Numbers are on their way back up and so is the excitement level surrounding the Buckeye Local track programs.
Wayne and Diane McCracken are back for their fourth seasons at the helm of the boys and girls' programs and welcome back a solid core of athletes from a season ago.
"All of the kids are working hard and we're hoping for a very competitive season," Diane McCracken said.
PICTURED ARE the key returnees for the Buckeye Local track teams. Kneeling, from left, are Ryan Lewton, Ryan Morrow, Shawn Tustin and Tristan Jones. Standing, from left, are Katie Merritt, Kylee Doty, Kirsten Turner, Cierra Burch and Natalie Hesske.
The Lady Panthers are led by junior hurdler Kendra Redpath. She enjoyed a fine season in 2013, reaching the regional final in the 300 low hurdles. She finished fifth, missing a trip to the state meet by one place.
A trio of seniors - Cierra Burch, Katie Merritt and Morgan Foster - will be the top veteran sprinters on the squad.
Seniors Natalie Hesske and Natalie Callarik are both ticketed for distance events, while classmate Bre Watkins will be entered in the shot put and discus.
Along with Redpath, the only other junior on the girls' team is Kirsten Turner, who is a distance runner.
Sophomore speedster Kylee Doty is back in the 100 and 200 meter dashes. Kylee Torok - a sophomore - is out for the program for the first time. She's expected to compete in the shot, disc and run distance.
Freshmen on the girls' side include: Taylor Carrothers (sprints), Renee Barnhart (throws) and Olivia Kourim-Thorn (throws).
The lone graduation loss for the girls was Rebecca Rector.
THE PANTHER BOYS should also be much improved with many competitors back along with a few new faces that could score well.
Senior Ryan Lewton will be solid in the 800 and 1600 meter runs.
Junior Shawn Tustin is the top returning sprinter in the 100 and 200. Other juniors expected to make a contribution include Bobby Myers (disc and shot), Simeon Smith (shot) and Josh Sokolowski, who is out for track for the first time.
Sophomore thrower Ryan Morrow is back along with Tristan Jones, who will also compete in the field.
Jullian Gill and Logan Totterdale are the lone two sophomore boys in the mix.
The freshman class consists of sprinters Danny Callarik and Matt Smith as well as distance runners Gauge Calhoun and Jakob Miller.
The Panthers boys are trying to replace Andy Stock, Chuck Stock and Cody Crawford from graduation.
The McCrackens are being assisted by Lynda Piergallini and Albert Stock.
Buckeye Local opens the season Saturday at the Steubenville Early Bird.
The complete Buckeye Local schedule is as follows:
March 29 - at Steubenville Early Bird; April 1 - East Liverpool and Indian Creek; April 3 - Steubenville Catholic; April 8 - at Martins Ferry Relays; April 11 - at Porterfield Invitational; April 15 - Jefferson Co. Relays at Steubenville; April 22 - Edison and Indian Creek; April 24 - Steubenville and Indian Creek; April 29 - Buckeye 8 at Martins Ferry; May 1 - at Union Local; May 5 and 7 - OVAC Qualifying at St. Clairsville; May 10 - OVAC Championships at St. Clairsville; May 13 - at Steubenville Catholic.