Malcolm Johnson is a two-time placer at the Division I state track meet.
The Southview senior is working toward taking a third straight trip to Columbus.
"I'm just going to take all my races week by week and try to progress and peak out by the time of the state meet," said Johnson, who placed sixth in the 100 and 200 meters last season.
The Cougar, the area’s top returning sprinter, ran times of 10.96 in the 100 and 22.06 in the 200 at last year’s state meet. He owns the school record for the 100 (10.67) and 200 (21.7).
Improving on those results provide plenty of motivation for a highly focused individual who will attend Harvard next fall.
"I just want to try to break the state record in the 100 and go under 21 seconds (in the 200)," he said. "I want to try to run as fast as I can and try to win state."
He's not the only D-I athlete in the area with aspirations of making this track season one to remember.
Returning to state is also a definite goal for St. Francis de Sales junior David St. John, who placed 12th in the 3200 with a time of 9:36.25 last season. St. John is one of the area's top distance runners.
"Right now I'm pretty happy because I'm ahead of where I was this time last year," St. John said, who posted a winning time of 9:54.00 to claim victory in the 3200 at Whitmer's Gold W Invitational. "Last year, my two-mile was 10:06 [at the Gold W]."
Southview’s J.J. Pinckney, could have passed on spending the spring running track to focus on getting ready to play college football at Cincinnati.
However, he's got some unfinished track business. A state finalist in the long jump (23-0.25, fourth place) and 400 (48.76, seventh place), Pinckney believes he has a chance to compete for state titles.
He's determined to break Southview's 400 record of 48.57, which is held by his older brother, Bernard, a 2009 graduate.
Pinckney, a two-time defending Northern Lakes League long jump champion, also has a shot at the school record of 24-1 set by Shaun Joplin in 2009.
"This year there are a lot of underclassmen, but it's my dream to get my brother's record in the 400 and win state in all my events and all my relays," Pinckney said.
Johnson and Pinckney lead a group of fast Cougars, including Matt Morrison and Nate Hall, who figure to do well in relay events.
Whitmer pole vaulter Tyler Szychowski wasn't a state qualifier a year ago, but appears to be well on his way to becoming a state title contender. He established a school record with his personal-best 15-5 to win the Gold W Invitational. That mark would have been good enough for third place at state last season.
"I think I can go around 16 feet or the higher 15s," Szychowski said.
Jacob Baugh and Dan Siebenaller of St. Francis are strong distance runners. Baugh, a junior, along with St. John, were members of a 3200 relay team last season that placed 14th (8:03.03) at state.
Siebenaller ran well at the Gold W Invitational to win the 1600 with a time of 4:37.76.
St. John's Jesuit's Keionn Gray (sprinter), Shawn Howze (sprinter) and Tevin Brown (distance) have state competition experience.
Whitmer's Chris Boykin was a state qualifier in the high jump and figures to be one of the area's best this season. However, Springfield's Manny Durden topped him with a jump of 6-7 at a meet this year.
Durden was a D-II state runner-up in the event in 2012 when he attended Rossford.
Clay's Erin Gyurke and Haley Hess are among the top girls returning this season.
Gyurke, a senior, placed sixth at state in the 3200 with a time of 11:04.23 and Hess, a sophomore, earned an eighth-place finish in the 1600 at 5:04.85.
Gyurke, who will run at Ohio State, wants to finish out her high school career at the track she'll compete at in college. The state meet will be held June 6-7 at Ohio State's Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
"I definitely want to get back to the state competition and I think that's a very feasible goal," Gyurke said.
Hess is also motivated to finish on a high note.
"I hope to get top three this year and hope to finish the season strong," Hess said. "I finished eighth last year and the ones that finished ahead of me were only one or two seconds ahead of me."
Clay hurdler Grace Winckowski is also a returning state qualifier. She was the only sophomore last year to be among the state qualifiers in the 100 hurdles and ran a time of 15.80 in the preliminary heat.
The area is loaded with plenty of top girls distance runners.
However, Perrysburg seniors Courtney Clody and Taylor Monheim have been two of the area's best the last three seasons.
Clody is one of the state's top returning 1600 runners after placing sixth (5:04.40) to complete her junior season. Monheim ran 10th at state in the 3200 (11:30.29).
Bowling Green junior Sasha Lanning is coming off a campaign in which she placed 14th at state in the 1600 (5:40.46).
Whitmer's Kaitlyn Barber (400, pole vault), Alaya Hayes (shot put, discus) and Tityana Gardner (shot put) were state qualifiers as juniors.
Notre Dame senior Chantalia Young was a state qualifier for the 100 and 200 and one of the area’s top returning sprinters.
Northview's Alysha Welch (high jump), Bowsher's Rachel Marter (long jump) and Bowling Green's Maria Horrigan (pole vault) made it to the state meet a year ago and are looking to make it back.
Rogers senior Sasha Dailey opted to pass on track this season to get ready to play basketball at Eastern Michigan.
Dailey, a starting guard on the state semifinal team, was a D-I state qualifier in the 200 last year.
She helped the Rams claim a D-II state runner-up track finish in her freshman year when she second in the 200, fourth in the 100 and on the fourth-place 800 relay team.
Clay's Erin Gyurke wins the 3200-meter run at Whitmer’s Gold W Invitational. The senior, who will run at Ohio State, placed sixth in the event last season at the Divsion I state meet. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH