The Columbus North and Columbus East boys track teams will once again look to compete for titles in their respective conferences and hope to challenge Center Grove for the North Sectional crown at the end of the season.

The outdoor season gets underway tonight with North traveling to Whiteland, while East opens March 31 at Bloomington South. Here is the outlook for those and other area boys track teams:

Columbus North

The Bull Dogs might be in a good position to capture their sectional after falling to Center Grove by only 8 1/2 points last season. The Trojans suffered heavy graduation losses, while North returns most of its squad.

“We have really good competition in our sectional, but we were pretty close last year,” North coach Lou Sipe said. “Hopefully, we’ll be in contention for the sectional title this year and then advance as many of those guys as we can onto the regional and state meet.”

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Senior Brigham Kleinhenz finished 12th at state in the pole vault, and senior Charlie Allen took 18th at state in the 3,200 meters. Seniors Damon Hunter Jr., Jaylen Flemmons and Cortez Bandy return from the 4×100 relay team that was 14th at state.

Bandy also was a regional qualifier in the long jump and 200, while Hunter made it in the 100 and Flemmons in the 400. Senior Logan Abbott in the discus and junior Sam Horak in the 1,600 also were regional qualfiers.

Bandy and sophomore Noah Kestler return from the regional-qualfying 4×400 relay team. Senior Evan Porter is back from the regional-qualifying 4×800 relay squad.

Other top returners include senior Drew Thompson and juniors John Sluys and Rishi Poladasu in the distance events; sophomore Daveed Jolley in the sprints; Kestler and sophomores Nash Johnson and Ben Malone and in the hurdles; senior Joel Carroll in 400 and 800; junior Jalen Paswater in the 200 and 400; senior Grant Fehribach in the pole vault; sophomore Hunter Huser in the high jump; Bandy, Jolley and Malone in the long jump; sophomore Montez Mitchell in the shot put and junior Eli Heichelbech in the discus.

“We have a lot coming back, so we want to be getting those guys that have some experience to take a leadership role and (set personal records) every meet and try to advance,” Sipe said.

Junior newcomer Zach Friend could contribute in the 400, and freshman Preston Terrell will join Huser in the high jump. Junior Hunter Spalding could do a variety of events.

Columbus East

Scott Pherson takes over the Olympians program from David Miller. Pherson has a large squad with about 60 athletes.

“We have a lot of throwers, a lot of jumpers and a lot of guys running,” Pherson said. “We just have to put people in the right place.”

Senior Zach Clark was a regional qualifier in the shot and also throws the discus. Junior Isaac VanCuren was a regional qualifier in the 800 and also could run the 400 this season. Junior Garrett McGaha ran on the regional-qualifying 4×800 relay team and is the top distance runner this season.

Other top returners include sophomore Lance Greiwe in the sprints and long jump, juniors Owen Rupp and Jared Baker in the hurdles, seniors Luke Poindexter and Zarrien Johnson-Bey in the high jump and senior Codie Hagerdon in the throws.

Pherson also is high on several newcomers to high school track, including senior Tanner Hatton, sophomore Seth Chandler and freshman Crase Bergman in the 400; freshman Mark McDonald in the sprints and long jump; junior Cody Horner in the sprints and possibly pole vault,; junior Sam Thomasson in the hurdles; senior Mark Sciutto in the throws and sophomore Xander Gentry in the high jump. Two other freshmen — Jacob Helton in distance and possibly pole vault and Trey Neal in middle distance — could make an impact.

“We’re really young,” Pherson said. “A lot of seniors decided not to come out for their senior year. I have a lot of first-time track athletes, so I’m working with them in the weight room. We have kids out there that want to work, and hopefully, we’ll excel. We want to be doing our best at the end of May. That’s when it counts.”

Hauser

The Jets will field a young team this season with several freshman and newcomers.

The squad will be led by senior distance runner David Seelye and senior Joe Sweet in the hurdles and middle distance. Also back are junior Joe Hunter in the sprints and long jump, and sophomore John Bragg and senior Caleb Orlich in the jumps and sprints.

Isaiah McDaniel in the jumps and sprints and Brock Thalls in distance are the top freshmen. Junior Paul Cordero, an exchange student from Ecuador, will look to contribute in the throws.

“In those jumping categories, all those boys are pretty competitive,” Hauser coach Ben Finke said. “They’re going to be pretty good. In some of those other events, we might be a little weak with a lack of some veteran talent, but these younger guys are talented athletes. We’re going to work on skill development and improvement this year.”

Jennings County

The Panthers return most of their top athletes from a team that finished second in the Jennings County Sectional.

Senior Dalton Craig, a Morehead State recruit, finished 25th at state in the 1,600. Craig, seniors Franklin Sanders and Ryan Gasper and junior Alex Hendrix took fourth in the Bloomington North Regional in the 4×800 relay, one spot away from qualifying for state.

Craig in the 800, sophomore Carter Leak in the 3,200, senior Isaiah Ertel in the 300 hurdles and senior Blaich Blanton in the discus were regional qualifiers. Craig, Gasper and Ertel return from the regional-qualifying 4×400 relay team.

Other top returners are junior Brooks Wathen in the hurdles; sophomore Kyle Collins, junior Jacob Corya and sophomore Jared Corya in sprints; sophomores Jason Gasper and A.J. Siener in distance; junior Dylan Carney in the pole vault; senior Benton Hamann and Jared Corya in the high jump; both Coryas and Hendrix in the long jump and senior Brady Shepherd in the shot.

