CLINTON — A lot of youth a lot of athletes give Clinton girls’ track coach Tony Steen a lot of room to put pieces together.
“We’re really strong number wise,” Steen said. “My first year coaching we had low thirties. Last year, we had low thirties. This year it’s going to be close to low fifties.”
There are currently about 45 girls out for track at Clinton High School, although Steen expects more to trickle in with the end of winter sports. It’s an athletic group, to say the least.
“We’re a group that might not necessarily be all strictly track athletes. Many are multi-sport girls,” Steen said. “I have tons of girls who will do both soccer and track, so that’s huge. We do a good job of sharing with that program. I’ve always told them that if Assumption can do it and win a state championship, why can’t we.”
This is Steen’s third year as head coach for the River Queens, but his thirteenth with the track program overall. They’re still in the first weeks of practice, but already Steen sees possibilities.
“I’ve seen a real good change in our program over the first few weeks,” he said. “The girls are working hard at practice every day and we’ve kind of adapted the model of a family, we’re one big family. We’re going to be positive, we’re going to work hard, we’re going to cheer each other on at meets and at practice and we’ll work towards that goal of getting as many as we can to the state meet.”
Alex Laufenberg, a state qualifier last season in the discus, is returning. Also in the throws, Sarah Goldensoph comes back to the team. Goldensoph narrowly missed state last year in shot put.
Then there’s the running. The Queens only lost one member off a pair of state qualifying relays from last year and Steen says he sees a lot of talented freshman coming up, along with the returners.
“We have a pretty solid core of sprinters and mid-distance runners that we’re going to be able to mix-and-match,” Steen said. “Some of our sprinters might end up running some mid-distance and vice versa because we have a good group of girls we can almost put anywhere. I would say we’re a very versatile team in that area.”
The one area they might be lacking is the distance aspect, but Steen is staying positive with up and coming cross country runners.
“Our cross country team did a great job this year and we’re trying to get them out on the track to help out in that aspect,” Steen said. “We’re starting to see that, and that’s good.”
With all the youth on the team, there are a lot of ways this season—and the next few seasons—could go.
“We try not to look forward, but we know the future could be bright if the girls want to work at it and get better,” Steen said. “We’re surprised every day with what they show us and what they do for us. Throwing, jumping, sprinting, distance, mid-distance: they’re really working hard and getting better every time out.”
And for the River Queens’ head coach, he thinks it will be a season of surprises—in a good way.
“We’re going to surprise some people. We might not be top three in the conference, but I think we can finish fourth or fifth. It depends on what they want to do, and right now they’re really positive and working hard.”
The girls travel to the University of Northern Iowa to run an indoor meet at the Uni-Dome on Monday.
“This will be our first test, it’s a pretty big meet,” Steen said. “We’re going to push some girls up there, have them run events they haven’t necessarily ran in the past.”