Indoor track helps runners prep for junior nationals
By Steve Yingling
Tribune sports editor
Runners know how hard it is to keep their feet moving during the late fall in the Sierra.
But they can choose not to run for a week or so until the weather and roads clear. Three South Shore youths need to keep running or their performances will be impacted at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics Nationals Championships on Saturday in Schaumburg, Ill.
South Shore sisters Kelsey and Kira Smith and Jordan Yingling are first-time qualifiers for nationals.
Since more than a foot of snow covers their favorite running trails and many roads are too dangerous for workouts, the three have been training at Kahle Community Center’s indoor track.
“I could have never been able to be in this shape without Kahle,” Yingling said.
Their hard work and perseverance has paid off because the three get to visit the Windy City this weekend.
“I’m happy I made it this far and I can’t wait to see Chicago and my competition,” said Kelsey Smith, the Tah-Neva League sixth- and seventh-grade champion this fall.
Kelsey, 13, qualified for nationals by making it through the Pacific Association and regional qualifying meets. At the latter qualifying stage, she finished 12th in the 4-kilometer run in 16 minutes, 4 seconds.
The winner of her division, Jordan Hasay of the San Luis Distance Club, set a course record of 13:40 and the California girl probably is this week’s favorite to win a national title.
But the surprise runner in the Smith household is Kelsey’s younger sister, Kira. Because Kira, 10, still is in elementary school she didn’t have the luxury of competing for a cross country team like her older sister and other middle school-aged children.
“I just wanted something to do while my sister was running and I made it to nationals,” Kira said.
Kira competed in her first race a week before the tier of national qualifying meets began and became an immediate contender in the bantam division. She was 16th in the regional qualifying meet in San Pablo, finishing her 3K race in 14:13.
Only the top 20 racers in each age group advanced to nationals.
“Kira was kind of a fluke. She hadn’t run any workouts before she ran the race in Reno. She did really well, so she decided to just go for it and see how far she could go,” said the girls’ father Doug.
Doug, however, thinks the girls’ participation on a local swim team has helped their running.
“Their aerobic base was built from swimming and they’ve always liked to run,” he said.
Once the girls qualified for nationals, Doug said there really wasn’t option of not going.
“I’m extremely proud of them and extremely proud of what they’ve done and that they really wanted to do this,” he said. “Who knows if they’ll ever get a chance to do this again, so shoot, we’d better go.”
Yingling qualified for nationals by placing 17th in the midget division at the San Pablo regionals with a 3K time of 11:44. He qualified for regionals by taking fifth at the Pacific Association meet with a time of 11:17.
The South Tahoe Middle School seventh-grader has been limited in his workouts before nationals but has trained at Kahle the past week following basketball practice at STMS.
“It feels great to make nationals,” he said. “Now I get to see how well I will do against these new runners.”
Carson Middle School’s Nick Schlager, the undefeated Tah-Neva League champion, figures to be a contender for the midget division national title. He won the regional meet with a course-record time of 10:54. He finished 29th at nationals a year ago.
Like any other runner going to nationals, the goal is to finish in the top 25. To do so earns each runner All-American status.
“I’m pretty surprised I made it this far, so I’m just going to try my hardest to finish in the top 25. I want to be an All-American,” Kelsey said.