The Sikeston boys track team, perennially one of the top Class 3 teams in the state, have some tough athletes to replace, including state champion hurdler Tyler Woodson and all-state jumper Felante Larry.
But head coach Jerry Dement thinks he has enough talent to accomplish the team's goals.
"I'm very optimistic with our boys team," said Dement. "We're going to try to challenge for the conference and district title and try to qualify as many as we can for the state meet. We preach team points first and individual accolades second. And the kids have pretty well adhered to that formula. We've had some kids sacrifice individual glory for the glory of the team."
The Bulldogs do return most of the top sprinters, four of which ran at the state meet as freshmen last year -- Brandon Washington, Bryan Branion, Brandon Wright and Tommie Strong.
"They were babies last year and they got to run at the state championships," said Dement. "That's tremendous experience and it doesn't happen very often at our level."
Also returning from last year is sectional pole vault qualifier Trey Stone and sectional hurdler qualifier Stephon Turner in addition to sectional shot put qualifier Salamar Cox, who Dement said "just missed going to state."
"Stephon Turner's been a four-year letter winner for us," said Dement. "He's consistent and hasn't quite gotten to the state meet, but he's been fifth two different times which is one place away from going to the state meet. He's been knocking on the door."
Junior Andre Goodwin and Washington both compete in the high jump. Goodwin also qualified for the sectional meet.
Junior Joe Moore returns to compete in the throws.
Most of the other competitors are relatively new or came up short in the district meet last year.
"We've added a few more athletes from the basketball team," said Dement. "Probably the least experience we have is in the distance events. We're pretty much rebuilding in our 800 meters on up. But I think we're going to find a few kids that can do that."
Sikeston's boys team saw its four-year stranglehold on the district crown come to an end last year as they were edged in points in the final couple races.
"We led until the last race and got beat by Potosi and Perryville," said Dement. "I'm sure that they will be very competitive again and our sights is to win it again. We had a chance to win five in a row and we just missed last year. We always have high expectations in track and field here. We demand a lot out of our kids and they've always responded with the good work ethic and a lot of pride. They know that the ticket for success is hard work. Probably the strength of our team is our sprints. We have quite a few sprinters back from last year.
"We'll see what we've got for the first couple months and try to get people in their best positions and by the first of May we'll set things up for our championship run.
On the girls side, the 2006 season could be a rebuilding year with an abundance of underclassmen competing.
The top returner is sophomore sprinter Chasman Herrion, a district champion 100 meter dash athlete and also a key member of the state qualifying 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 meter relay teams along with Jackie Nance, Lashawna Turner and Martika Davis.
Also returning is senior Traci Jackson, who was a member of Sikeston's school record setting 4 x 800 meter relay team. Three of her teammates on the relay teams were slated to return, but one moved and the other two didn't come out for the team this year.
"We have no less aspirations for the girls than we do the boys," said Dement.
"We're very, very young on the girls team. I've got four returning girls that had a lot of success last year. Traci Jackson has been a varsity runner since she was a freshman. She qualified for state in two relays last year. She's looking really strong. Chasman Herrion, Lashawna Turner and Jackie Nance all ran at the state finals last year. We've got some others that have run in the past like Meredith Null and Brooke Demonia. Those are pretty much the girls with experience we have back.
"I think we'll be okay by the end of the year, but we're going to be very, very young. I've got one senior girl on the team."
Dement has four coaches on staff helping out this spring with Steve Drake doing pole vault, Andy McGill taking care of the jumps, Chad King doing hurdles and Terrance Sterling taking care of the throws. Dement coaches the sprinters and distance runners.
"I feel fortunate that I've got a good staff and the guys work hard and make track important," said Dement.