This is one of those years where every track meet will be especially critical for Bloomington North and Bloomington South.
With COVID-19 hampering the past two seasons in various ways, this one is a mystery on many fronts. From early graduates, to freshman pouring out for sports again, to sophomore and junior athletes who haven't competed in a high school meet.
The numbers are good, as North has nearly at 70 (perhaps its largest team ever), South's roster is near 60 and Edgewood's ballooned to 36.
But North coach Justin Helmer and South's Jill Rensink also find themselves in a place where they either know what a veteran athlete can do, or have little idea how an athlete will perform on meet day and which lineup of events is best for them.
"We lost a little bit of depth, but we return a lot at the top end with a lot of girls who have had success in high school," Helmer said. "Behind them, if we can fill in some pieces, we could have a pretty solid season."
Edgewood lost one of the best distance runners in the state for the whole season, but on the plus side, there are several intriguing multi-sport kids on hand.
"We in kind of a crazy spot with the girls," coach Zach Evans said. "We have a lot of new girls who are incredible athletes."
So look for plenty of experimentation throughout the first half of the season and for plenty of new faces to emerge.
"It's kind of a puzzle to see where people fit," Rensink said. 'We have three seniors and 10 juniors and more than 20 sophomores. So we're still trying to figure out where people will go.
"But they're good about trying new things."
Here's a look at the area's five programs:
"A lot of question marks," Helmer said. His big goal is to find some depth so his best athletes are not stretched to thin at big meets where every point counts.
In the sprints and hurdles, he has two top performers back in seniors Ella Francis and Kyla Kante.
Francis avoided the 100 hurdles last year due to a balky back, but did well in the 300s, won a sectional title in the 100 dash and ran legs for the 400 and 1,600 relays. So she can help in a lot of places.
Kante, who hasn't been to state since her freshman year thanks to an ankle injury right before sectional last year that's still an issue. She's avoiding hurdles and long jumping at the moment and will give North's relays a big boost. "She makes us a whole lot better," Helmer said.
Other sprinters to watch include sophomore Chloe Hendrix-Petry (who may hurdle as well), senior Avery Njau and sophomore Kiera Feagans, who has taken a nice jump forward. Gymnast Dede Eberle, who ran track when she was younger, is also a new piece.
The distance group is led by senior Bea Cakmak and sophomore Nola Somers Glenn who made state in the 800, and Rachel Allison, a strong runner in the 3,200 and the 3,200 relay last year. "We kind of fall off after that," Helmer said. "We have to fill some gaps."
In the long jump, Kante is back as is senior Stella Trueblood, who is also North's top high jumper, reaching 5-1 last year. Basketball/volleyball standout Mia Robbennolt will give high jump a try for the first time. Junior Zoe Prather returns in the pole vault, where several newcomers will compete.
Throws are looking strong again behind sophomore state discus medalist and shot put qualifier Hadley Lucas. "She's been throwing great," Helmer said. "She's definitely improved." Senior Annie Galindo has moved in from Edgewood, where she went 110 in discus to make regional.
The Panthers have little experience back, so those who do, regardless of what events they're in, will be leaned on by the whole team.
Two of them are juniors Lily Myers and Emma Callahan. Myers was a state medalist in cross country and state qualifier in the 3,200 last year. Callahan is back after an injury scuttled her fall season, posting a 5:21 1,600 split indoors.
"They both look great," Rensink said. "We have a number of underclassmen in our distance group who ran really well in cross country who I hope we can set up to fill some spaces." It includes senior Isabella Vesperini, freshmen Anna Asplund and Danielle Yang and sophomore Millie Williams, a former soccer player.
"We're telling that group, everybody looks to you," Rensink said. "We know them the best. They do step up and they're good leaders. They're the backbone of the team because they're the ones who will be winning races right off the bat."
