Published: July 19, 2008

By TROY SHOCKLEY

Of the News-Register

Heading into the Junior Olympic Region 13 Championships last weekend in Spokane, members of the McMinnville Track Club were hoping to continue building on the success the program has seen in its short, four-year existence. The group did just that, with six of the 13 regional qualifiers earning the right to advance to next week's USATF National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships in Omaha, Neb. Two of McMinnville's national qualifiers - 1,500 runner Nicholas McDaniel and javelin thrower Tim Tatton - will be unable to attend the meet. The remaining four qualifiers, however, are more than ready to take their talents to the national stage.

I'm really excited about it, said Ashante Horseley, an eighth-grade sprinter who will be running in the 100, 200 and 400 in Omaha. My whole goal here this summer has been to improve, and that's what I've done.

Possessing maybe the greatest raw ability of any of the club's sprinters, Horseley finished second at the regional meet in both the 100 and 200 and was third in the 400. And, coach Cory Medeiros said, if she is able to nail her starts - the weakest point in her skill set - she may well reach the medal stand again.

I know I've been able to have some perfect starts before, she said. So I think if I focus really hard, I can definitely do it.

Horseley is the only representative in the track events, with the other three national competitors advancing in the high jump, shot put and javelin.

Tim Anderson will be competing in the high jump, hoping to continue his string of personal records set this summer. Anderson's improvement continued at the regional meet, where he finished second with a mark of five feet, 103⁄4 inches. That bested his previous personal record by two inches and, despite a slight sprain to his ankle suffered in practice several days ago, he's ready to try to raise the bar again.

It's a huge deal, he said of reaching the national meet. It feels good. It's kind of amazing, when you really think about it. But I'm just happy to be high jumping this summer and I'm excited to get to jump at the high school next year.

Alyssa Hasslen qualified for the national meet in the shot put, continuing her comeback from a knee injury suffered last fall. Her effort of 43-5 took gold at the regional and she nearly qualified in the discus as well, finishing fourth. Only the top three regional qualifiers advance.

The Mac High standout has enjoyed her summer track experience over the last four years, and said the track club helps fill a void left when the spring season is over.

It just keeps me focused on track for longer, she said. School track just seems like it just gets going and all of a sudden, it ends.

Summer track is also a tool for those truly dedicated to the sport to hone their skills. Many of the country's Olympians got their start at the national meet which, according to the USATF, has become the most visible youth athletic development program in the world. More than 6,000 athletes are expected to take part in the 42nd annual national meet in the coming week.

It's an incredible experience, to be sure. But it can also be a bit overwhelming. That's why McMinnville's fourth national entry, javelin thrower Emily Kersting, feels she may have a slight advantage over any of her competitors making their first trip.

She's already been through that experience.

The first year I went it was really, really scary, she said. You just have to mentally prepare yourself. So I think, with me having been there once already, it will be a whole lot easier.

Kersting's throw of 129-01 at the regional meet was good enough for second, but she's eyeing something a bit bigger in the summer's final meet.

Kersting's target, however, is not necessarily the medal stand. Instead, it's simply self- improvement.

I'm going in hoping for a PR, she said. If I can come out with a PR, even if it's just by one foot, I'll be happy. But I am hoping for a little more than that. I'm hoping to throw over 140. And, if I can do that, I ought to be in the top three.

The group practices once more, on Monday, before the national meet begins. The first event for the group will be Anderson's high jump, set to begin at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Every year we're getting more (to nationals), Medeiros said. It's more indicative of the size of our club increasing, maybe, but the kids, I think, are so dedicated. I mean, we've got kids out here that know they're not gonna go to nationals, but they're still out here today training.

It's that attitude that has made this club successful. And it's that attitude that, I honestly believe, gives all four an excellent chance to finish in the top.