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Ellsworth track and field teams begin regular season

WINONA - The Ellsworth High School track and field teams began the 2014 spring sports season Friday in the Early Bird Invitational hosted by Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau and run in Gostomski Field House at St. Mary's University.

The meet was non-scored and the participating teams along with EHS and G-E-T were Eau Claire Regis, West Salem, La Crosse Aquinas, Mondovi, Sparta and La Crosse Central.

The Panthers had a few top eight performances in both the girls' and boys' meets. Sophomore returning letter winner Kayla VanWatermeulen took fourth in the 200-meter dash and sixth and the 400-meter run.  Andrea Roper was seventh in the high jump; Olivia Helmer placed sixth in the long jump and third in the triple jump; Kelsey Betthauser was fifth in the triple jump and Desiray Matthews placed fifth in the shot put. Ellsworth's best relay showing was a fifth in the 1600-meter distance medley relay. 

In the boys' meet, EHS's Evan Klawitter was fifth in the 55-meter dash; Phillip Truax and Wyatt Roed placed fourth and fifth respectively in the 400; Jarek Fischer placed third in the triple jump and fourth in the long jump and the Panthers 3200-meter relay team placed fourth.

Young freshman and sophomore athletes will hold the key to the Panthers' fortunes this season under new head coaches Marcie Jahnke and Wade Kowalchyk as 13 seniors graduated from both teams combined last season, including state place winner Alex Campbell. Other experienced athletes also didn't come out leaving only seven returning letter winners on the girls' team and just two of them seniors in Rebecca Ingalls and Helmer. For the boys, the senior lettermen are Devrin Meyers, Adam Schuster, Spencer Redding and state qualifier Brett Freier.

"It's been new for everyone," Jahnke said. "The first few days we were just learning from each other other because we're so young. A good portion for the girls team, for example, is made up of freshmen."

Helmer will look to get back to the state meet she qualified for as a sophomore in the triple jump. Other returning letter winners include Matthews, a sophomore who placed second in the MBC in the shot put in 2013; junior Kelsey Betthauser, who competed in the jumps and hurdles last season, and fellow junior runners Payton Bjorkman and Joanne Lanegran.

"Our overall team strength is going to be a mystery until we can get a good idea what events will be good for a particular athlete to do well in," Jahnke said. "What we do know is that we have Olivia doing well in the jumps and Desiary doing well in throws, which she has worked hard at this past winter, Kelsey, Payton, Joanne and Kayla in their events and I think we can build a good 4x800 relay team as well."

The boys' team faces a similar situation a few knows and plenty of unknows with a young team. One of the knowns will be Freier, who qualified for the state meet in the hurdles last season.

"I think Brett is going to have a quality senior year," Kowalchyk said. "I know he has the drive to get back to state and we're confident he'll work hard to get there."

Fischer, a junior, is a returning letter winner in the jumps along with fellow junior Klawitter in the sprints and sophomores Isaiah Raethke in the throwing events and Carter Schutz in the distance runs.

"We're looking forward to having our junior and senior boys in the sprint relays like the 4x100 and 4x200," Kowalchyk said.

Kowalchyk knows the team will have holes to fill in the field events, losing both Campbell and thrower Logan Blodgett to graduation. 

"Hopefully our younger athletes coming up will move into those events and improve at them throughout the season," Kowalchyk said. "I can't speculate as to who will go where. I want to give our kids an opportunity to try out at several events and see what suits them and go from there to build our team." 

Ellsworth will be in action again Tuesday afternoon in an indoor meet hosted by UW-Stout in Menomonie.