Assistant Sports Editor
BENNINGTON -- Marc Brandmeyer, Vermont's reigning cross country champion, has shaved nearly 30 seconds off his time in the 3,200 meters. His Mount Anthony Union High School teammate Andy Seward is 8.22 seconds better in the 600.
Jon Polen, the 110-meter hurdles champion in last year's outdoor meet, is 0.01 seconds off the state record in the 55 hurdles.
Taylor Haynes, meanwhile, has added more than 3 feet to her performance in last year's shot put finals and owns the longest toss in the state this year.
Better across the board than they were a year ago, the Mount Anthony boys and girls indoor track teams are seeded first or second in nine events on the eve of Saturday's state championships at Norwich University.
And with a broad spectrum of athletes unlike Patriot teams in past seasons, they are eager to reap the rewards of a season of improvement that has cemented school records in seven different events.
"We've had one or two people [leading several events] in certain years, but not as many different people," said MAU coach Kathleen Newton.
"The thing that we don't have, like an Essex, is the numbers," Newton said. "But, I think we have a lot of quality on our team. It's going to be exciting."
Traditional powers like South Burlington, Essex and St. Johnsbury are among the title favorites, but the Patriots, too, are positioned to make some noise.
The progression of athletes like Seward -- a junior seeded fourth in the 600 with a qualifying time of 1 minute 30 seconds, 3.27 seconds behind St. Johnsbury mid-distance standout Dage Minors -- is one of the main reasons why.
"This year you start realizing you only have two years left, you better start focusing on getting better," Seward said. "I'm a lot more dedicated to this sport this year than I have been in the past."
"He's a totally different runner than he was last year," Newton said. "His times -- he wasn't even in the mix of the top six last year in the 600 or the 1,000 -- this year he's right up there."
Seward, the anchor, bookends the second-ranked 4x400 meter relay team with his twin brother Ben. He also leads off the Patriots' top-seeded 4x800 squad.
"You tell them to do something and they can really focus on what you asked them to do," Newton said of the Sewards. "They really try to apply what we're teaching them and I think that's made them better athletes."
The Mount Anthony girls, loaded in the sprints and relays, hope to best their third-place finish from 2012. The boys were seventh.
"The girls have a lot of people coming back that we had last year and the fortunate part is the people coming back have gotten better," Newton said.
That starts with the 4x200 relay, which is 0.28 seconds from beating the state record set last year.
Three of the four -- senior Shelby McLenithan, junior Leniesha Williams and sophomore Raheemah Madany -- are top-four seeds in the 55 behind South Burlington sophomore Kayla Gilding. All, including sophomore Taylor Hockemeier, have top-10 times in the 300.
The girls 4x400 team -- Grace Page, McKenzie Krawczyk, Samantha Mears and Shelby Whitman -- is ranked second, with a 2.4-second cushion on Essex.
Whitman leads the qualifiers in the 600.
Brandmeyer, a senior, sits at second in the 3,200 behind Montpelier's Daniel Grosvenor, a familiar foe from the cross country circuit, and third in the 1,600.
He is a part of the Patriots' 4x800 relay -- with the Sewards and senior Zach Redden -- that has the state's best time by some 6 seconds this winter.
"People are getting faster, everyone seems more motivated, more prepared," Ben Seward said. "I just feel like everyone's more confident this year."