CENTER, Mo. -- Healthy competition has been the theme for Mark Twain's track and field team as the season nears.
Although some spots are settled, there is plenty of competition for events.
"It's about getting better every single day and competing every day against both ourselves and our teammates," said Mark Twain boys track coach Matt Boswell. "This is one of the biggest groups I've had and one of the most competitive groups in terms of we have guys fighting for spots everywhere."
Tigers senior Lakoda Preston credited the coaching staff for its leadership going into the season.
"We are really battling yourself in track," Preston said. "It's not like football where you rely on your team. It's you versus yourself most of the time. The coaches have done a really great job of making sure we all work together to get better and compete against each other."
Mark Twain has also had to compete against the weather, with cold temperatures adding an extra challenge to practices.
"Now that we have the all-weather track, we've been able to utilize it a lot more this year," said Mark Twain girls track head coach Erin Mack. "We've only had two indoor practices. We've been pretty blessed so far. I'm not saying practices outside have been great because we have had wind and it's been cold. There was some wet and damp days too."
The girls team will return two runners from its 4x200-meter relay team that qualified for state and placed 11th.
One of those runners is junior Madison Boleach, who will also compete in the 4x100-meter relay, the 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash.
Boleach said she has been working on accelerating and building up endurance.
"(My goal is) to build up these younger athletes who haven't got to run with me yet," Boleach said. "I'm really focused on hand offs and getting them smooth, so we can be as good as we can be."
Senior Audrey Ross returns from the 4x200-meter relay team, but is still recovering from an injury.
"We just have to get her confidence back up to where she can feel comfortable out on that track and out on those relay teams," Mack said. "It's definitely going to take some time with her. She's had six months off and you can definitely tell she's had six months off."
Other key sprinters on the girls side include Shaelyn Shepherd and Jocelyn Hudelson.
Mark Twain will look to Matera Ellis and Sydney Miller for its long distance runs.
"Matera has been a key member of the 4x8 for the last three years," Mack said. "We have Sydney returning also. Matera advanced out of the district in the mile. I think advancing out of the two-mile is another goal of hers."
The boys side returns two relay teams that advanced to the state meet last year -- the 4x800 and 4x400.
The Mark Twain boys 4x800-meter relay team placed seventh at state last year, and returns Lukas McLeod, Brandon Black and Sam Northcutt.
"We are looking to run it back and go back to state once again," Northcutt said. "We are going to try to break the record, too."
The boys 4x400-meter relay team also went to state and placed 10th, only graduating Will Owen, but returning Preston, Northcutt and McLeod.
"I'm really working on my stamina," Preston said. "Last year I struggled with it. The last 150 meters was kind of slow for me, so we are trying to fix that so my full 400 is stronger than last year."
Preston will also compete in the 100-meter dash and triple jump.
Mark Twain has several newcomers joining Preston in sprints, including Casen Evans, Zek Bennett, Eli Tobin and Justin Bergthold.
The boys team will rely on freshman Mason Delaporte and sophomore Ean Colbert on hurdles, with Delaporte recovering from a knee injury from football.
The girls side will also look to a freshman for hurdles with Sophie Hicks having experience in the event in junior high.
"(Hicks) put in the time in the offseason to improve upon her junior high career," Mack said. "She definitely has a lot of work to do, but she's just a freshman and is young. So she hasn't developed the skills she needs yet, but those are things we are going to work on to get her to be successful throughout the season."
Jumping events on the girls side is still a work in progress as the season approaches.
With Preston competing in the triple jump, Mark Twain will fit in some new guys for long jump and high jump, including Coden Miller, Kevin Cruz and Evan Zumwalt.
The boys team will have mostly new throwers, either freshman or first-timers. Junior Wyatt Evans comes from football to do shot put and freshman Micah Daniels will join him.
Sophomore Isaiah Austin returns as a discus thrower.
Senior Madison Epperson narrowly missed a state appearance in girls shot put last season and has added discus to her events.
Epperson has been working through the movements early on in practice and showing her younger teammates the ropes.
"I practiced all summer into the fall until it got too cold to throw outside," Epperson said. "Since then, I've been doing a lot of weight training in the gym."
Senior Summer Miller will be one of the other throwers for the girls team.
Mark Twain enters this season with a lot of younger athletes on its roster, as well as first-timers to track and field.
"There's a good future," Northcutt said. "We have a lot of young sophomores and freshmen that came out this year that have a lot of potential and I think they are a great fit to our track program."
Although Mark Twain does not have a home event, there are some meets the runners are looking forward to.
"Any Louisiana meet," Preston said. "I love Louisiana's track. I love the atmosphere and I have family down in Louisiana that I love competing against. It makes it a lot of fun to go against people that you've been around forever. It makes it more competitive than what it would be in any other meet."
Of course, there are other meets different athletes have marked on their calendar.
"The first meet is always my favorite, in Montgomery County," Epperson said. "I took first there last year to start my season, so I'm excited to see if I can do that again."
March 21 -- at Montgomery County
March 22 -- at Westran Open
March 27 -- at South Shelby
March 30 -- at Monroe City Invite
April 5 -- at Bowling Green Mini Medal Meet
April 6 -- at Palmyra Open
April 11 -- at Highland (Jerry Ball Relays)
April 13 -- at Westran Relays
April 18 -- at Monroe City (Dennis Hancock Invitational)
April 21 -- at Louisiana (Cunningham Invitational)
April 25 -- at Louisiana Invitational
April 28 -- at Hannibal (Mark Twain/Becky Thatcher Relays)
May 2 -- at EMO Conference Meet
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.