By Brian Dzenis
For a senior and Division II college commit, Brent Fairbanks’ resume of high school achievements is a little thin.
But that isn’t his fault.
Being part of a loaded throwing corps at Austintown Fitch and a back injury in 2016 kept Fairbanks from showing what he’s capable of.
This spring, there are no obstacles.
“It’s really a great feeling to be able to bounce back,” Fairbanks said. “I couldn’t work for about six months because of my back. I’ve been working as hard as I could.”
Last March during the indoor track season, Fairbanks suffered a fractured transverse process, which is the back of the vertebrae bone on the spine. It took him six months to recover for non-sports activity and one more to be able to get back into athletics. Fairbanks said Ashland, the school where he’s committed, stood by him through the injury.
Even before the back injury, Fairbanks spent three years behind two Division I-caliber throwers Logan Kusky and Jake Dorbish, who are in their freshman seasons at Notre Dame and Youngstown State, respectively.
“Following them for the first three years of high school really taught me patience,” Fairbanks said. “I know I needed to improve to go to the bigger meets and I wasn’t there yet last year, especially because of my back.”
He was the indoor track runner-up in the shot put this winter and will try to build on that this spring.
Runners Eva Rivera and Khala Cameron are the Falcons’ returning state qualifiers as is distance runner Lauren Dolak, who finished in seventh in the 800.
Fitch also boasts a trio of quality boys hurdlers in Dylan Beany, Zack Krohn and Devin Moore.
Here’s a look at some of the other teams around the Mahoning Valley.
Malina Mitchell and Abbie Matig return from last year’s state championship-winning 4x400 relay team. Who will be joining them in their attempt to repeat is a question girls coach Mary Domitrovich will find the answer to as the season progresses.
“With Malina and Abbie coming back, certainly there’s hope,” Domitrovich said. “There’s a lot of young people that can step up into that position, but we’re not thinking that far ahead right now.”
Alyssa Lynch, a state qualifier in the 4x800 relay, returns. Vanessa Perry is a senior sprinter who spent most of last season injured but is expected to do well this year.
On the boys side, the Blue Devils have three returning state qualifiers. Discus thrower Evan Magill is recovering from a groin injury and is not competing.
Hayden Sloan reprises his role running in the 400 and senior C.J. Seitz is the lone returner from the state-qualifying 4x800 relay. There’s six or seven athletes vying to join him, coach Lou Domitrovich said.
For the whole group, the Blue Devils have decent depth despite Div. III status.
“We have 45 boys in the team and for a school the size of us, that’s a good problem to have,” Lou Domitrovich said. “The competition that will exist in trying to be in the top two for an event or the top four for a relay will make us better.
“We have a pretty good chance of getting some relays to state.”
The Raiders’ girls team reached an all-time talent-wise in 2016, producing seven scholarship athletes. Two of those were Div. I college material in Syracuse’s Justice Richardson and Central Michigan’s Aisha Jackson.
“It’s a lot of sophomores,” Harding coach Charles Penny said of the current team. “We’re just babies.”
Riley Brown is one of the few returning athletes with experience as a two-time regional finalist in the long jump.
“We’ve had some really dominant girls athletes in the past few years. It shied away some of the other girls that wanted to come out for track and develop and they really didn’t want to compete with those girls,” Perry said. “Now they’ve graduated and kids want to come out, but the depth isn’t there. Now we’re going back to ground zero and rebuilding our depth through our young kids.”
On the boys side, Theron Hargrove, Kayron Adams, Tre Murry and Jesean Sledge will handle the team’s sprinting and relay events and are expected to have a good season, Perry said.
Colton McFadden is the lone returner from Poland’s state-title-winning 4x100 relay team.
East’s Jahniya Bowers starts her sophomore season coming off a breakout 2016. Her eighth-place finish in the 100 and time of 12.54 seconds made her the fastest freshman in the state.
Western Reserve’s Ashleigh Rowley is a year-round distance runner with a penchant for going deep in the postseason. Should she make it to state this spring, it will be her ninth trip across her cross country, indoor and outdoor track careers. Last year, she took seventh place in the 1600. Senior thrower Cheyene Finney returns after taking ninth in the shot put last year.