The high school track world said farewell to some stellar athletes as they capped glorious careers with outstanding performances during Saturday’s state championships at Hamline University’s Klas Field. The names are familiar, including Haylie Zenner and R.J. Alowonle.
We also saw impressive showings by some familiar stars who will be back for another year. Most well-known among that group are Maria Hauger and Jessica January, but we also must remember the name Nadia Lorencz.
And as is the case every year, we witnessed some young talent that has burst onto the scene like exploding fireworks. Wensia Johnson and Meleah Biermaier, we look forward to much more. Let’s talk specifics…
HAYLIE ZENNER, THE PRIDE of Fergus Falls, finished her career in rare style, winning the Class 2A girls 800 meters for the fourth time. She had previously won the 800 as an eighth-grader, freshman and junior, placing second as a sophomore. She also played on a basketball team that went to the state tournament. She will be on the track and cross-country teams at the University of Minnesota in the fall.
I have interviewed Haylie several times during the course of her career, and she is always smiling and always thankful. After she crossed the finish line Saturday, the she looked to the sky, gave thanks and then turned to the other runners, saying – as she always does -- “Great job, girls!”
Haylie was crying as she walked from the finish line to the awards tent, where her fourth gold medal would soon be placed around her neck. I was talking with a friend, who saw the tears and said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”
I explained that Haylie was not crying tears of sadness, but tears of joy and gratitude. And her words backed that up.
“I am so happy, so blessed,” she told me. “This is the end of a really great journey for me. I couldn’t have asked for a better high school career.”
PARK SENIOR R.J. ALOWONLE ended a stellar career by winning both 2A hurdles races and the triple jump as well as running a leg on the Wolfpack’s championship 4x100 relay. He won the 300 hurdles for the third year in a row; he never lost in the 300s at Park. He also won the 110 hurdles Saturday for the second year in a row. He will compete at the University of North Carolina.
“I’m a little sad but I’m happy at how I finished my high school career,” he said. “It’s like a finish line in a race, you start and end there.”
MARIA HAUGER, A JUNIOR from Shakopee, cleary stamped herself as one of the greatest distance stars in Minnesota history … and she has one more year to go. She captured the 2A distance double, winning the 3,200 meters Friday and the 1,600 Saturday. She won the 3,200 last year and also is a three-time state cross-country champion.
FARMINGTON’S NADIA LORENCZ won the 2A 100-meter hurdles, nosing out state record-holder and two-time defending state champ Jessica January, a junior from of Richfield. Lorencz’s time was 14.36 and January finished in 14.39. January had broken her own state record during Friday’s preliminaries with a time of 14.32. Both Lorencz (who also won the long jump) and January (numbers 4 and 5 in this photo) are juniors, and all eyes will be on both of them during the 2013 season.
THE YOUNGSTERS TO WATCH are Wensia Johnson and Meleah Biermaier. Both are eighth-graders who already own state championships. Johnson’s first race Saturday was a bit disappointing; she had the best time in Friday’s 100-meter prelims, finishing a tick off the state record that had stood since 1986. That mark of 11.73 seconds had been set by Windom’s Heather Van Norman. On Friday, Johnson – a 14-year-old from Alexandria – finished the prelims in 11.74.
But in the finals, Johnson finished second to Hopkins junior Taylor Anderson. Her winning time of 11.71 broke Van Norman’s record, with Johnson next in 11.83.
But later in the day Johnson (pictured with 200 third-place runner Megan Linder of Cretin-Derham Hall) claimed gold in the 200, an event she called “not my strongest race.” No record was set, but her strong performance both days in the sprints marked Johnson as a sudden star. Even if she didn’t come to Hamline thinking she would go home a state champ.
“It’s an honor running with the best of the best,” she said. “I came in thinking, ‘Have fun and do your best.’ ”
Johnson was slowed by a knee injury early in the season but quickly began running up some of the fastest times in the state. A native of Haiti, she and her younger sister Patricia were adopted by an Alexandria family eight years ago.
“I have loved all the support from my family and friends and the fans who I don’t even know,” she said. We should probably get used to the name, because Wensia predicted that Patricia,12, will soon be joining her big sister at the state meet.
“You guys will be seeing her here,” Wensia said.
THE OTHER YOUNG state champion is Biermaier, an eighth-grader from Thief River Falls. She won the 2A girls 300-meter low hurdles.
RACING FOR A CAR
Hopkins’ Anderson had a very specific goal in mind Saturday. She said her mother had promised to buy her a car if she won both the 100 and 200. Taylor began her day with a gold medal in the 100 as well as the state record. Anderson anchored Hopkins to a first-place finish in the 4x100 relay and everything seemed to be on track for that car. But then she finished second in the 200 to Johnson.
STATE RECORD SPEED
North St. Paul won the boys 2A 4x200 in a time of 1:27.23, which is a new state record. The previous mark of 1:27.63 was set by White Bear Lake in 2010.
OTHER REPEAT/DOUBLE CHAMPIONS
--Andover senior Thomas Anderson, who won the boys 2A shot put Friday, won the discus Saturday. St. Francis senior Maggie Ewen did the same thing in 2A girls.
--Blaine senior Ayuk Tambe won the 2A boys 100 for the second year in a row.
--White Bear Lake senior Eric Gebeke repeated in the 2A boys 800.
--Roseville junior DeAntre Smith won the 2A long jump and high jump.
CLASS 1A HEADLINERS AND HIGHLIGHTS
--Michael Whitney of Breckenridge/Campbell-Tintah was a double winner, taking gold in the boys 100 and 200.
--The Osakis girls relays teams won two events, the 4x200 and 4x400. The 4x200 runners were Abby Stroup, Brittney Sadlemyer, Hannah Szech and Becka Sadlemyer. The 4x400 members were Makayla Hoglin, Cali Sadlemyer, Szech and Becka Sadlemyer.
--Blake swept the 1,600-meter races. Bears sophomore Clare Flanagan won the girls race and senior Brandon Clark was the boys champion.
THE FINAL WORDS
--Awards announcer Mike Weimerskirch always clarifies pronunciations before athletes’ names are read and their medals given. Jackson County Central 400-meter runner Jason Vongsavanh (who finished eighth) was pleased when Weimerskirch got his name correct on the first try, saying, “Wow! Thanks for getting my name right!”
--Wayzata coach Bill Miles was standing behind the fence near the finish line when the 2A boys 4x800 relay finished. As Wayzata anchor runner Brian Jarvey crossed the finish line with a first-place finish, he fell to the track. The coach hollered, “Get up! Get him up! He’s got to run another race!” As Bill walked away, he said with a smile, “I’m a loving coach.”
--To see photos from the state track meet, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
--Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 17 for the spring tournaments.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 663
*Miles John has driven: 8,379
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn