Print Middle-schoolers run track at nationals
Written by Greg Ruland   
Thursday, 09 December 2010 00:00

A contingent of young Cottonwood runners travel to Hoover, Ala., on Saturday, Dec. 11, to compete in the 2010 USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships. Close to 3,000 runners from across the U.S. will participate.

“It’s pretty shocking to me what they’ve been able to accomplish,” coach Micah Swenson said. “We didn’t expect them to go so far, so fast.”

Six middle-schoolers will be participating Saturday, Dec. 11, in the 2010 USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships in Hoover, Ala. The runners include, clockwise from top left, Penny Fenn, Mary Earl, Karen Arellano,  Megan Goettel, Allyson Arellano and Jasmine Banks.The club team formed in February as a way for the girls from Cottonwood Middle School to continue running and stay in shape during the offseason, Swenson said.

“It was kind of a quick decision on our part to see if this is a worthwhile route to go,” Swenson said. “Then the girls competed and were pretty successful at those meets, but not at the level they wanted.”

After a meet in July, the team became more serious, putting in more than 42 miles over five days running on the Mogollon Rim.

“We really did it for that mental edge. The high altitude running helped them kind of start their cross country for the fall,” Swenson said.

The experience brought the team closer together. They set team goals and decided to shoot for a state championship, which they won for Cottonwood Middle School in October. It was Swenson’s second title. He won his first coaching a team at Oak Creek School in 2006.

Swenson claims his success is due to the luck of finding the right girls at the right time.

“It’s just finding the right things that will bind a team together,” Swenson said. “The program has developed over time. I’ve borrowed things from a lot of good people.”

“Plus we don’t train like a middle school team. We train like a high school team,” he said.

The girls continued to run in November as part of the USA Track and Field league in Arizona. Running as a club in November, the girls performed well enough to advance through regionals and qualify for the National Junior Olympics.

With the help of NAU coach Tim Ferris, Swenson introduced what he calls the “NAU Workout,” which is quite grueling, but only resorted to infrequently, usually in the weeks leading up to a big meet.

The girls “cringe” when he calls for it, but they do it, a sign of their grit and determination, Swenson said.

“The level of competition that is out there is so high, we have talked about college scholarships and what that would take over the next five years,” Swenson said.

The team gauges itself in comparison to what it has to do to get to the next level, he said.

“This league is a stepping stone to bigger and better things as far as our ability to train goes,” he said.

Debbie Earl, whose daughter, Mary, runs with the club, said the girls have grown very close, becoming a tight-knit group who mutually support and encourage each other.

“It’s just amazing what Micah and the girls have accomplished,” Earl said. “We’re, of course, very proud.”

Earl, Swenson and the team were collecting donations during the Chocolate Walk on Saturday, Dec. 4, to pay for their trip to Alabama. Swenson said the team has almost paid for the entire trip through donations, but needs a little more to get over the top.

For more information or to donate, call 274-6789.