Coach Jeff Flugum brings it up happily: His Apple Valley boys’ track and field team graduated two exceptional hurdlers from last season’s team who finished 1-2 in the South Suburban Conference meet.
In track and field, teams need as many athletes scoring as many points as possible to be competitive. So why wouldn’t the Eagles coach be bemoaning the loss of two critical pieces in 2014’s success?
“It is a numbers game, and that’s how you compete as a team,” Flugum said. “But those open spots are opportunities. That’s how you get kids into the sport, or kids on the team more committed and motivated.
“We’re always looking for kids to step into new roles, try something new and grow their knowledge base of the sport.”
That “excitement level,” as he put it, is a main reason Apple Valley looks primed to reload after last spring’s seventh-place showing at the Class 2A state meet.
“We had some great finishes at state last year,” Flugum said. “And what we’re really excited about was to see the group of younger athletes who contributed last year — getting some strong experience in sections and state — and now seeing where they’re at this year.”
Last week’s snow served as a cold reminder that it’s still early in the spring season for predicting future success. But Flugum likes the way his team is shaping up.
About that numbers game part: Apple Valley had more than 80 students come out for track and field at the start of spring practices on March 9. That’s right at the team’s “target number” for competing against the area’s best, Flugum said.
The South Suburban will be a stern test. Rosemount is a perennial power in track, and Prior Lake should field a strong team this season. Flugum also said he expects Shakopee to be one of the better teams in the area.
“When you look at our conference and our section, there aren’t really any weak teams anywhere,” he said.
Apple Valley also has an impressive roster that includes senior Justice Walton, a high jumper and long jumper who reached the state finals in both events last year. Junior thrower Kieren McKeag has a shot at titles in discus and shot put, after a strong offseason of competition.
Flugum said he expects a number of athletes, such as sprinters Kevin Tchalla, Cade Nelson and Isaiah Hall, to step into big roles.
Last season the Eagles narrowly missed out on receiving the wild-card bid as the ninth team to qualify for the True Team meet. Making the True Team meet, Flugum said, is the team’s primary goal at the start of every season.
“To build a team and draw the numbers, you need to compete, you have to really emphasize that True Team mode where you have three kids for every event and every kid scores,” he said. “You need your kids to buy into that. Track and field, at the [Minnesota] State High School League level, is all about the individual, and we really want to try to value and promote that team mentality.
“We want kids to have the opportunity to step up and fill roles. That’s what makes a team successful.”