By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer
The return of springlike weather this week comes as welcome news for the Joplin Eagles’ track and field team as they prepare for the first meet of the season in less than three weeks.
The Eagles have been forced to work out indoors at times since practice for spring sports began on Feb. 24. A warming trend this week could allow the Eagles to practice without wearing winter gear.
The Eagles’ girls, who placed fifth in the Class 4 district meet at Ozark last spring, are led by a core group of sprinters who form their 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400 relay teams.
“I look for a very exciting track season,” said Eagles sprinters coach Jennifer Vieselmeyer. “We have good numbers and three strong freshmen to round out our team.”
Twelve Joplin athletes in 10 events placed in the top four in the district meet last year, the most sectional qualifiers the Eagles have had since 2001.
Three of those returning sectional qualifiers — juniors Sidnee Palmer and Leah Rader, along with sophomore Shantel Beck — form the nucleus of the relay teams Vieselmeyer is assembling.
Shelby DeWitt, a junior who just missed qualifying for the sectional with a fifth-place finish in the 800, has returned to the pool of sprinters this year, Vieselmeyer said.
“Her freshman year, she was a sprinter,” Vieselmeyer said. “She moved to distance, but she really has a sprinter mentality.”
Vieselmeyer has DeWitt penciled in for the Eagles’ 4x400 relay unit, along with freshmen Katie Roy and Monesha Sherrick.
The Eagles’ top relay team last year was the 4x200, which placed second at the district meet. Palmer, Rader and Beck are returnees on that team and are likely to be joined by Sherrick, she said.
Palmer and Beck also return on the 4x100 relay that placed fourth. Jenna Herr, a senior, sophomore Janae Allison and freshman Marley Robeson are among the candidates to round out the relay teams.
“We picked up some strong runners in the 400 and the hurdles that we didn’t have last year,” Vieselmeyer said. “My juniors and seniors are great team leaders. They’re doing a great job.”
The Eagles’ season begins Thursday, March 28, at the Carthage Invitational.