By JOSH MEYER
Head coach Todd Constable feels his Fort Dodge girls track team has the potential to make considerable strides this season.
Along with a group of 17 talented freshmen, the Dodgers will rely on returning state qualifiers Tiana Mericle and Lexi Astor to help lead the way.
"We're looking forward to a good season," Constable said. "Our goal is to get as many events to the Drake Relays and state as possible."
For a second straight year, Mericle competed in both the Class 4A 100 and 200 inside Drake Stadium last May as a junior. In addition, she anchored FDSH's state-qualifying 4x200 relay.
Seniors - Lexi Astor, Sydney Crotts, Rachel Herrington, Tiana Mericle.
Juniors - Ashley Ashenfelter, Samantha Dischler, Hannah Hanson, Taylor Hintch, Carson Jarrard, Amanda Koger, Cassondra Plagge, Cassidy Roberts, Mariah Smith, Becca Sunken, Lexi Wilcox.
Sophomores - Kati Astor, Olivia Egli, Stephanie Ferguson, Alexis Lessmeier, Emily Moore, Kelsey Illo, Imani Mosley, Jacquelyn Scott, Elizabeth Slater, Kandia Tookes, Amber Ward, Alexis Wolfe.
Freshmen - Myleesha Clayton, Natasha Crioyos, Justice Crooks, Alexis Erickson, Brandi Green, Quinea Lawrence, Chloe Lentsch, Tatyanna Mercado, Car'Maiya Mosley, Megan Nebel, Alexandrea Paulson, Kristen Rapp, LeiLani Schlick, Shariah Smith, Anna Taylor, Lehr Thorson, Sabrynn Ulrich.
March 27 - at Boone, 4:30 p.m.
April 1 - at Waverly-Shell Rock, 5 p.m.; 8 - at Ames, 4:30 p.m.; 10 - at Waukee, 4:30 p.m.; 15 - at Cedar Falls, 4:45 p.m.; 17 - host Dodger Relays, TBA; 21 - at Marshalltown, 4:30 p.m.; 24-26 - at Drake Relays, TBA.
May 1 - at Mason City, 5 p.m.; 6 - at Mason City, 5 p.m.; 8 - at CIC Invitational in Waukee, 3:30 p.m.; 15 - at Class 4A district meet, TBA.
"Tiana's been looking as explosive as I've ever seen her," said Constable. "I'm excited to see what she can do this year."
Astor, a senior, ran the third leg on the Dodger 4x200 in Des Moines last spring. She was also a member of Fort Dodge's 4x100 with Mericle, which qualified for the Drake Relays. During her sophomore campaign, Astor finished 10th in the state long jump after previously advancing to the Drake Relays.
"Lexi works hard and understands what our goal is," Constable said. "She has good bloodlines, demands greatness of herself, and always wants to win regardless. Lexi's just one of those athletes that you always love having out there. She does the right things all the time, so you don't have to micromanage."
Seniors Rachel Herrington and Sydney Crotts, juniors Carson Jarrard, Lexi Wilcox and Becca Sunken and sophomores Alexis Lessmeier, Kati Astor, Stephanie Ferguson and Emily Moore supply FDSH with quality depth.
"Rachel's a strong kid that will look to punch a ticket to the state meet this year in the discus," said Constable. "She's just that Dodger kid you love coaching, and she's always willing to do what it takes to get better.
"Carson will run just about anything, too. She's such a diverse athlete that has excellent turnover speed.
"During our time trials, Lexi Wilcox kept knocking kids off. She proved herself at the (recent ISU Indoor Classic) and ran an awesome race."
Newcomers Shariah Smith, Justice Crooks, Lehr Thorson, Anna Taylor, Chloe Lentsch, Megan Nebel and Sabrynn Ulrich have each impressed in the early going as well.
"Our incoming freshman class will help us out quite a bit," Constable said. "Shariah kind of validated what I was hoping for (at the ISU Indoor Classic). A lot of heads were turning wondering who the kid from Fort Dodge was when she won the 60. She's as fast of a freshman as I've ever coached."
Assisting Constable are Tim Hanson and Scott Timmerman. Hanson is also the head boys and girls cross country coach, while Timmerman directs the girls basketball program.
Fort Dodge's 2014 outdoor debut is tonight at the Boone Invitational. The Dodger Relays are set for April 17.