The challenge just got a little bit tougher. The Blair Oaks track and field teams are making the jump up to Class 3.
For a Lady Falcons team that has earned third- and second-place team finishes the past two seasons at the Class 2 level, respectively, the odds of capturing a team trophy this year become a little bit longer.
"Once you get there anything can happen, and we generally do well at the end of the year," Blair Oaks girls coach Marc Keys said. "We've proved it, we just have to prove it at a higher level, which is going to be more difficult."
The quest starts today as the Falcons and Lady Falcons kick off the track season with a 4 p.m. meet at Russellville.
"It's a low-key meet and it's unlimited entries," Keys said. "It's nice that Russellville has it, they have the very nice facility and they have fully automatic timing. We use it as a time trial. We'll put five or six people in an event and see who our top four would be for our relays."
The meet kick-starts the journey toward a larger goal: Success at the Class 3 state meet.
"You're dealing with schools that have over 1,000 students, so that means the talent pool is going to be a little bit larger," Keys said. "Looking at state results, we have to run a school record or throw to get to that point. I think we have some kids that are capable of doing that."
That starts with Jessica Clark and Amy Dorge.
Clark finished second in the pole vault as a sophomore last season, clearing the bar at 11 feet, 3 inches. That mark would have made her a state champion at the Class 3 level. Dorge finished fourth in the discus with a toss of 119-1, which would have placed her seventh in Class 3.
"I think both of them will be capable of scoring individual points," Keys said.
Amanda Kiso finished third in the high jump last year at 5-2, which would have placed her in 10th in Class 3. With the reigning Class 3 state champion, Eldon's Sara Rhine, just a sophomore, and California's Sydney Deeken, Class 2's state champion, moving up to Class 3 as well, the field looks stacked.
"That will be an exciting event and will be a challenge for her to get better," Keys said of Kiso.
Alyson Jones and Nicole Lueckenhoff return from last season's 4x800-meter relay team that finished fourth in the state. Lueckenhoff is also a returner, along with Michaella Forck and Megan Graessle, from a 4x400-meter relay team that took eighth. Darian Werdehausen, the anchor of the 4x400 team that took second in 2011, is back after an injury sidelined her in 2012.
"We've got some quality young women and they've been working hard," Keys said. "They know what to do."
The returning nucleus makes Keys excited for the season.
"I'm optimistic, but I guess I'm supposed to be at the beginning of the season," he said. "It'll be a nice challenge. Toward the end of the season we'll see some different teams and I think that will give us a fresh outlook and a different challenge. Maybe we're as good as we think we are, and maybe we're not. That's the excitement."
The road is even rockier for the Falcons.
The boys finished 20th as a team last season in Class 2. Brett Voss had the best individual finish for a Falcon, taking third in the 3,200-meter run in 9:55.71. That time would have put him 12th in Class 3.
Now the bump up a class provides an additional roadblock.
"We're definitely ready for the challenge to see where we stand against some bigger schools," Blair Oaks boys' coach Nathan Holtmeyer said. "I think we'll definitely see the difference once we get to state. That'll the difference between making it to state and being all-state. That's the biggest difference between Class 2 and 3."
Blair Oaks' best chance for an all-state performance likely rests in Voss' hands, or legs, in the 1,600 or 3,200.
"We expect the same thing. We have aspirations of him being all-state," Holtmeyer said. "It's going to be very tough for him. I definitely think he has the ability. It will just come down to if he's mentally ready for it."
Voss also returns along with Jacob Prenger and Brad Thomas from a 4x400-meter relay team that took eighth.
Holtmeyer expects big things from junior John Karsten, a thrower, and seniors Zach Barlow, Ashton Maasen and Austin Wilbers.
A sophomore class that features Caleb Bischoff, Cole Bisges, Chase Duren and Dominic Jamerson will provide most of the punch for the sprint relays.
"We're really hoping they mature and step up," Holtmeyer said.
If all the pieces come together, Holtmeyer thinks big things can be in store.
"We're a big end of the season-oriented team," he said. "We're really hoping to continue moving forward. We're hoping to break into that top-10 spot."