The Clinton River Kings have a lot of pieces to put together yet on the track, but it’s leaving the door open for some exciting prospects.
The Kings are fairly young this year, returning just ten from the varsity team last year. That included losing some state qualifiers and big scorers from the roster.
“We’re looking at that as a positive,” first year head coach Kellen Schneeberger said. “We have a lot of spots up for grabs, some good competition in some areas, and our upperclassman have set the tone early.”
Schneeberger, the schools’ varsity cross country coach, served as an assistant last season and took the head job this year. Former head coach Tony Smith stepped back to an assisting role, leaving him some experience to lean on.
“Being the new head coach has been a process,” Schneeberger said. “I’m learning a lot with each passing day. Mr. [Andy] Eberhart does a great job of listening and offering his help and Coach [Tony] Smith has been a huge help with showing me the various things I was not accountable for as the assistant in charge to the distance crew.
“There are a lot of little things that go into track and a lot of athletes to get into the lineup, so that side has been the most challenging. The best part is our staff is still the same and that consistency really helps us.”
The team is seeing the same faces and getting the same message. After meeting with his athletes before the season, two things were clear. He wanted to see effort and accountability.
“We explained to them how they not only have to be accountable for themselves, but their teammates are counting on them to hold others accountable,” Schneeberger said. “If one guy on a crew is working hard, but another is slacking it’s inefficient and dangerous. We want our guys to have a blue collar mentality and it starts with effort and accountability.”
So what are they looking at? The Kings have traditionally been strong in the 400 and that looks to continue, led by multi-sport athlete Ulysses Patterson, past Drake and state qualifier. With him leading the sprints, the coaches are then looking to returners Sean Hammond, Matt Swamberger and David Johnson to fill in some of the other slots.
They also return the entirety of their shuttle hurdle team.
“We have had quality sprint medley and 4x200s the last few years and we hope to see that continue,” Schneeberger said. “Additionally, we have a nice crew of mid-distance runners who will be leaned on to provide depth from the 200 to the 800, so we hope they continue to develop and we can also score some points in the distance races.”
Schneeberger is the one to know how the distance would shape up. Leading that pack is all-conference cross country runner Noah Smith. He’s joined by other cross country athletes, like teammate Parker Sirna.
They’ve got the natural talent, and they’ve got some extra hard work behind them. Clinton High has put an emphasis on weight training over the last few years and Schneeberger says that’s leading to better results quickly.
“Coach [Mike] Griswold does a great job of training these young men to be athletes,” Schneeberger said about the head of the River Kings & Queen Strength program. “We’re training in a way that improves their overall athleticism- explosiveness, agility, flexibility, endurance, and top end speed while preventing injury. We’re seeing some kids really commit to the process and they are getting into it- pushing each other.
“The biggest thing we are starting to see after the last few years is that those kids that are consistent in doing what we ask them to do, they not only look the part, but they have seen significant improvement in the weight room and on the track. We have some guys now that are starting to pass the eyeball test and they are also seeing a great improvement in their performance.”
They’ll definitely have tough tests along the way with the Mississippi Athletic Conference constantly being loaded with talent. Schneeberger says he can see the Kings competing for one of the upper half spots down the line.
“We have nothing but respect for the teams in our conference,” he said. “We know that the conference title runs through Bettendorf and Pleasant Valley and that they reload every year, so it’s imperative that we invest in the process. Four points separated fifth place from eighth in the conference meet last year, so it will come down to us doing the little things in every area to keep us in the conversation.”
For now, it’s preparing for the outdoor season. Schneeberger sees enough upperclassmen taking leadership roles to help some parts of his young team buy into the process.
“The morale has been great so far. We have a good core of juniors and seniors that we’ve met with and talked about how to be a leader, to hold yourself accountable, and to hold others accountable. Our younger guys have been a great surprise with their positive attitude and desire to compete.”