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Valley City High Schoolâ€™s April Berntson has yet to see the state track and field meet from an athleteâ€™s perspective. Bentson, a freshman, narrowly missed making the meet last year as an eighth grader, but instead went as a spectator.
This year, sheâ€™ll be making the trip for the right reasons.
Berntson clinched her spot in the state meet with a fifth place finish in the 1,600 meter run at the Eastern Dakota Conference regional meet last weekend in Fargo.
â€śIt was really awesome,â€ť Berntson said. â€śI was just so excited and then everybody came and gave me a big hug.â€ť
Sheâ€™ll be one of nine athletes representing the school at the state meet, which runs today and Saturday at the Community Bowl in Bismarck. Competition started at 10:30 this morning and resumes with field events at 9 a.m. Saturday.
Though the Hi-Liners look to have success from plenty of senior athletes, including sprinters Molly Willson, Jenna Jacob and Becca Mundfrom, EDC champion javelin thrower Jenna Coghlan, and pole vaulter Paul Viland, the lone boys representative at the meet, there is just as much youth.
Berntson will be joined at the meet by fellow freshmen Abby Brown and Bekah Peterson, and eighth grader Brienne Roehrich.
â€śItâ€™s a young group thatâ€™s going to start gaining a lot of experience,â€ť said Valley City coach Trevor Bakalar. â€śOur seniors going, like Molly and Jenna, they first attended in eighth grade. ... Now weâ€™ve got three freshmen and an eighth grader going, so theyâ€™ll gain that experience like these (senior) girls have.â€ť
Brown, Peterson and Roehrich all look to be part of the 4x100 and 4x200 meter relay teams. Roehrich was on the qualifying teams for both, while Brown qualified with the 4x100 and Peterson with the 4x200.
The teams are led by seniors Willson and Jacob.
Bakalar said itâ€™s hard to predict early in the season how younger athletes will do, but saw opportunity from the eventual qualifiers.
â€śWe knew that they had some pretty good potential, but then as the year progressed, they got better,â€ť he said. â€śAs coaches you start getting excited because you know that theyâ€™ve got a little bit more ability.â€ť
Bakalar credits part of their success to an effort made last year to have the junior high and high school kids practice together. He said it helped both the girls that qualified, but also boys who narrowly missed making the state meet.
â€śThe coaches were able to work with kids individually,â€ť he said. â€śThey got a bit more attention, which helped.â€ť
Berntson believes part of the younger athletesâ€™ success is due to involvement in other sports. She said many of them also lift weights to keep in shape.
As of Wednesday, Bakalar was still figuring out his lineups for relays. He said the teams that qualify wonâ€™t necessarily be the ones running and that senior Becca Mundfrom could take a spot held by one of the younger girls.
Bakalar said with the younger runners, one of the biggest worries is how they will deal with the atmosphere.
â€śThereâ€™s a difference between competing in some of our small home meets and competing at the state meet with the grandstands all full,â€ť he said.â€ťYou get kind of excited and the adrenaline starts pumping. Itâ€™s a big deal.â€ť
He said he tries to emphasize that the runners do the same thing they have all season and ignore the outside distractions.
â€ś100 meters is 100 meters whether its here or there,â€ť he said. â€śYou run straight and you run as fast as you can go.â€ť
Berntson, having witnessed the spectacle, wasnâ€™t sure how if the atmosphere would effect her performance.
But when asked Wednesday if she was nervous for the meet, she replied with six simple words.
â€śNot yet, but I will be.â€ť