Snow, what snow?
The Helias boys and girls track teams don't have the ideal surface to practice on at the school. But it sure has come in handy this year.
"The only benefit of having an asphalt track is that you can plow it," new Helias head coach Chip Malmstrom said as the Crusaders and Lady Crusaders prepare for today's traditional opening dual against Jefferson City at Adkins Stadium. "Ours was uncovered. We had four lanes when everybody else's was still under snow."
Malmstrom, a longtime assistant at Helias, took over as head coach when Tom Emmel stepped down after last season. The adjustment from assistant has gone smoothly, helped by the interview process that got him the job.
"I know all of the kids, I knew where our strengths were and I knew what we needed to work on," Malmstrom said. "And I had the chance to talk about my ideas when I was interviewing, so it was just a matter of implementing my plan."
Helias has more than 100 athletes out this season, a number bigger than most years. That includes a large group of freshmen.
"It's a group of kids from other sports, which is something I'm excited about," said Malmstrom, a Minnesota native who was a decathlete at Kansas. "Hopefully we can help them in their sports and they can help us out, because we need bodies."
One change from the past is Helias will have more junior-varsity meets on the schedule. More meets means the chance to get better.
"We got as many as we could get and that was 13," Malmstrom said. "I've told the coaches and the kids I don't care how we do at duals and quads, we just want to get better and then everything will fall into place."
With the help of the football coaches, the Crusaders and Lady Crusaders are putting in more time in the weight room this season.
"There can be harmonious relationships between the sports," Malmstrom said. "Like football, they can see the importance of having faster kids while we see the importance of having stronger kids."
On the boys side, the Crusaders definitely have some fast and strong kids.
Helias is coming off its best state finish in years, taking 12th in the Class 3 championships, with that effort being led by Griff McCurren and Will Fife.
McCurren, who has signed to run at Saint Louis University, was fourth in Class 3 in the 400-meter dash in 48.94 last May. That also was the fourth-fastest time in any class at the state championships.
"He's just flat-out fast," Malmstrom said.
Malmstrom started working with McCurren as a freshman.
"He started in the triple jump with me, then he was "borrowed,'" Malmstrom said with a laugh. "He jumped 38-plus feet as a freshman, which was great, but then he started sprinting and that turned out to be a good decision."
Fife was second in the state in the discus as a sophomore with a toss of 164-10 and third in the shot put with a toss of 51-51â„2. The weather hasn't allowed much work in either event yet, but Malmstrom said Fife had a toss of more than 51 feet in the shot in recent weeks at an indoor meet in Columbia.
What makes that even more impressive is Fife is still recovering from a knee injury suffered in the football semifinals last November.
"That 51-foot throw was just power," Malmstrom said. "We've been careful with his recovery because an injured shot putter doesn't do anybody any good. The last three weeks of the season are the ones to worry about."
The Crusaders also figure to have a strong group of distance runners, led by senior Michael McCoy. McCoy was 13th in the Class 3 cross country championships last fall.
"We've recognized how good Michael is since he was a freshman," Malmstrom said.
The sprints and relays figure to be anchored by senior Daniel Dominguez, junior Ryan Tannehill and sophomore Christian Coyne. Coyne has opened some eyes in practice, Malmstrom said.
"He was athletic last year, but he's made a huge jump as a sophomore," Malmstrom said. "Things have just clicked."
Tannehill also will participate in the triple jump, while Coyne will high jump. Dominguez will be joined by senior Mitch Budd in the hurdles.
"Mitch was turning in some very good times in the 300-meter hurdles late last year and he's putting in the work to do even better," Malmstrom said.
Collin Caywood, a sophomore, will be in the long and triple jumps.
"I don't want to get ahead of myself, but with the experience we have coming back on the boys side, I would be surprised if we didn't finish somewhere in the top eight at state," Malmstrom said. "We have the experience and the talent to do that."
The Lady Crusaders scored one point at the Class 3 championships last year. They should improve on that finish this May.
"On the girls side, we have the talent and the drive to do a lot better at state," Malmstrom said. "I think we could have multiple medalists."
Bre Zanders, a senior, figures to be solid in both the shot put and discus. She finished eighth in the shot put as a junior.
"I think we will see her in at least one event or both at state," Malmstrom said. "She's been putting in a lot of work."
Laura Schieber qualified for state in the long jump last year as a freshman. She figures to be a strong candidate to return in that event as well as in the triple jump.
"If we can keep her healthy, she should get back to state in one or both," Malmstrom said.
The Lady Crusader sprint contingent is led by senior Toni Matson and sophomore Megan Villanueva and Gretchen Rauch.
In the distance events, senior Suzie Ahlvers will be joined by sophomore Kaitlyn Shea and freshman Molly Light.
Rauch and fellow sophomore McKenzie Keilholz are poised for good seasons in the pole vault, Malmstrom said.
"I'm so excited because it's a great group of kids with a positive attitude," Malmstrom said. "The first couple of weeks is a grind, they're ready to get out there and get some competition against somebody else."