BY DAVE PEDERSEN
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
After Chad Robran helped to pass a Rockford school bond issue that included funds for re-construction of the condemned track, he was asked to help jump start the track and field program as head coach.
When coach Andrew Kahler left to teach at another school district, Robran found himself doing something he thought would happen sooner or later. He lives in Corcoran and his children attend Rockford schools. That is why he volunteered last season to coach Rockford sprinters and hurdlers.
Robran had served as an assistant coach at St. Thomas University for 16 years. He has tapped into his pool of “track consultants” by adding six new assistants to the program that he says is being recreated from scratch.
So far so good as Rockford opened some eyes at Friday’s Central Minnesota Conference Indoor Invite at St. Cloud. The track and field team has grown from 32 to 58. The girls finished second at the indoor invite with 109 points after coming in seventh with 38 points a year ago. The Rocket boys moved up from sixth place to fourth, utilizing 30 members compared to 18 last year.
“The track program had been going through the motions,” said Robran. “I would like to create a perennial conference power. I will try some new concepts I used during my 16 years at St. Thomas. Plus, I will have help in coaching the proper technique.”
Rockford has new track uniforms and warm-ups and the list goes on for how the program has changed. Four home track meets are scheduled on the new facility after not being able to conduct a home meet for eight years. The first home meet is April 17 at the JV invite. Varsity invites are set for May 1 and May 22.
One way the new coach has built up numbers is by asking talented athletes to take part in two sports in the spring. Four from baseball and one from softball, for example will also compete in track. Brendon Schumacher is already standing out in the long jump. Brock Deering will add track to his list of sports that includes football, basketball and baseball.
Robran planned to bring eight elite athletes to the St. Thomas indoor invite Wednesday of this week, also a new concept designed to offer more challenging experiences.
“Our six new coaches all either competed in track and field, coached in the sport and purely have compassion for the sport,” said Robran about Paula Wanous, Dave Mottet, Michelle Brickley, Kelsey Ortnnman and Paul Herda. “My wife Melonie, who was a college All-American hurdler, also helps out.”
This is Robran’s first year as a head coach but was a five-time college All-American at UW-Stevens Point. He still holds the school record in the 400 hurdles and has the third fastest 400 hurdle time in all of Division 3.
Rockford returns most of the entrants at last year’s state meet. At the conference indoor meet, Abby Botten, Jordan Weeding, Logan Henrich, Mariah Givens and Alexandra Chinikaylo all earned first place medals. Emily Eberspacher scored in both the long and triple jumps with a third and fourth place finish.
Last season, Botten placed eighth at state in the 1600-meter run. She also qualified for state in cross country after playing soccer for most of the fall season. She was a leader on the girls basketball team.
The boys were paced by senior Jordan O’Reilly last year, who finished third at the state boys meet in the 300-meter hurdles. He also was part of the state 4×400 relay.
Senior Kenny Gilb ran on the state 4×100 team. Senior Thomas Hayden who was part of the state 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams.
At Friday’s first meet, O’Reilly, Erik Olson and the 4×400 relay finished first. Gilb was second in the 200 and Nick Klonne finished second in the pole vault, plus was third in the 1600.
Rockford will play host to the indoor time trials April 8, in a meet that may include four or five other conference teams. If the weather is good, this meet will be outside on the new track.