But now, we have 40 out."
Much like just about every other school in the state, however, the Mustangs haven't had much practice time due to the weather. That mixed with a cast of largely new faces has forced the Mustangs to temper their expectations for the early part of the season and focus on improvement by the end of April.
"Our expectations for success are going to be different than they were last year," Bonnett said. "But this year, with the cold temperatures and not being able to get outside, we're going to look forward to putting everything together by then. After that, we'll have to take a look and see what we've got."
Leading the limited cast of returners will be seniors Ethan Kain and Hunter Reed, among others. Both were on the team's 4x800 and shuttle hurdle relay state-qualifying teams along with teammate Jake Van Wyk. With that experience on a team that could be lacking in the category, Bonnett will be looking in their direction to lead, at least early this season.
Sticking out in the large cast of up-and-comers is junior Troy Vittetoe, who saw plenty of action during cross country season. This season, however, Bonnett is looking at him for sprint events such as the 100, 200 and 400 instead of the distance events like he participated in this fall.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he winds up being one of the best runners on our team." Bonnett said of Vittetoe. "He's a lightweight kid, but he's got good form and can really scoot along."
The other candidates to fill in the holes from last season have a pretty diverse background. Senior Rhett Gainey, who is doubling up with soccer, will be among them, as will freshman Logan Gilman, who made an impact off the bench for the Mustangs' basketball team this winter. Sophomore Hayes Applegate was also mentioned as an athlete that could help PCM in multiple events from sprints to hurdles to the long jump.
Weather pending, the Mustangs will see their first competition in an 11-team home invitational on April 2.