By BLAKE FAITH
Last year, the Mt. Zion Boys Track and Field team under first year Head Coach Joe Fritzsche won their first ever sectional and finished in a tie for second-place overall as a team last year in the IHSA State championship. This year, the goal for Coach Fritzche and his team is to get back to that level.
“I told the guys at the beginning of this year, we have all the pieces we need to a puzzle,” Coach Fritzche said. “And I said, but as the year goes on we’re putting those pieces in the places that they need to go, right? We’ve got great coaches, we’ve got Coach Mike Patrick, our throws coach, Coach Harbach comes every once in a while, which has been extremely helpful. I mean, he’s just a guru, guru when it comes to track and then we have the pieces of runners and athletes and, and field event guys. And I told them as the season goes on, we’ll be able to continue to put these pieces to that puzzle together. And what that puzzle adds up to is, hopefully , another state trophy.”
Coach Fritzche said that he is excited about where his team is after Indoor Season and preparing for outdoor season. Now that his team has the basketball players back competing and everybody is for the most part healthy, he can see what his team will look like at full strength and will go into meets ready to perform well and be great competitors.
“I think that’s a testament to these guys,” Coach Fritzche said. “They’ve been putting in the work and they know what is at stake again because they got a little taste of it last year. So they want it again, which is exciting. We have been practicing since January and these guys are ready, they’re ready to work and they’re ready to taste more success and they’ve definitely put in the work and they believe in themselves. And I think that’s what matters.”
Coach Fritzche said he knew he had pieces to replace when it came to improvement after losing seniors Christian Keyhea, Kemper Koslofski, Ryne Buttz, Josh England and Matthias Adams who all were state qualifiers and gained points for the team in big moments last season. Coach Fritzche knew that he had players coming back and freshmen ready to compete as well while stressing the team has to do little things right in order to get to success.
It’s the stretching, making sure they’re taking care of themselves, making sure they’re seeing Dustin Fink when they’re hurt, making sure we’re getting in that, those extra things in the warmups,” Coach Fritzche said. “We have been doing a little bit different things in practices, trying some different strategies out and I feel like it’s been paying off. I think that as a team as a whole, I like where this team’s at right now, more than I did last year. I think we’re in a good place right now.”
Coach Fritzche said that he’s looking to his seniors for leadership and he has those seniors in Kyle Hensley, Sam Atkinson and Chiren Petty.
“Chiren Petty is one of the better leaders that we have and he does a great job in leading these guys, pumping ‘em up, giving him little tips and tricks for our sprinters,” Coach Fritzche said. “He’s so patient with our guys and we need that, you know, and I was not a sprinter in high school. I was a distance guy. And so to have the knowledge that he has from the years that he’s been a sprinter really helps me out, you know, cause he’s able to see things that I might not notice. You know, I can see distance stuff all day when it comes to sprinting je helps, gives me a different kind of eye to see what’s going on. Kyle Hensley obviously one of the better pole vaulters in the state and he’s such a great guy to have and he’s a great leader for these guys too.”
Coach Fritzche continued, “He (Hensley) shows them what it is, what it takes to be a competitor. He’s putting in extra work outside of practice, going to different practices, staying late, putting in the work. Bryson Richardson has been a great leader. He ran for the Vipers program off season, and really gained a lot of knowledge from them. They’re coached by Coach Lowe, who does Kankakee’s program, who got first in state last year. And so he’s been able to help out a lot. He’s leading the guys in stretches right now as we speak. You know, he does a good job leading the guys. And then of course, Sam Atkinson is one of our distance leaders this year. He’s a great leader to these guys and all of them are setting examples for our team.”
Petty is coming into his second year as a transfer student from St. Teresa. Petty believes that a lot of the freshman and sophomores look up to him since he was a part of the state team and when he or Atkinson speaks they listen since they have that experience. Petty wants to be remembered as someone who competed everyday. Petty’s individual goal is to do well in the Apollo and the team goal is to recreate last year.
“So going in, it kind of puts a lot of pressure on us and the stakes are high, but we have a great group of kids and a great team all around distance, jumpers, printers, and I feel like it’s very possible to be top three again,” Petty said.
Hensley has led by example whether that’s grabbing hurdles or whatever to help show underclassmen this is all a team. Hensley finished last year in third place at state in pole vaulting and wants to get first place, if not second as well as the state record. Hensley wants to be remembered as the Pole Vaulter for Mt. Zion track and field.
Atkinson has been making sure everyone is focused and ready to go whether practices or meets. Atkinson’s team goal is to get a top-three finish at state and individually
So what would be your individual goal is to shoot for first place in the 800 meters after finishing fourth in state last year. Atkinson wants this season to be remembered by not only himself and his teammates and wants that to be his lasting mark.
Coach Fritzche is aware of what comes with the territory of being the team tied for second-overall in state last year and the target that creates on his team’s back and he has stressed that when it comes to leaderboard and attitude.
“Something we’ve been talking about is, with this we were blessed with the success that we had last year and we wanna continue to build upon tha,” Coach Fritzche said. “But I said, that puts a target on us and it puts a spotlight on us. So they’re gonna be waiting for us to do something wrong or waiting for us to show a little bit of extra emotion after a race or something that they can do. I told ‘em we have to stay humble, we have to stay positive, but we have to make sure, you know, last night at the meet we had a couple disqualifications with a 4×4 handoff going bad and we had a guy throw a batton down. They’re showing emotion, which is fine, emotion is good, but I tell ‘em we have to control our emotion and stuff like that. And it’s not all, it’s not anything bad, they’re not doing anything apparently bad. But, we’re really working on being humble and I think that is the best thing you can do. I think being respectful after a race too. We can be confident, right? But, it means a lot more to somebody if you finish racing, you beat somebody and you shake their hand afterward and say, good job after the ever. So I just think that’s what we are focused on.”
Coach Fritzche’s overall message to readers and the community is that this group is a great group and to have more community support out there.
“I told these guys,Mount Zion has a, has a continued tradition of like successful individuals, but we’ve never had successful teams at Mount Zion, right? I mean, you know, the girls got fourth two years ago, right? The guys we just got second last year we’re, we’re starting to set and to be that legacy, to be that history that Mount Zion talks about. Those guys have a trophy in the trophy case with their names on it that are always going to be there. And so I said, when they talk about teams at Mount Zion, they’re gonna talk about you guys. They don’t talk about the individuals that came before. They’re gonna talk about the team.”