NORTH CANTON Success in sports typically stems from the ability to turn adversity and challenges into growth and progress.
The Hoover Vikings went through the first part of that equation last season and now, it’s time to see if they can complete it by applying what they’ve learned and growing from it. The boys team went 1-5 last season, while the girls team was slightly better at 2-4. Both squads want to better their results and will look to newcomers to bolster relatively small groups of returning letterwinners.
Fifth-year head coach David Neitzelt likes the tough edge that he’s seen from the new faces on the roster as well as the outlook of his returning athletes.
“Our growth and maturity from last year will be our strength this year. We have some tough newcomers to both our teams and some healthy athletes that were hurt all of last year,” Neitzelt said.
The girls return 13 letterwinners and the boys bring back 10, highlighted by 2015 Division I state pole vault champion Matt Peare. Peare wasn’t able to repeat as a junior, but is back for another shot at the top of the podium in his senior season. He’s joined by fellow returnees Mark Worley, Seth Graham, Alex Bazzoli and Evan Bauer among Hoover’s veterans, who will need to provide good leadership for a team that still skews on the young side with top new freshman faces Coby Householder (400), Jeremy Fox and Kyle Kopp (800 and 1,600 meters) poised to make an early impact.
“Our teams are still young, which helps us because we have some hungry athletes (with) wide eyes and big goals,” Neitzelt said. “We just need to make sure they remain focused through the season and stay healthy.”
On the girls’ side, the Vikings welcome back Allison Michel, Madison Kile, Lindsay Robinson, Taylor Ulik and Lauren Rhodes as part of a baker’s dozen returning lettewinners. All have been in plenty of big meets and pressure situations, so they should be able to help freshman newcomers Aubrey Held (400 meters and 300 hurdles) and Lauren Roncone (100 and 200 meters) get up to speed at the varsity level.
After enduring a difficult 2016 season, the Vikings are taking an honest view of where they stand in the Federal League. The girls placed fifth in the final standings and the boys were sixth, so there is room for improvement even though gaining ground in the league race is never easy.
McKinley, Perry, GlenOak and Jackson all have good depth and talent in various events and Green proved itself a viable contender last season as it made its Federal League debut, so any rise Hoover makes in the standings will be earned and hard-won. What gives the coaching staff hope is the belief that the team’s results from last season don’t define what their squad is capable of as a group.
“Last year's record was not reflective of the talent our teams possess,” Neitzelt said. “We are looking to improve in all areas to be the competitive team we know we are.I am very optimistic beginning this season. Starting near the bottom, all you want to do is see growth in the program and athletes. I feel we are starting this season progressing in a most positive way.”
In the early weeks of the season and with so many new faces on hand, the current task is evaluating each athlete to see which events best suit them. As that process takes shape, Neitzelt believes the results on the track will improve and the natural abilities of individual performers and relay teams will reach higher levels. Two meets on the schedule that jump out for Neitzelt specifically are the dual meet against Jackson and the Federal League meet the Vikings will host May 12.
Both are chances to compete against his father, longtime Jackson girls head coach Rick Neitzelt. David is Rick’s youngest son and the chance to compete against - and possibly beat - his father’s team is a fun one. The Stark County Championships on April 22 are also a big upcoming meet for the Vikings, whose progress will be the measuring stick on how successful their season becomes.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB