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Seniors Gracie Dunkle and Maddy Hanks are “heart and soul” of ZT’s track success

Derrick Webb, Staff Writer

KINNIKINNICK — When Gracie Dunkle and Maddy Hanks were paired together in a freshman science class at Zane Trace High School three years ago, little did they know it was the start of a long-lasting friendship.

Since, Dunkle and Hanks have done nothing but good in the halls and on the track, soccer field and hardwood … both with their talent and their fun-loving personalities.

This spring, the senior duo is participating in the final track seasons of their careers and while time in a Pioneer uniform continues to dwindle, Dunkle and Hanks are making the most of what’s left.

Maddy and Gracie cheer, play soccer and run track together.

“We’re definitely excited because last year, we won the SVC and a district title,” Dunkle said. “We’re excited to have Abbey Mohan back for the whole season after having to squeeze her in last year [due to the OHSAA’s transfer rules]. I’m hoping to win an event and go to the SVC banquet individually. But it’s all about the bigger process, in a team aspect.”

Team … it’s a word that means so much to Dunkle and Hanks.

While teammates like Mohan, Reese Hartsaugh and Hannah Kerr — all of whom qualified for the OHSAA State Track and Field Championships last spring — may dominate headlines, according to ZT coach Jennifer Johnston, Dunkle and Hanks are what keeps the engine running.

“From the time they were freshmen, they came in with the attitude that they would do everything the team needed them to do,” Johnston said. “They’re just the kids that say ‘What does the team need?’ And then they’re going to try to do whatever that is in the best way they possibly can. They are the heart and soul of this team. They’re pleasant to work with, they’re great leaders and that’s the stuff you want to embody as a coach. That’s the stuff that you want to carry into the community that people value. That’s what’s going to make you successful.”

Rest assured, if a teammate or a friend is running a tough race, you’ll see and hear both Dunkle and Hanks at each corner of the track offering support.

The “want” to do things like that, in an overall life sense, is what makes them great friends.

“I think one thing Gracie and I have in common is that we’re both really positive,” Hanks said. “It’s really hard to be friends with people who are always negative. That’s something I really appreciate in Gracie. Our personalities definitely match in that sense.”

With Dunkle and Hanks leading the charge, the Pioneers are expected to compete with Unioto at the top of this year’s SVC track standings.

The team is loaded with talent but that’s not what makes Zane Trace hard to beat.

It’s the entire roster’s sense of togetherness … mirroring the dispositions of Dunkle and Hanks.

It’s the entire roster’s sense of togetherness … mirroring the dispositions of Dunkle and Hanks.

“I think one thing that’s really special about this team is that we’re really team-oriented,” Hanks said. “You’ll see a lot of track teams or athletes that are focused on winning individual events. We have a lot of girls who are willing to sacrifice what they want to do individually to pay it forward for the team. I think that’s what makes us different.”

Dunkle and Hanks’ positive attitudes and outlooks aren’t a new addition to ZT’s track program. In fact, according to Hanks, they’re just following in the footsteps of those that came before them.

“That’s one thing we’ve had … some really great leaders to look up to,” Hanks said. “Olivia Pflaumer, Tori Hinton, Kaylee George … when you set those examples for younger runners, it’s really easy to follow. That’s the legacy we want to leave. That’s the heart, soul and spirit of this team.”

Zane Trace coach Jennifer Johnston call Maddy Hanks and Gracie Dunkle the “heart and soul” of this year’s team.
CREDIT: Derrick Webb/SOSA

After graduation, both Dunkle and Hanks have their college plans set.

Dunkle will attend Ohio University where she’ll major in Public Health. She wants to pursue her Master’s degree and become a public veterinarian. Hanks has chosen the University of Cincinnati, where she’ll be a Pre-Med major, before attending medical school to focus on pediatrics and family health.

But first, before any of that can happen, the duo is enjoying one last ride with the Pioneers. The main goal? Of course, they want to help their team get back to Columbus.

“We had six [girls] go [to the state meet] last year. I think we can definitely make that 10 this season,” Dunkle said. “We want to leave it all on the track.”

Hanks echoed that statement.

“We’re going to try and get some of our relays there and we’re seeing our younger runners progress, which is really cool,” Hanks said. “As seniors, to see people in the same position that you were in, going through the same processes, we can kind of look back and give advice. We’re excited for this season and to see what we can do.”

About Derrick Webb

Derrick is SOSA's chief content coordinator and has worked for the Chillicothe Gazette, the Portsmouth Daily Times and Eleven Warriors. He's a 13-time award-winning journalist, a self-proclaimed baseball purist, a suffering Bengals fan and has never met a stranger.
Read All Posts By Derrick Webb

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