Toledo Blade story by Donald Emmons

Each week it seems that Notre Dame’s track and field team continues to pick up speed along with some impressive hardware.

With the Three Rivers Athletic Conference, district, regional, and state championship meets on the horizon, the Eagles are hoping to experience even more success during the final month.

“I think we’ve got to be favored in league championship,” Notre Dame coach Ray Strassner said. “We’re probably favored in district, but nothing is written in stone until it happens. At regionals, I think we’ll be a force but there are some very tough teams, especially from the Cleveland area.

“We have several strong teams in the Toledo area — Perrysburg, Northview, Fremont Ross. We’re hoping to get a considerable amount of girls qualified out of regionals to state, but we’ll have to see what happens.”

What has happened up to now is Notre Dame has been as formidable as team anywhere they go. The Eagles have plenty of depth in running events and have been highly competitive in jumping and throwing events.

Seniors Lexis Williams and Jessika Matthews have routinely been top finishers in the sprints, while Lexi Aughenbaugh and Francesca Veluscek have been a tremendous tandem in distance races.

“Lexis Williams and Jessika Matthews in the sprint divisions are still dominant,” Strassner said. “Lexi Aughenbaugh came off a very good cross country season, and she won the indoor state championship in the 3200. She’s right there, and all three of those kids are right there.

“Francesca Veluscek doesn’t get much press play because she runs in the shadow of Lexi a lot of the times. But she’s right up there too.”

The senior quartet has been a leading force for the Eagles, who are hoping to capture the first Three Rivers Athletic Conference track championships, which began Wednesday and conclude Friday at Whitmer.

Notre Dame’s accomplishments in the regular season have been impressive. The Eagles won championships at the Mansfield Mehock Relays and the Dayton Roosevelt Memorial — two of the state’s top meets.

The latter occurred on Saturday when the Eagles finished with 162 points to easily outdistance runner-up New Albany.

The Eagles performed in Dayton as well as they have ever performed as a team, particularly in a meet known for attracting top talent from across the state.

Notre Dame’s Roosevelt Memorial team title included six first-place finishes.

The Eagles claimed victories in the 6400 relay (Veluscek, Sydney Sherman, Bridget Smythe, Aughenbaugh, 22:57.3), distance medley relay (Cortney Haubert, Erin Schaefer, Smythe, Sarah Mallow, 13:47.8), discus (Deidra Lewis, 120-10.50), pole vault (HannahSaba, 9 feet), 2000 steeplechase (Cortney Haubert, 8:00.2) and 1600 (Aughenbaugh, 5:07.9).

In contrast, Notre Dame’s 1600 relay of Williams, Matthews, Destinee Battle, and Saba represented the Eagles’ lone victory at the Mansfield Relays.

The Eagles recognize the Mansfield victory as the more memorable of the two.

“I think the Mansfield win was more important of the two because we only had one win and the rest of it, we just kept placing in every event,” Strassner said. “In Dayton we had a couple of wins and we were solid placing in every event.

“The Mansfield win was the one we were really after.”

Williams, who will run track at the University of Toledo, is a past state qualifier. She’s never placed at state in a sprint event, but hopes this is the season to finally do it.

However, how the Eagles fair as a team is just as important for this year’s group.

“I see us going very far,” said Williams, who ran second in the 100 (12.2) and third in the 200 (25.1) at Dayton. “As a team, we have a tight bond. We’re not just individuals. It’s like a big family. We cheer each other on.”

It’s been a team theme from day one of the season. The sprinters support the distance runners. The runners support the jumpers and throwers.

Aughenbaugh, who plans to attend Ohio State and compete in track as a preferred walk-on, said this season’s experience has been special for multiple reasons.

They’ve won, and they’ve done it as a team.

“We all support each other,” said Aughenbaugh, the Eagles’ top distance runner who hopes to break the five-minute mark in the 1600 before the season ends.

It’s one of the many goals the Eagles have set for themselves in a season they hope to make even more special.