By Kyle LoJacono
The Steinbrenner girls track team has been a force during its young history.
The Warriors were district runners-up during their inaugural season in 2010 and ran away with the Class 2A-District 9 championship last year. Senior Alexis Wright, who came from Gaither as a sophomore, relishes the opportunity to shape the fledgling program’s perception.
“It’s been a pleasure to come in and be able to help set the standard for what Steinbrenner track athletes should be able to do,” said Wright, who won the 2A state title in the 100-meter hurdles last year. “Having the opportunity to define the word ‘warrior’ has been extraordinary. I left Gaither to have this opportunity, but I never dreamed it could have been like this.”
Senior thrower Melisa Stankovich said the team has even more drive to defend their title.
“We’re all more focused because we have a target on our back,” Stankovich said. “We’ve got to keep up our reputation and show that we still want to get a title.”
Most of Steinbrenner’s top athletes are back to defend that crown after another year of training with veteran coach Ladd Baldwin, who spent 12 years at Gaither and six at Chamberlain before starting the Warriors’ program.
“The heart of the team is intact and healthy, and we’ve added a couple nice pieces,” Baldwin said. “As coaches it’s up to us to put the kids in the right position. Along with that you’re always trying to maintain the program, so we’re taking a lot of time to build the freshmen and sophomores up to take over when the seniors are gone.”
Junior thrower Jessica Weatherman said a big part of the team’s quick success has been how Baldwin views all 17 scoring events.
“We’re all around a team,” Weatherman said. “We don’t focus on one event to get our points. We have a variety all over. Coach Baldwin makes a good team, and I think we’re even better than last year.”
A big part of building a complete team is finding the right place for each athlete.
“Some events you just don’t have, but you try kids in different spots to see what they do best,” Baldwin said. “Alexis wasn’t a hurdler. One day we tried her there and now she’s the state champ.”
Junior Jessica Brewer also had to find her way to her best events. She started doing the hurdles but never really took to it.
“We were walking around the track one day, my teammate Sarah Eppler, coach Baldwin and myself,” Brewer said. “Sarah said ‘do you know the steps for triple’ and coach Baldwin said ‘I’ve been meaning to try you in that.’”
The triple is a lot like something Brewer had done growing up. She won a state title in the vault while a level 5 gymnast in fifth grade.
“She was just a natural,” Baldwin sad. “Her first meet was the Western Conference American Division and advanced to the county games and got sixth there. She works hard every day.”
Finding the right event is only half the battle. Baldwin said he also strives to keep his athletes as focused on track as possible during the season.
“A lot of the girls who join do it because they got cut from other sports,” Baldwin said. “Most just want to hang out with their friends. Once they get out here it’s our job to develop that fire inside of them.”
Junior twins Salina and Lauren Garris are prime examples.
“The biggest thing is I try a lot harder now than when I was a freshman,” Lauren said. “I want to be better when before I was just doing this because friends did it.”
Salina added, “Coach Baldwin started to inspire me to do better. When I saw times getting better that pushed me to try harder. In every race I want to have a better time.”
For Salina, better times aren’t just for herself.
“I know my times wouldn’t be as good if I didn’t have my team running with me,” Salina said. “Running with your team is a big deal, and they make you want to run on days you don’t feel like running. I don’t feel like I qualify for anything individually. I feel like I’m just helping my team.”
The Warriors will compete at the 3A-8 meet at Gaither on April 19 starting at noon.