Franklin Regional track teams reload after heavy graduation losses

By: William Whalen

Friday, April 5, 2019 | 5:14 PM

Most high school track and field programs would not only struggle to survive, but also struggle to compete if they were to lose a senior class of more than 20 athletes from the year before.

And then there’s the Franklin Regional track team looking like a battalion of soldiers on the track. Hovering around 130 athletes, the Panthers boys and girls track and field teams are overflowing with talent and depth.

“Last year, we had 16 out of the 18 events that were senior-led for the boys,” Franklin Regional coach Bob Ralston said. “Someone said, ‘It’s a rebuilding year for you.’ I said, ‘No, the structure is already built.’ We just need the young guys to step up.”

Franklin Regional (3-0) lost a slew of talent on the boys side, losing more than 20 starters to graduation. Gone are standouts like Jacob Shedd and Tyrese Kohlman, and in are newcomers who are eager to step up and make a name for themselves.

“Everyone knows what we lost,” Ralston said. “The boys really took a huge hit. How many teams can lose 90 percent of their scorers (from last season) and then come back and challenge for a section again. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

Just in sheer numbers, the odds are in Ralston’s favor to find replacements and he has.

“We had three senior boys who medaled at states last year, and I thought we would miss them greatly, but the younger guys are stepping up,” Ralston said. “These kids work really hard.”

Senior distance runner Jacob Hnath will be looked upon to carry the torch in the 800-meter run. Hnath finished 12th at last year’s WPIAL Class AAA championships while former teammate Matt Busche took first. It’s Hnath’s turn to lead in the 800.

“H’es our go-to guy,” Ralston said. “He was part of the 800 dynasty. That’s what he’s gonna try and go to states in.”

Senior high jumper Mason Fischell will look to improve upon last season’s county win in the event, and classmate Jaden Seman had a taste of the WPIALs last season when he finished 14th in pole vault. Raltson said he likes Seman’s consistency.

As a whole, Ralston described the sprinters as a “pretty good” bunch. But once again. they’re also young. A couple of football players in sophomore Colton Johns and junior teammate Zach Gordon are going to compete in the 100- and 200-meter dashes while making up of half of the 400 relay team. Gordon led the Franklin Regional football team in rushing (545 yards) and touchdowns (7) last season.

“Another advantage we have is that our football coach allows the players to join other teams,” Ralston said. “Our sprinters, we expect them to get a lot of points.”

Things couldn’t be more different on the girls side where the girls team returns 25 of 27 point scorers from last season.

“The girls team is looking good and strong,” Ralston said. “We picked up some freshmen that are trying to get on that invite team.”

Ralston said the girls team is an opportunistic bunch. When they see an opening, someone is always eager to try and fill it. It might be their only shot at making the invite team.

“We started the season with one hurdler and now we have 10 kids,” Ralston said. “They saw that we have 10 spots open so they’re trying it. They’re working. These kids are clever.”

The Panthers are strong on the track and in the field. Senior discus thrower Tiffany Jolayemi returns after a turning in a fourth-place finish at WPIALs and making a run at states last season.

“She’s been trying to break into the 120’s for a couple of years and we’re thinking that she’s going to be able to do that this year,” Ralston.

The rich get richer. Junior Allie Coker, an Indiana transfer, has taken over at shot put and and javelin. Coker has already made a presence by breaking the school shot put record against Plum last week with the throw of 37 feet. She beat Emily Valentine’s record of 37-11 set in 2017.

“(Coker) loves track and you always like getting people that have a love for the sport,” Ralston said. “She’s going to be good one.”

Sophomore triple jumper Rayna Todero finished fourth at WPIALs last season and owns the school’s triple-jump record.

“Now she’s trying to break the long jump,” Ralston said. “It’s pretty fun to watch her jump.”

Senior speedsters Makenna Grieco and Eva Martino will compete in the 100 and 200 meters, along with the 400 relay.

“We set it up to win,” Ralston said. “They’re trying to get a section title. The girls are a really good team. They get along great, and they want to win a section title.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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