EDITOR’S NOTE: On Monday, March 16, the Nebraska Schools Activities Association suspended all activity practices until March 30 and all activity competitions until April 2 due to COVID-19.

These suspensions may be extended should the conditions warrant. Until an official decision has been made in regards to spring sports, the York News-Times sports department will be running its spring sports previews for girls and boys track and soccer, as well as boys golf and girls tennis, in the daily sports section.

YORK – The York Dukes girls track team scored 29 points at last year’s Class B state meet and finished in seventh place.

All 29 of those points are back for the 2020 campaign, and if the Dukes can find some depth in other events to put some points on the board, expect them to be a factor come state-meet time.

York head coach Darrel Branz has only one senior on this year’s team, so underclassmen will have to step up as leaders as well.

“This team only has one senior, so we are thin when it comes to upperclassmen. We have a good set of girls in the distance events but we need to find girls to fill in the sprints and jumps events,” Branz said. “We have the girls, but they’re young and inexperienced. These girls will need to step up and fill in the gaps that we have in the shorter running events.”

There is no lack of strength when it comes to the distance running events. Sophomore Brynn Hirschfeld and junior Maddie Portwine have that area locked down and the two runners will be among the best in the state.

Last year, Hirschfeld edged Portwine by .081 of a second for the state championship in the 1600-meter run final, and all of the Dukes’ 29 points were scored by the two runners. Hirschfeld was clocked at 5 minutes, 24.07 seconds and Portwine’s time was 5:24.88. Both of those times led the York News-Times’ coverage area.

Hirschfeld also placed fourth in the 800 with a 2:23.85, while her season best and area leading time was 2:20.46. She also picked up points in the long jump with a seventh place finish and a jump of 16 feet, 5 ½ inches.

Portwine scored 12 points, with four more coming in the 3200 after a fourth place finish in a time of 12:05.87, the best in the News-Times’ area stats.

“The distance events with Brynn and Maddie are a relative strength with them both scoring in the 1600 and 3200,” Branz said. “Jami Hoblyn has been progressing in the discus and looks to be a contributing. I feel these three girls can help score a lot of points.”

Hoblyn’s best mark in the discus was 112-9, while in the shot put she recorded a 33-0 ½.

Senior Lindsey Stuckey will give the Dukes depth in the 1600 and 3200, and sophomores Logan Ericson (high jump), Mattie Pohl (800), Ashleigh Hills (sprints) and Beeca Libich (high jump) will all be vital to the team’s success.

After that, the cupboard is pretty bare as far as experience. The Dukes return eight letterwinners from last year’s team.

“This team needs depth in every area. We have a few girls that can score a lot of points, but we need the younger girls to step up and contribute to the team,” Branz said. “I believe this team has young talent that can score points when it matters.”

Branz will be assisted in coaching duties by Kim Hirschfeld-Cotton, Eric Rasmussen, Abbey Brenig, Steve Crane and Randy Johnson.

A tough conference schedule and district slate at Aurora will test the Dukes. Branz sees the Duke girls as a state contender.

“Conference is tough on the girls’ side with Lexington and Aurora, those two are top teams in the state and will be ready to compete again for another conference team title,” Branz said. “Districts will be tough as well. Aurora is in our district and so is Waverly, which is another top-five team in the state. I see these two teams as the top in the B-3 district with everyone else battling for third place.

“I will describe this team (York) as a state-meet team. This team will not score a ton of points at regular meets during the course of the season, but when it’s time for the state meet, expect to see York in the top ten again this year,” Branz added. “Also, I see the younger girls making strides and contributing at the end of the season and scoring at the conference and district meet. I think it’s possible to have five or six girls competing at the state track meet this year.”

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