New challenges await Irondale’s girls track and field team

Last season, the Irondale High School girls track and field team closed out the North Suburban Conference era with a team championship. Fast forward a year, and the Knights are about to embark on the Northwest Suburban Conference era and the competition is markedly better.

Tom Franta, Irondale's co-head coach along with Andrea Butler, expects the 14-team league to provide plenty of challenges to his relatively small squad.

"It is a highly competitive conference," Franta said. "We will have a large number of conference athletes make it to the state meet; I am confident of that."

Franta said the team's goal is to finish in the top five at the conference meet. Depth is a huge advantage for the bigger schools in the conference.

"We lack depth due to our lower numbers compared to the other schools in the conference," Franta noted.

One area where depth isn't a concern for Irondale is in its junior class. More than a quarter of the roster consists of 11th graders.

"We are a junior-heavy team and are counting on our juniors to provide leadership to our younger team members," Franta said. "We believe we have an experienced team."

Much of that experience comes in the form of 25 returning letterwinners. Among them is freshman Julia Hayes, who finished third in the 300-meter hurdles at the state meet last year as an eighth grader. She was the only runner younger than a sophomore in the finals.

Hayes is the school-record holder in the 300-meter hurdles and owns the second-fastest time in school history in the 100-meter hurdles.

Another area of strength for the Knights this season is in the middle-distance events. Senior Mary Heinks, junior Emily Brandt and sophomores Liz Axberg, Michelle Meyer and Lili

Tapper are back after a successful season a year ago. The third-fastest 4x800-meter relay time and the sixth-fastest 4x400-meter relay time were run last year.

Junior Chichi Ogbonnaya and sophomore Leah Damerow are back to lead in the field events. Their specialties are the long and triple jumps.

"We also have a few holes in the field event areas we need to fill in as the season progresses," Franta said.

As far as the intangibles go, the coaching staff is pleased with the team's attitude and leadership.

"We believe our team's greatest strength this season is their work ethic," Franta said. "Our upper-class leaders are providing excellent examples as role models and are working very hard in our practices."

Irondale had two events on the schedule last week, but only one took place. A meet in Faribault scheduled for April 7 was cancelled due to rain but the Knights Under the Lights meet on April 10 at Irondale went off as planned.

The Knights host Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony Village on Tuesday for their only meet this week.

Brian Meyers can be reached at or 651-748-7819. Follow him on Twitter @BMeyersNews.

2015 Irondale High School girls track and field schedule
April 21 — at St. Louis Park — 4 p.m.
April 24 — Hamline Elite Meet — Time TBA
April 28 — at Buffalo — 4 p.m.
May 2 — at Carleton College — Time TBA
May 5 — Section true team at Mounds View — 3:15 p.m.
May 12 — Greenslit Relays — 4 p.m.
May 19 — NWS Conference meet at Coon Rapids — 3 p.m.
May 21 — NWS Conference meet at Coon Rapids — 3 p.m.
May 27  — Section 5AA meet at Hamline — Time TBA
May 29 — Section 5AA meet at Hamline — Time TBA
June 5 — State meet at Hamline — 9 a.m.
June 6 — State meet at Hamline — 9 a.m.

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