Alpena girls track team has small roster, but big expectations

Courtesy Photo The 2019 Alpena High girls track team from left to right is: front: Malley McGuire, Paige Langley, Cambree Gildner, Maggie Thayer, Tiffany Foster, Kaylee Rondeau, Maddy Boyd, Karli Myers, Savannah Thomson and Molly Dickenson; middle: Emily Weiss, Beverly Blanton, Paige Timmreck, Alexis Reynolds, Abby Obryan, Zoe McKim, Katie Kurowski, Jessica Black, Gloria Kroll and Veronica Zaborney; back: Rosie Jackson, Breana Carroll, Emily Black, Hunter Ballor, Faith Weide, Brittany Mischloney, Madi Szymanski, Grace Mitchell, Alicia Ballor and assistant coach Emily Lemon; Not pictured: Ashley Bridgewater, Brylie Carstens, Karlin Decker, Rhea Gereau, Alison Hosinski, Brooke Mischley, Triana Rushton, Samantha Tadian, Madison Timmreck, Grace Weaver and Maddie Voltz.

As Joy Bullis prepares to lead the Alpena High girls track team this season, she’ll be coaching one of the smallest teams she’s ever had.

But small numbers aren’t stopping Bullis from setting high expectations for the Wildcats.

“It’s the smallest team I’ve ever coached at Alpena High School. But I’ve put a lot of pressure on them right from the get-go,” Bullis said. “I expect big things. We’re really young and we’ve got a lot of girls who are trying to find something to do.”

The good news for the Wildcats is many of their experienced point scorers are back and should give Alpena a contender in nearly every event. The challenge for Alpena will be overcoming a lack of depth, while trying to stay competitive in the Big North Conference.

Alpena finished fourth in the conference last season and returns a pair of conference champions and one state qualifier. If things go well, Bullis is hoping the Wildcats can add a few more representatives at the state finals in June.

Alpena’s lone returning state qualifier is senior Faith Weide. The Western Michigan signee swept the throwing events at the conference championships last year and won a regional title in the shot put. She has qualified for the state finals in each of the last two years and earned all-state honors in the shot put last season.

The Wildcats’ other conference champion is pole vaulter Karli Myers, who is hoping to stay healthy and turn in a solid season. Myers has won the conference title in the pole vault in each of the last two seasons, but has also battled a string of injuries in both years.

The goal for her this year is to stay healthy to attempt a three-peat as conference champion as well as vying for a regional title and possibly a spot at the state finals.

“The goal (for her) this year is to be the triple threat (three-time conference champion) in the pole vault,” Bullis said. “She’s athletic and a lot of potential.”

Alpena’s other returners include distance runners Maddy Boyd and Madi Szymanski and Bullis hopes both can make the state finals this season. Boyd was within striking distance of the finals last season and will anchor Alpena in the 3,200 run. After a stellar freshman cross country season as well as a strong indoor track season, Szymanski is hoping for a similar result on the track as Alpena’s mainstay in the 1,600 run.

“She never stops working. It’s her thought from the minute she wakes up. She’s texting me, ‘One more day until our meet’. She’s been texting me for 30 days,” Bullis said with a laugh about Szymanski.

Savannah Thomson will be Alpena’s stalwart in both hurdle events and the long jump and Maddie Voltz returns for Alpena in the high jump.

Alpena’s biggest question mark is in the sprints and Bullis said she’s currently working with more than a dozen sprinters, who are willing to work hard, but are brand new to the sprinting events.

If a few of those runners can emerge and be consistent point scorers, that should help Alpena during conference meets and in bigger meets toward the end of next month.

“Conference-wise, we can hold our own. We just don’t have the depth,” Bullis said. “I know Gaylord is loaded with sprinters, Cadillac is loaded with sprinters; that’s my weak point, so we’ll see.”

Even with such a small team, Bullis is excited to lead this year’s group of Wildcats and she’s also excited about the staff she’ll have working under her. Alpena’s coaching staff includes recent Alpena graduates Emily (McAnsh) Lemmon, Trevor Roznowski and Alec LeTourneau, all of whom are former state qualifiers with collegiate experience. Bullis and Alpena coach Collin Riffert will also coach sprint dynamics and jumps respectively, Joe Donajkowski will coach the distance events and Adam Walker, a former British national pole vaulting champion will also be on staff.

“It’s probably the strongest coaching staff I’ve ever had underneath me. We really strong and really experienced with our coaching staff this year,” Bullis said. “It’s going to be a lot more fine-tuning this year. Instead of me saying, ‘Ok, go do this,’ I can actually watch them as they do it and fix the errors.”