It's a new group that needs to sort itself out in the sprints and mid-distance events, as Rensink looks to see might fit best in with a 200-400 lineup or a 400-800. Those in the 100 are all new, with freshmen Emilia Russo and Trinity Uti showing some promise early on. Same deal with the hurdles, as an all-new group that includes basketball player Abbie Lucas gets it's feet wet in both the 100s and 300s.
South does have a sectional performer returning in the high jump and long jump in junior Lilly Brown. Volleyball player Raine Rolen is coming out for the high jump as a junior after doing the event in middle school. Basketball player Carlie Pedersen is giving long jump and high jump a try as well. Junior Kiara Erickson is back in the pole vault, where sophomore Claire Lutz, is also improving.
South's top thrower, senior Maya Anderson-Corns, returns in both shot put and discus. She'll be joined by Victoria Moore, a sprinter who's injuries are forcing her to switch events. "She's crazy strong," Rensink said.
A team that was freshman heavy last year brings a lot of talent back.
But with junior Clara Crain being held out for the season to allow a possible stress reaction/fracture to properly heal, the Mustangs will lean heavily toward sprints and mid-distance points on the track and strong field events.
Start with junior Ella Hayden out for the first time, who will be good in the 200 and 400 as well as the long jump. She joins a sprint crew that returns Piper Stephens and Ellie Hosey.
The mid-distance group is well stocked with four-year seniors Claire Sherfield (400) and Emma Bitner (800) and another first-year athlete, sophomore Ashley Abram, who is coming off gymnastics and will do pole vault and be a key for the 1,600 relay. Sophomore Riley Haskett, like most of the cross country standouts, are more geared to the shorter races, so the 1,600 and 3,200 spots are wide open.
Sophomore Addison Goerges returns in the 300 hurdles and hopes to pick up the 100s this season. Freshman Addisyn Ziliak will give hurdles a try as well.
Hayden has already posted a 15-6 long jump and Emma Edwards has reached 5-0 in high jump give the Mustangs to prospects there.
And in the throws, Edgewood welcomes back senior Trista Helms, who missed the preseason after suffering an injury at the end of basketball season. Behind her neck and neck in both shot and discus are Liberty Clarner and Shayli Walker.
The Lions have just six athletes out for coach Josh Henson and no seniors, with three sectional performers last year at juniors not returning.
The group back is led by juniors Madelina Esslinger and Lizzie Billingsley. Esslinger was LCA's top sprinter last year, just missing the finals in the 100 and 200. She had top times of 13.01 and 27.51. Interestingly, she was one of the Lions' top cross country runners in the fall, qualifying for regional. Billingsley ran the 400 last year.
Sophomore Victoria Mann joins the sprint crew and will give throws a try.
The freshman group includes sprinter Ava Fritz, sprinter/hurdler Claire Beretta and distance runner Zoey Crites.
Head coach Emily Black has seen her program expand to 21 athletes and it's a group with several seniors and strong athletes to lead the way. "I'm excited about the potential of an older team," Black said. "Our strengths are in middle distance."
That group brings back junior Ashley Hudson and sophomore Jaylynn Payne and senior Addison George from last year's 3,200 relay. Add in freshman Lilyanna Blais, a semistate qualifier in cross country, who was SWIAC middle school runner-up in the 800 and 1,600 last year.
George and senior Indy Workman, who will split time with softball, will run the 400 and underpin the T-Birds' 1,600 relay that also returns senior thrower Aloria Kines.
The sprint group is headed by senior Anna Tieman, a sectional finalist in the 100 and 200 and regional qualifier in the 100 and long jump. She could help in the 400 relay as well. Clara Hawk is showing potential as well.
Junior Zoie Ault is also back in the hurdles as is senior Taylor Flick. Both made the 100 finals at sectional last year. Zult is also EG's top pole vaulter. They'll have a good 1-2 punch in the throws, too, with regional qualifiers Kines and Paige Anderson. Freshman volleyball/basketball standout Kenli Sullivan will high jump.
Contact Jim Gordillo at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @JimGordillo.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Girls' track and field preview: No time to spare for area teams