TMHS senior Mallory Welling, running for team North/Southeast, competes in the 100 hurdles at the Brian Young Invitational on Saturday in Kodiak. (Photo courtesy Brandi Adams)

TMHS senior Mallory Welling, running for team North/Southeast, competes in the 100 hurdles at the Brian Young Invitational on Saturday in Kodiak. (Photo courtesy Brandi Adams)

Local athletes qualify for Junior Olympics

Southeast track stars impress at Kodiak’s Brian Young Invitational

Southeast Alaska track and field athletes competed Friday and Saturday at the Brian Young Invitational in Kodiak, establishing new personal best times and qualifying for the 2023 Junior Olympics, which will be held July 24-30, at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.

The BYI meet is sanctioned by the United States Track & Field Association and run in conjunction with the USATF Alaska Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships, which came to Kodiak for the first time last week.

“The kids don’t qualify from the Brian Young Invitational,” said Marcus Dunbar, the meet’s director. “They qualify from the JO meet which we ran together. Those results will be posted later in the week. But anyone who won an event in the BYI will win their age group in the JO.”

JDHS junior Etta Eller, running for team North/Southeast, prepares to start the 800-meter race at the Brian Young Invitational on Saturday in Kodiak. (Photo courtesy Brandi Adams)

JDHS junior Etta Eller, running for team North/Southeast, prepares to start the 800-meter race at the Brian Young Invitational on Saturday in Kodiak. (Photo courtesy Brandi Adams)

Dunbar, a former Kodiak High School coach, said: “For each event there would be six different age groups. Even though we ran them all together they will be put into separate age groups. For the most part the results are the same. You might have some winners that didn’t win the Brian Young meet, but they won their age group for the JO. Complete results will be posted on Thursday.”

The Alaska JO championships are age determinant and held only in Alaska.

Due to the USATF Alaska Association lacking a true road system for competition it is one of the few associations granted automatic JO bids to top finishers.

Other states traditionally go to their state JO championships and, if finishing in whatever that association set as their top times or placements, then they could move on to the Northwest Regional Championships. Top finishes would have to be obtained in regionals to move on to nationals in Eugene, Oregon.

“For Alaska they give us a hardship wavier,” USATF Alaska Association president Melissa DeVaughn Hall said. “We are part of the Northwest Region, but they understand that having our kids travel down to Washington for the regional championships and then again two weeks later for the national championships would be a financial hardship. So what they allow us to do is when we do our association in-state championships the first- and second-place finishers in their age group get to move on automatically to nationals.”

JDHS junior Etta Eller, running for team North/Southeast, prepares to start the 800-meter race at the Brian Young Invitational on Saturday in Kodiak. (Photo courtesy Brandi Adams)

JDHS junior Etta Eller, running for team North/Southeast, prepares to start the 800-meter race at the Brian Young Invitational on Saturday in Kodiak. (Photo courtesy Brandi Adams)

Hawaii is the only other USATF association to receive a hardship wavier.

Age-group competitions take place in six age divisions (17-18, 15-16, 13-14, 11-12, 9-10, 8 & under). Athletes must be at least seven years of age on Dec. 31 of the current year to compete in the Youth Olympics and athletes who are still 18 through the final day of the USATF National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships are eligible to compete in the 17-18 age group.

Any athlete, no matter their finish in a combined race, advances to nationals if they had one of the top two placings in their age category.

“The big experience is getting to run on Hayward Field,” said DeVaughn Hall, who is also head coach at Chugiak High School. “It’s historic. It’s kind of a bucket-list item for any track and field athlete to run in that stadium.”

Since the BYI and the USATF JO was scored in the same events, the races were held together.

For instance, in the 1,600 and 3,200 meter BYI races, an additional timer was set to qualify participants for the JOs at the 1,500 and 3,000 marks of the race.

JDHS junior Edgar Vera Alvarado and Haines senior Luke Davis, running for team North/Southeast, compete in the 1,600-meter run at the Brian Young Invitational on Saturday in Kodiak. (Photo Courtesy Brandi Adams)

During the meet it affected only the 1,600 as Chugiak senior Campbell Peterson, running for Cook Inlet Conference, won the 1,500 portion of the race, but Sitka sophomore Clare Mullin, running for North/Southeast, passed Peterson in the final 100 yards to win the BYI portion.

“It was a fast pace at the start and I kind of had to hang back in third for most of the race,” Mullin said. “And just had to give it everything I had in the last 300 meters.”

Mullin won the BYI in a season-best time for her of 5:08.54 and Peterson hit a personal record of 5:08.75.

Peterson had won both the 1,600 and 3,200 at the ASAA Division I Track & Field State Championships two weeks ago in 5:10.95 and 11:16.54, respectively. Mullin won the 1,600 in the ASAA Division II state championships with 5:21.87.

