When the tag "optional" is thrown in front of spring break practices, Free State High track coach Steve Heffernan says most kids tend to stay away.
If they aren't out of town, they avoid swinging by school that week at all costs.
In years past, Heffernan said his Firebirds team averaged 22 or 23 boys and girls athletes combined at those optional practices.
So Heffernan said he was pleasantly surprised when he arrived for the sessions this year to find twice as many athletes huddled on the track.
"This team's biggest strength is we have a big group of kids who like coming to track and working hard," Heffernan said. "They have a great attitude and work ethic and I get excited about that. It's great to see."
That desire and drive to improve has Heffernan thinking this could be one of the best Free State track teams in recent memory.
More than 90 athletes are out for the team this season, and several already have been successful at the state level.
On the boys side, senior Shaun James returns after medaling at state a year ago in the 400 meter race. Early on this season, he has displayed his individual running prowess, claiming victories in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races at Lawrence High's triangular.
Gabe Moss, Tim Muetz and Tim Malcolm also are no strangers to state. Moss should compete for state in the two-mile race, Muetz in the hurdles and Malcolm in the vault.
Heffernan said he expected his girls team, which has plenty of depth this year, to compete for league and regional titles.
Kyra Kilwein is back after placing third in the two-mile at state in 2007. Arden Leland qualified for state in the triple jump, and Brooke Carter has qualified for state in the high jump and long jump in years past.
Two sophomores also are expected to contribute. Drue Davis owns the school record in both the 100- and 200-meter races, and transfer Chantay Caron was a state medalist in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races at Ottawa High a year ago.
At Lawrence High, 70 athletes are out for the track team this season. Those numbers are lower than they have been in years past, but that doesn't mean the Lions don't have plenty of experience remaining.
As senior sprinter David Long put it, "We have a lot of top dogs that are here. We find a way to get it done, one way or another."
LHS coach Jack Hood said this year's team would be led by a strong group of girls.
Jennifer and Kristina Taylor, Kelly Renfro and Courtney Barber all return from a 4x400 relay team that has broken the state record two years in a row. Kaela Severa will be added to the fray once soccer season ends and was part of a record-setting 4x800 team that featured Renfro and both Taylors.
Renfro qualified for state in the mile and two-mile races and Barber made it in the high jump. Kylie Waite qualified in the javelin.
"Those girls have really set the tone around here for a number of years," Hood said. "That's a pretty impressive group."
For the boys, Quintin Rucker and Chebon Dawes both will compete for state berths in the shot put and discus.
Long and Colton Johnson both were members of the LHS 4x400 and 4x800 teams and will be trying to make state as well. Individually, Johnson competes in the 300 hurdles and Long performs in the 400 and open 800.
Also returning is senior Dylan Hedges, who qualified for state in the mile, two-mile and on that 4x800 team with Long and Johnson. Hedges already has shown his ability this season, fending off Free State's Gabe Moss in a classic two-mile dual at last week's LHS triangular.
At Veritas Christian, first-year coach David Roberts is attempting to build a track program from scratch with an Eagles team entering its first year of existence.
In years past, the Eagles fielded only a golf team during the spring season, but calls for more options led to the formation of a track team.
The numbers aren't abundant, but Roberts is excited about what he has to work with.
Of the 10 members out for the team, only four are in high school and none are upperclassmen. The other six runners are seventh and eighth graders.
"We really didn't know what to expect this year," Roberts said. "With a team this small, we have an opportunity to really find out what kids are interested in and give them individual attention on specific events."
Roberts said his team mostly would focus on running events rather than field events.
On the varsity team, there are two boys and two girls. On the boys side, freshmen Ethan Kay and Cody Hoagland will lead the way. Kay will be the team's sprinter and Hoagland the distance runner. For the girls, sophomore Danielle Li will be a sprinter and freshman Shereen Fattaahi will handle the distance races.
The Eagles have seven varsity meets scheduled and five junior high meets and will compete mostly against smaller schools from Kansas and Missouri.
"This week we've been focused on setting goals for the end of the year," Roberts said. "I kind of expect a lot of improvement given that this is the first year."