The Sioux Central High girls track team has won the Northwest Conference title the past four years, and will be a strong favorite to win a fifth straight conference championship this spring.
Seven state qualifiers return for the Rebels. They include senior Kayla Bright in the 100 meters and 4x200 relay, sophomore Briana Scharn in the 400-meter dash and the 400 hurdles, sophomore Samantha Halverson in the discus, senior Nicole Scheiber in the 4x200 and the long jump, junior Leah Whittenberg in the 4x200 relay, sophomore Tricia Hogrefe in the 4x200 relay and Kim Goettsch in the discus.
Bright, coach Ken Rachuy said, took sixth in the Class 2A 100-meter dash competition last year. If she qualifies for state this year, she will become only the third female Sioux Central athlete to qualify all four years. He added that last season, Bright set a new conference record in the 100 dash.
Rachuy added that a core group of talented sprinters return, including Brooke Loving, Jennifer Haraldson, Abbey Biedenfeld, Rachel Henningsen and Beth Ehlers.
He added that the Rebels' core group of middle distance and distance runners include Robyn Daly in the 1500 and 3200 races and 800 meter runners Shana Hamilton, Lani Powers, Nicole Lindquist and Jessica Rix.
"We also have 15 newcomers this year," Rachuy said. "We will have very good depth in all areas. Our sheer numbers and depth will be our biggest strength."
The Rebels will have to find replacements for distance runner Melanie Thompson and Alicia Erlandson in the sprints and hurdles.
The Rebels will be especially strong in the sprints and hurdle events.
"We have eight girls consistently working on the hurdles in practice, with two seniors in Haraldson and Biedenfeld both having great technique," he said.
The sprinters will be led by Bright, but Scheiber, Biedenfeld and Haraldson give the Rebels added talent and depth.
Rachuy added that his team will be stronger this season the middle distance and distance events than it was last season.
"Our 800 girls - Powers, Lindquist, Hamilton and Scharn - stepped it up at the end of last season and just missed qualifying for state," he said. "The 400 is also an area where we will show improvement. Scharn qualified last year but I think Rachel Henningsen and a few others will be strong runners."
Rachuy also expects his team to have depth and strength in the field events.
Scheiber qualified for state in the long jump two years ago, but had trouble with a hamstring injury last season, he said. Scharn, an excellent all-around athlete, will also compete in the long jump.
Brooke Loving will compete in the high jump along with Biedenfeld and Ehlers. Goettsch qualified two years ago in the shot, while Halverson was a state qualifier in that event last spring.
"Most of all, we need to keep our key people healthy and injury free," Rachuy said. "If we can build off of what we did last year as a team, that would be incredible.
"As a team, we won five team titles last year and that will be tough to repeat. But if we get our returnees back to peak performance and get a few newcomers to step forward, we have the potential to have another good year."
Rachuy added teams that will challenge the Rebels in the Northwest Conference include Alta, Schaller-Crestland and Storm Lake-St. Mary's.
"Alta has (Dee) Hinkeldey back, and she had a fabulous season last year," he said. "Schaller-Crestland has a strong tradition and is always tough. St. Mary's pushed us last year and took second place and will be strong again this year."