A total of 11 high school runners from the Grand County Running Club traveled to Alabama last weekend to participate in the USA Track & Field (USATF) National Junior Olympic Championships on Saturday, Dec. 10.
“It was a perfect day in Birmingham to race with temperatures in the high 40s and a bright sunny sky,” said Randy Martin, the team’s head coach. Although the group was not officially affiliated with Grand County High School, its members had all previously competed on the GCHS cross-country team this fall.
“We flew in on Thursday so the team could practice on the course on Friday, the day before the race.”
The event attracted hundreds of runners from across the country, he said.
“As a program from a small school in southeast Utah we know we are not ready to compete with large teams from California, New York and Texas,” Martin said. “But it was a great experience for our team to go and compete on a national level and see what type of commitment it takes to compete at a national level.”
The Moab runners competed in the 15 to 18 age group, racing along a 5,000-meter course that wound through a heavily wooded park not far from downtown Birmingham.
Grand’s top female finisher was GCHS freshman Ali Hirt, who placed 57th in her age category. She missed placing among the top 25 by about 90 seconds.
For the Grand boys, junior Ryan Lewis and freshman Evan Ellison were even closer to the top 25 of their age bracket, each finishing within 50 seconds of All-American status among their age group.
“All three accepted the challenge for next year to attempt to become an All-American,” Martin said, adding that runners must finish among the top 25 in their age group to earn USATF All-American status.
Also competing for Grand at the Alabama race were Sadie Farnsworth, Mercedes Zunich, and Hannah Stripeika for the girls, and Tyrese Stash, Cameron Wakefield, Mackay Wakefield, Braxten Pierce, and Trent Disbro for the boys.
As a team, the Grand girls placed 10th overall, while Moab’s boys were 28th overall.
“In 2015, we competed with only four runners at nationals, but this year we had 11 runners and full boys’ and girls’ teams,” Martin said, adding, “We are hoping for even more runners to attend next year.”