After winning four consecutive Sandusky Bay Conference titles and five out of the last six, the Oak Harbor Rockets don't appear to be missing a beat.
In this young season, the Oak Harbor girls track team has already won two major invitationals while finishing second at another, a sign that they could be on their way to content for another SBC title.
Last weekend, the Rockets won the 17-team Lakota Invitational, edging league foe Clyde, 112-110½ for the title, and on March 29, Oak Harbor won the Seneca East Relays.
The lone “blemish” in major competition came two weeks ago when the Rockets were edged by SBC foe Perkins, 114-113, at the Pirate Invitational. The Rockets’ coaches note that Oak Harbor was without a number of key athletes because the school’s prom was held that weekend.
Coach John McKitrick is pleased with the performance of his kids so far.
“At the beginning of the season, you've got a few holes, and you wonder what pieces you're going to be missing,” he said. “You tell the kids, 'We need this,' and they start competing for certain jobs. They've exceeded my expectations in many ways.”
McKitrick was especially excited to see his squad win the Lakota Invite, an impressive feat considering they had to stage a fierce rally at the end.
“Clyde did a much better job (than last year) – they made it a battle,” he said. “We were down 20 points with three or four events, and that made it exciting. It put some pressure on the kids. Our two-milers and the 4x400 relay came through. It was a fun finish. You like those kinds of meets where you get tested.”
These Rockets, like so many of McKitrick's other squads, are the epitome of a team. There are a few elite performers who stand out, but the success of the group is contingent upon a bevy of athletes adequately filling their roles.
That is no more evident than in the relays, where Oak Harbor excels.
Last year, four Rocket relay teams advanced to the regional meet, and two of those (4x200, 4x400) made it to Columbus.
Individually, sophomore Athena Eli has stood out as she earned MVP honors for her performance at the Pirate Invite. She finished first in three events (400, 4x200, 4x800) and was part of the 4x400 squad that was second.
And six of Eli's teammates, Trinity Gephart (1,600, 3,200) Alexa Weis (100 hurdles, 300 hurdles), Paige Velliquette (100), Cydney St. Clair (100), Karis DeWalt (200) and Jordyn Dunn (shot put) finished in the top five in their respective events last weekend.
The relays have been even better, consistently finishing in the top three. There have a been a lot of contributors, including Eli, Gephart, Weis, St. Clair, DeWalt, Velliquette, Allie Jett, Makayla Wagner, Rebekah Rayburn, Lauren Dials, Coral Petersen, Annie Quisno, Taylor Dunn and Lexie Kadlubowski.
McKitritch is especially complimentary of St. Clair and Velliquette. St. Clair has bounced back after struggling in some meets last year, and Velliquette is a steady contributor even though this is her first year competing.
“Cydney, she had a nice sophomore year and had a tough year last year,” McKitrick said. “This year, she has really taken a different role and worked hard to get ready for the season. She's factoring in so many ways and she's going to be used a lot differently than last year. And Paige Velliquette – we're starting to expand her role. She used to be a 100-meter runner and now she could be in a few relays for us.”
St. Clair believes there are a lot of reasons for this team's success.
“It's all the hard work that we put in,” she said. “We're very dedicated and determined and we work together. During the winter, we lift weights and do some cross training. We want to win the league again and we have expectations to go to regionals and make it far.”
Gephart, who is one of six seniors on the team with Hannah Glass, Kaylie Hallet-Szymanski, Petersen, St. Clair and Kadlubowski talked about the tight bond that exists within the team.
“Our distance group is extremely close,” Gephart said. “We're always picking each other up, physically and mentally, because it's draining. We include (some of the younger athletes) in everything. We watch them and we're cheering them on; we try to push working hard and we've seen a lot of improvement from some of the girls, and we're real excited for them.
“When I was a freshman, I was on the 4x800 relay team, and they were great to me. I had to work really hard to get on the 4x800 team and I was able to get there. They set the standard and were so supportive. I try to be like that.”