OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa girls track team’s vision statement centers around quality, not quantity.

A healthy team atmosphere is essential to achieving success.

Winning another CIML Metro title has to be high on the list as well.

Ottumwa head coach Steve Green is in his eighth year as head coach at OHS and guided his Ottumwa team to the state meet where they brought 20 athletes. That was the most qualifiers since 1997, when Green joined the Ottumwa coaching staff.

Many of those state participants will be in action today at 4:30 p.m. when the Ottumwa Earlybird kicks off at Schafer Stadium.

Coach Green brings back 14 of those state qualifiers and securing another conference crown will be just a few of the goals Ottumwa will look to achieve in 2006.

Des Moines Roosevelt — who finished third at the state meet in 2005 — broke Ottumwa’s string of four consecutive conference titles this past season.

As successful as it was for OHS last season, Green strives to get the best out of his team. One of his main points this season was to create a family friendly attitude where everyone gets along.

“We had a trying season last year with injuries and “I” attitudes. It affected the team,” said Green.

So Green’s solution to that problem was to schedule Saturday morning meetings with six juniors and six seniors to create the aforementioned vision statement in leadership and training seminars.

“We gave all of them an invitation to come. They had to sacrifice their Saturday mornings and that was by design. They responded and they were eager to do this. They got a lot of their questions answered,” said the Ottumwa head coach.

The effort to change has seen clear-cut results this early in the season for the talented Bulldogs who have run in three indoor meets.

“It’s a totally different dynamic this year and the girls are very supportive of each other. There are no jealousies on this team and this team has a different swagger,” said Green.

In order to not get bitten again by the injury bug this season, Green is preaching a lot of hill climbing and road runs.

“That will prevent injuries down the road. The tendons and ligaments will be a lot stronger,” Green added.

Green also stated that his coaching staff had to push the envelope last year because of the injuries and sometimes run an athlete in four events.

If you’re listing key runners and performers for the upcoming season, you’ll have to start with seniors Katie Jay and Amy Wetrich. Each is a multi-sport star and adds a lot of firepower to the Bulldogs’ relay teams.

Other seniors that will have an impact are Samantha Thorgaard (middle-long distance), Chelsea Berges (hurdles), and Katie McGuire (high jump)

Green’s junior class is also solid with Karie Downing (field events) and Sarah Hendred (middle-long distance).

Green’s sophomore class is loaded with an abundance of speed and talent.

Kendra Spurgeon (sprints), Sarah Sosa (hurdles, 400), Kelsey McGuire (high jump), Sarah Paulson (400, 800), Kristin Paulson (400, 800), Katherine Person, Stacie Rodriguez, Akiya Pope, and McKenzie Cason all will be contributing in a big way this year.

On the boys side with OHS head coach Jim Nickerson, he’ll be trying to mold some underclassmen into champions and guided some juniors and seniors to state meet glory.

“We have good numbers and I like that. We’ll have senior leadership and the most juniors out that we’ve ever had. We should be able to put together a pretty good team,” said Nickerson.

Key returning seniors for the Bulldogs will be Brian Keck (hurdles), Robert Nichols (400), Cameron Tilus (long distance), Ryan Bickford, and Kyle McKearney. Nichols qualified for state in the 4x400 last year.

Junior Connor Daily heads the junior class as he was a state qualifier in 2005 for Ottumwa’s 4x400 relay squad. Mitch Houk will look toward a state berth in the field events also.

Jon Rusch (sprints) also returns for the junior class and he’ll bring some of his basketball teammates along with him onto the team according to Nickerson.

Nickerson’s sophomore class is perhaps his most interesting.

Back this year is sophomore Jordan Conley, who qualified for state in the 110 high hurdles as a freshman in 2005.

Sophomore Marcus Bailey is perhaps the fastest runner on the team and should be a joy to watch this spring.

Some new faces that have made an impression on coach Nickerson’s team are senior Michael Thordarson, junior Armando Rodriguez, sophomore Logan Conley, and freshmen high jumpers Tim Easton and Alex Kelly.

Easton finished sixth at the UNI indoor meet this past Friday with a leap of 5-10 in the high jump.

“Our high jumpers have been outstanding so far,” said Nickerson, who is in his 19th year as head coach at Ottumwa.

Nickerson has 60 kids out this year and stated that Daily, Bailey, and Rodriguez are all capable of jumping over 20 feet in the long jump.

“This team is strong in the field events and sprinting. There is always pretty good speed at Ottumwa. That’s typical,” said Nickerson. “We have a few people in mid-distance to distance, but we’re lacking the half-miler and milers to be really good as a team.”

One of Nickerson’s key relays will be the 4x400 and he commented that the majority of his sprinters are all better than they were a year ago.

Roosevelt finished fourth at state this year and should be the odds-on favorite to win the conference.

One of Nickerson’s goals is to keep the team healthy.

“It can get cold out there and sometimes you don’t prepare for an event. One mistake and you’re done for a season,” said the Ottumwa head coach.

In competition on the boys side of the Earlybird meet will be Ottumwa and Fort Madison. The Ottumwa girls squad will square off against Des Moines Lincoln, Fairfield, Oskaloosa, and Fort Madison.

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