“Either way they are both the top finishers in their age groups,” DeVaughn Hall said. “But that cannot be officially announced until the JO times are released. It was a lot of fun down there (Kodiak). This was the first time we tried to combine the Brian Young Invitational and double it up as a JO meet. It is a little bit complicated as we pull together those region teams just for a week and they are not legit USATF teams, they are just regional teams that got pulled together for the Brian Young.

This was the 10th running of the BYI and local high school athletes paired with peers from the Fairbanks area to form team North/Southeast. They competed against athletes from the Anchorage area who formed the Cook Inlet Conference, and athletes from the Kenai Peninsula who formed the South Central All-Stars.

Floyd Dryden Middle School seventh grader Bella Connally, running for team North/Southeast, competes in the 100-meter dash at the Brian Young Invitational Saturday in Kodiak. (Photo Courtesy Brandi Adams)

Floyd Dryden Middle School seventh grader Bella Connally, running for team North/Southeast, competes in the 100-meter dash at the Brian Young Invitational Saturday in Kodiak. (Photo Courtesy Brandi Adams)

Coaches Brandi Adams from Thunder Mountain and Jesse Stringer from Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé brought athletes from Sitka, Haines, Ketchikan, TMHS and JDHS to Kodiak.

“This year’s team was the largest SE contingency in the 10-year history of the meet,” Stringer said in an email. “All athletes competed well with the majority creating a personal best in one or two events.”

The BYI results have been finalized, but the only certainty is the top two finishers in each event qualified for the nationals. When the JO results are finalized additional athletes will have qualified.

The athletes’ team performances can also be included in their own individual high school season records. An athlete can still set a school record at the BYI while running for an all-star team.

Haines senior Luke Davis set a school record in the 800 meters at the ASAA state championships and broke it again at the BYI with a personal best time of 2:04.21. Homer senior Lance Seneff, running for South Central All-Stars won the race in a PR 2:00.41. Davis placed sixth. Between Seneff and Davis were four other finishers, so until JO times are released the age group qualifiers will not be known.

JDHS junior Wilder Dillingham, running for team North/Southeast, competes in a relay at the Brian Young Invitational on Saturday in Kodiak. (Photo Courtesy Brandi Adams)

JDHS junior Wilder Dillingham, running for team North/Southeast, competes in a relay at the Brian Young Invitational on Saturday in Kodiak. (Photo Courtesy Brandi Adams)

“It feels pretty amazing,” Davis said of breaking former Haines runner and coach Chandler Kemp’s record. “It was a lot of fun running for him and chasing down his high school marks. It was a really fun race. It felt fast. They went out hard and just tried to hang on that second lap. It was cool that everybody was racing for fun but also racing for fast marks.”

Davis also noted he was excited to be joining former North/Southeast BYI champion and 2022 JDHS graduate James Connally at Eastern Oregon University this fall, running track and cross country.

North/Southeast athlete Bella Connally, a Floyd Dryden Middle School seventh grader and James Connally’s sister, impressed all in attendance by placing second in the 100 meters in a PR 13.32. ASAA 100 meter state champion Olyvia Mamae, a senior from East Anchorage running for Cook Inlet Conference, won the race in her season best time of 12.72.

“I’m really grateful I had the opportunity to go,” Connally said. “I had a lot of fun. I was really nervous but the high schoolers and coaches helped keep my nerves low and helped me build up confidence and they were really supportive.”

Connally also placed fifth in the 200 meters in a PR 27.77. Mamae won in a SR 26.54

Both performances would qualify Connally for the JO competition in Eugene for her age group.

“I’m grateful for the chance, but I can’t go because I have softball during that time and I don’t want to ditch my team,” Connally said. “I also want to get better at my block starts and technique. My brother is coming back from college for the summer and hopefully we have some chances to go out to the track.”

When asked if she planned to beat her brother Connally said, “I feel like that would be impossible.”

According to North/Southeast coach Stringer, Sitka sophomore Connor Hitchcock hit a PR 3,200 time of 9:52.29 for fourth place, finishing one second behind Sitka senior Silas Demmert in third with 9:51.59.

The race was won by Grace Christian senior David Sliwinski, running for Cook Inlet Conference, in 9:31.31. JHDS junior Edgar Vera Alverado hung tough to pull out a 10:12.41 for seventh place on windy Kodiak day. In that race seventh grader Henry Pysher placed 10th in 12:37.49 and would qualify for nationals in his age group.

“I knew there was going to be the leaders and I was going to be in the chase pack,” Hitchcock said. “I was excited to have people to race with. There was a pack of four and I was just hanging on to the back. My teammate Edgar was hanging on right behind me. I thought that some of those kids wouldn’t be able to handle that pace so I let them do the work until I made the move. It was cool to have Edgar racing on the same team as me. We’ve talk to each other about races all season. It was different being on the same team because we could talk race strategy to work together. Earlier in the season we’d talk about the race, but not much strategy because we were competition.”

