Valley City High School’s April Berntson has yet to see the state track and field meet from an athlete’s perspective. Bentson, a freshman, narrowly missed making the meet last year as an eighth grader, but instead went as a spectator.
This year, she’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.
“It was really awesome,” Berntson said. “I was just so excited and then everybody came and gave me a big hug.”
She’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.
“It’s a young group that’s going to start gaining a lot of experience,” said Valley City coach Trevor Bakalar. “Our seniors going, like Molly and Jenna, they first attended in eighth grade. ... Now we’ve got three freshmen and an eighth grader going, so they’ll gain that experience like these (senior) girls have.”
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 it’s hard to predict early in the season how younger athletes will do, but saw opportunity from the eventual qualifiers.
“We knew that they had some pretty good potential, but then as the year progressed, they got better,” he said. “As coaches you start getting excited because you know that they’ve got a little bit more ability.”
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.
“The coaches were able to work with kids individually,” he said. “They got a bit more attention, which helped.”
Berntson believes part of the younger athletes’ 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 won’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.
“There’s a difference between competing in some of our small home meets and competing at the state meet with the grandstands all full,” he said.”You get kind of excited and the adrenaline starts pumping. It’s a big deal.”
He said he tries to emphasize that the runners do the same thing they have all season and ignore the outside distractions.
“100 meters is 100 meters whether its here or there,” he said. “You run straight and you run as fast as you can go.”
Berntson, having witnessed the spectacle, wasn’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.
“Not yet, but I will be.”