The Red & Black are deep into preparations for the 2016 Lackawanna League season
Mike Jurkowski has been the head coach of Honesdale's varsity track & field teams for 16 years now.
Over the course of that time, he's seen hundreds of high school athletes of all abilities don the red and black. He's experienced exhilarating highs and devastating lows.
And yet, the veteran skipper still gets pumped up for Opening Day.
"I'm definitely psyched for the start of the season," he said Tuesday with a big smile. "How could you not? The kids are excited and so am I. It's a great day to be out here."
His enthusiasm appeared to be contagious on this sunny afternoon as hundreds of local fans gathered at the HHS Sports Complex to see Honesdale battle Valley View in a non-league meet.
While Tuesday's results do not count toward team records or individual statistics, the meet was an excellent barometer to measure readiness for the 2016 campaign.
Lackawanna League action begins next Tuesday with a road trip to Scranton.
"We're going to take things one day and one meet at a time," Coach Jurkowski said. "This is a great group of kids. They're working hard and they have great attitudes. I'm really enjoying being around them."
Honesdale's girls varsity squad probably won't be challenging for a division title this year.
However, there are several Lady Hornets who'll no doubt be vying for all-league status and perhaps even District Two medals.
Kally Pachuta is just a sophomore, but she's already turning heads. Pachuta carved out a spot on the varsity squad last spring and this year she's looking to take the next step.
On Tuesday, Kally finished first among the girls with a high jump of 4'8". She made three valiant attempts at 5' with the boys, but came up just a bit short.
"We're expecting big things from Kally," Coach Jurkowski said. "She competed in the jumps for us as a freshman, so I think that experience is really going to help her moving forward."
Emma Lawson also turned in a solid effort against Valley View.
A junior hurdler who leads by example, Lawson finished second in the 100M hurdles with a time of :19.04. She also runs the 300M hurdles, pole vaults and is part of the 4x400M relay team.
"We're definitely like a family," Emma said. "I've been hurdling with Caroline Tuman since seventh grade and we're inseparable. I love being part of this team."
Lawson's personal best in the 100M hurdles last year was 18 seconds flat. She's hoping to shatter that mark this spring and help the Hornets to a winning record
"I think we're going to do really well," she said. "I'm really excited for the season."
Lawson is a well-rounded young lady. She's a standout student who's a fixture on the honor roll and poised for induction into the National Honor Society.
In addition, Emma just recently enlisted in the National Guard. She also runs cross country, participates in the Interact Club and keeps stats for the junior high wrestling team.
Coach Jurkowski believes that Janie Murphy (Sr, throws); Joanna DiBenedetto (Jr, throws); Mackenzie Lamorte (Fr, distance) will also contribute mightily as well.
Honesdale's boys team struggled to an 0-4 record in league action last spring.
However, the Hornets return several battle-tested veterans who should lead the way to a competitive season.
Clay Hewlett (Sr, throws): Eli Harvey (Jr, sprints); Roger Kenyon (Sr, sprints) are all expected to make key contributions.
Ben Wilken will be among the leaders for this year's boys team. A junior who also excels in cross country, Wilken is one of the area's top distance runners.
Tristan Protzman will also be counted upon for leadership. A senior who specializes in hurdles and jumps, Protzman is poised for a breakout season.
"He's a versatile kid," Coach Jurkowski said. "When Tristan isn't hurdling, he's jumping. Tristan has been part of the program for a long time and he's a very hard worker."