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Friday, April 21, 2006

State or Relays gold? Tough call, preps say

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Asked to compare winning a high school state championship with the possibility of doing the same at the Kansas Relays, Scott Penny and Alysha Valencia played it safe, sticking to themes of self-improvement and old-fashioned fun during their final appearances at the legendary annual invite.

It took the third member of the city's three-headed gold-medal monster finally to crack - albeit in the slightest fashion - about taking care of business on the grand stage in her hometown.

"I can't control the other people. I can only control how I perform," said Lawrence High's Amy Magnuson, the defending Class 6A champion in the 100-meter hurdles.

"It would be nice to show them all up. But I'm realistic, too."

The reality is, Magnuson, Penny and Valencia will have a hard time repeating their showing last May in Wichita, when each took residence at the top spot on the medal stand as high school juniors.

To do the same this weekend at Memorial Stadium, they not only will have to overcome the best competitors the Sunflower State has to offer, but some of the top talent throughout the Midwest.

"With the Relays : you see how you are compared to everyone," said Penny, the LHS two-sport star who won the shot-put title last spring. "This is by far the biggest meet of the year - not the most important, however."

For Penny, a third Relays appearance is the turning point where his senior season picks up steam and charges toward the goal of another successful postseason showing in the throwing events.

He already has become the first city athlete to take part in this year's event, earning a special invite to Thursday's men's hammer throw, where he broke his own school record with a toss of 165-feet, 8-inches.

He'll return to action at 8 this morning in the shot put, where he is seeded seventh in a field of 36 participants based on his career-best toss of 56-61/2 at last year's regional meet.

"I'd rather be ranked seventh going into it than be ranked first going into it. I'm where I'd like to be," said Penny, who will round out his weekend Saturday morning in the discus.

"A PR (personal record) would be absolutely great. For this week, doing what you do in front of everyone and having it be the best one is what you want to do."

Magnuson also will represent the Lions in three events, making her 2006 debut this afternoon in her favorite event - the triple jump - at 4 p.m.

She'll be much busier Saturday, starting with the prelims of the 100 hurdles, where she's seeded fifth, at 9:35 a.m. Should she make the finals, she'll run again in the afternoon, and after a 45-minute break, head over to the long-jump pit for her final event.

"I'm excited. I just want to get PRs. I think that's my major goal," Magnuson said. "And hopefully make it into finals, obviously."

The third member of the decorated city triumvirate, Valencia, will be the busiest of the bunch, competing in four events - the 1,600, 3,200, 4x400 relay and distance medley relay.

Free State's long-distance specialist also might have the best chance of adding a Relays gold to her trophy case, entering this morning's 3,200 as the top seed based on a 10:50.87 clocking that is more than 16 seconds faster than the next time on the list.

Despite that commanding margin, the University of Michigan signee isn't counting on any psychological advantage as she prepares for her eight circuits around the track.

"If anything, it kind of puts more pressure on a situation because people are looking to beat me because I'm ranked first," Valencia said. "I'm just trying to look past that : because I don't want to psyche myself out."

She's also looking to the past, specifically last year's 3,200, where she led the first 7 1/2 laps before fading to second in the final 200 meters.

"I'm just looking forward to going out, running a smart race, get a good finish and get a best time," Valencia said.

"I know it's my last Kansas Relays, and I'm just looking to have fun with it."

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