Freshmen Branden Harris and Dreagen Ison could make an immediate impact in the 400, as could freshman Joe Duff in the high jump.

“I think we’re going to end up being pretty decent,” Jennings coach Bill Ludwig said. “We obviously have a lot of distance runners back. We may have a little more depth in some of the events.”

Brown County

The Eagles have a new coach in Kirk Wrightsman, who takes over for longtime mentor Rob Abraham.

Seniors Wyatt Wyman and Isaiah Keefauver and junior Jackson McPheeters are back from the 4×800 relay team that finished 12th at state. Wyman was 14th at state in the 800.

Keefauver also made the regional in the high jump and 400 and on the 4×400 relay with Wyman and McPheeters. Junior Marino Dolph was a regional qualifier in the 3,200 and likely will fill the fourth 4×800 relay spot this season.

Senior Jordan Dolph, who plans to compete in the decathlon at DePauw, will run the in hurdles, high jump and sprints. Junior Evan Fleischman returns in the pole vault, and junior Layton Mosier is back in the throws.

Beyond that, Wrightsman will look to some young and inexperienced sprinters to help fill that void.

“We have a great group of upperclassmen that are coming back, and we have a good group of new kids coming in,” Wrightsman said. “I think that 4×800 is going to look really strong again, and our distance is going to be strong with Wyatt Wyman. I think we’re going to have a really good team come May.”

South Decatur

The Cougars might be rebuilding this year after all three of their regional qualifiers graduated.

“It’s hard replacing the talent level of those guys,” South Decatur coach Jonathan Black said. “It will be a little bit harder without the numbers we had last year. We’ll work hard and see what we can do.”

Sophomore Trent Nobbe, who won the Decatur County meet in the 110 hurdles, is back, along with senior Cole Bower in the distance events and senior Charlie Hamilton in the 800. Sophomores Conner Bower and Logan Platt returns in the middle distance events, and sophomore Jacobi Shook is back in the shot.

A trio of freshmen — Colton Johannigman, Chase Hughes and Jeremy Watts — are the top sprinters.

Edinburgh

Terry Riggs, a former assistant football coach at Edinburgh and Franklin College, takes over the Lancer boys team, but he has just one athlete for now.

Riggs is hoping to add a couple of basketball players from the sectional champion boys basketball team when they return from spring break. Sophomore Isaiah Estes, who also was the lone runner on the Edinburgh boys cross-country team in the fall, is the only current member of the boys track team.

“We give him more of an individual workout,” Riggs said. “He takes pride in what he does. He’s definitely off to a good start.”

Trinity Lutheran

The Cougars have possibly their largest team ever with 21 athletes.

Junior AJ Goecker was a regional qualifier in the 3,200 last track season and a semistate qualifier in cross-country in the fall. Other top returners are senior Jacob Rowe in the 400 and high jump, senior Nathan Thomack in the 800 and 1,600 and junior Josiah Foster in the 800.

Sophomore newcomer Caleb Baumgartel joins at least three promising freshmen — Tyler Goecker in the sprints and jumps Jack Marksberry in the 400, 800, long jump and possibly 200 and Reid Kruse in the sprints and long jump.

“We have a very young and inexperienced group,” Trinity coach Caleb Tormoehlen said. “We should have some really good 4×400 and 4×800 relay teams this year. It’s just figuring out the pieces because we have so many new people.”

Looking ahead at the local schedules

Boys track and field schedules for Bartholomew County schools:

Columbus East

March 31;at Bloomington South;10:30 a.m.

April 3;at Seymour;5 p.m.

April 7;at Columbus North Invitational;11 a.m.

April 10;at Shelbyville;5:30 p.m.

April 12;Jennings County, Brownstown Central;5 p.m.

April 17;Bloomington North;5:30 p.m.

April 19;Columbus North;5 p.m.

April 24;at Seymour Invitational;6 p.m.

May 1;Brown County;4:30 p.m.

May 8;HHC at Seymour;6 p.m.

Columbus North

Wednesday;at Whiteland;5:30 p.m.

April 3;Bloomington South;6 p.m.

April 7;Columbus North Invitational;11 a.m.

April 10;Seymour;5:30 p.m.

April 13;at Franklin Central Showcase;6 p.m.

April 14;Midwest Prep at Lawrence Central;11 a.m.

April 19;at Columbus East;5 p.m.

April 21;at Brown County Talon Relays;10:45 a.m.

April 24;at Shelbyville (with East Central);5:30 p.m.

April 27;Conference Indiana at Southport;5 p.m.

May 4;at Martinsville Relays;6 p.m.

May 9;at Franklin;5 p.m.

Hauser

April 2;Trinity Lutheran, Crothersville;4:45 p.m.

April 6;at Triton Central Invitational;5 p.m.

April 16;at Triton Central (with Waldron, New Palestine);5 p.m.

April 19;Waldron;5 p.m.

April 20;at Edinburgh Relays;5 p.m.

April 23;at Triton Central (with South Decatur);5:30 p.m.

April 24;at Batesville (with North Decatur, Jac-Cen-Del);5 p.m.

May 3;at Brown County (with Southwestern, Indian Creek);4:30 p.m.

May 8;MHC at Southwestern (Shelby);5 p.m.

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.