Hitchcock also placed 10th in the 1,600 with a PR of 4:37.36. Race winner Robbie Annett, a Grace Christian sophomore, hit a PR 4:20.95 for his high school’s record. Both could qualify for nationals in their age group as could Homer senior Seamus McDonough in second place and Sliwinski in third, while Sitka senior Silas Demmert in fourth may not.

Ketchikan sophomore Jason Lorig won the 100 in a PR 11.12 with Bartlett sophomore Marquez Nevitte second in a PR 11.40. Lorig placed fifth in the 200 in a PR 24.27, but the faster finishers were all seniors so he may qualify in that event as well.

“I didn’t expect to go faster than regions,” Lorig said. “It feels pretty good to run the sprints, it feels easy for me and fun.”

JDHS junior Wilder Dillingham should qualify for nationals as he set a PR 51.33 for second in the 400 meters, behind Chugiak senior Anders Larsen in a PR 50.37.

Coach Springer noted that Dillingham also ran the 300 hurdles, tripped to the ground but finished the race in a time that is one of the top 25 times of the season in Alaska.

JDHS junior Etta Eller place third in the 800 in a PR 2:24.96, third in the 1,600 in a PR 5:15.78 and third in the 3,200 with a PR 11:44.23.

“My races this weekend were fun and a great way to end the season in a different environment than most races this season,” Eller said. “It was run to run alongside people from all over Southeast and all representing the same team. I felt stronger. It helped having back-to-back high competition races, that pushed me in this meet. I did more individual events than at state and I did them closer together so I felt more tired, but my times were stronger.”

Eller said her summer running will be structured around the July JO nationals.

“But apart from that I just love running trails in the summer,” she said. “And going up mountains. I love trail running, but maybe I will incorporate some more speed work on top of my loose fun training in the mountains.”

TMHS senior Mallory Welling placed second in the 100 hurdles in SR 16.39 and second in the 300 hurdles in PR 48.00. East’s Mamae won the 100 hurdles in 15.66 and Homer sophomore Gracie Miotke, of South Central All-Stars, the 300 in 47.52.

Welling was competing in her second BYI.

“For me the unity we had as a team really stood out,” she said. “Last year we didn’t know the northern kids that well. I feel like this year we had a better connection overall. And our southeast portion of the team was bigger so it was more fun.”

He older sister Naomi Welling, a state champion, also had participated at the BYI in the past and Mallory noted the importance of wearing the North/Southeast team singlet.

“We do a lot of the same events, she’s crazy good at them and I don’t think I will ever get to her level, but being able to have her with me, in a way, in those races is really important,” she said. “Because sometimes she is the one who pumps me up. She’s the one who helps me get focused on the race. So getting to wear that singlet, and kind of have her with me, is really special.”

Even as impressive as Southeast Alaska athletes are, it is also impressive that most had to first get to Juneau before traveling to Anchorage and then Kodiak. For many this means traveling 900 miles, or more than the width of Texas, to be at this meet.

“They gladly make this sacrifice to get one more shot at their competition after the ASAA state championships,” said North/Southeast coach Stringer.

The BYI meet has no association with ASAA. Coaches volunteer their time to spend an extra weekend with the most skilled athletes from across the state. Alaska athletes are usually at a competition disadvantage across the nation compared to larger competitive populations of athletes, easier access to facilities and training and weather.

Some of Saturday’s sprint races did not produce PRs as they faced strong Kodiak head winds.

“But we got a lot of personal best on Friday when the weather was nicer,” Dunbar said. “The meet went pretty good. One downside is that the meet being in Kodiak, for the BYI we had a lot of financial assistance getting kids to Kodiak, but for the JO meet we did not have that. So athletes had to do that themselves. If we get on the road system I think we will get more participants. Especially for the younger age groups.”

The BYI honors namesake Brian Young, an avid sports fan, volunteer, father and lifelong fisherman who passed away in 2011 after summiting Denali.

Dunbar has had the meet outside Kodiak twice before. In 2019 the meet was held at West Anchorage High School to promote their new field and last year it was held in Homer as the Alaska Marine Highway schedule did not facilitate adequate transportation to Kodiak.

Dunbar is planning the 2024 BYI meet for Fairbanks, and hopes to move it around the state for greater athlete access and affordability. The BYI fundraises to host the event. Athletes have to provide their own transportation, food and housing. They are given team sweats and singlets and, of course, good memories.

“The kids work hard and have a good time,” Dunbar said. “It is more about taking the pressure off and letting the kids relax while they are in shape and running against good competition on a good track and trying to get their personal best performances. They had a good time. They ran a fun relay at the end, they called it ‘anything but a baton relay 4×4.’ Right after we finished the competitive races. And they were, like, carrying people, and cans of whipped cream, a cowbell, a selfie stick, a traffic cone… passing off different things that weren’t batons. It was crazy but everyone had a good time.”

• Contact Klas Stolpe at Klas.Stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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