Valencia runs away with gold in 3,200

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Alysha Valencia talked about playing it smart during her trek through the 3,200 meters at this year's Kansas Relays.

Then again, you don't have to think too much when you've left everyone else eating your dust.

The Free State High senior provided the signature moment on the opening day of high school competition at this year's event, running away with the two-mile race before a partisan crowd during early action at Memorial Stadium.

Valencia opened a substantial lead on the first lap and never faltered, finishing in 10 minutes, 49.27 seconds - the 11th-fastest time ever by a Kansas high school girl in the 3,200. It's also a personal record, bettering the defending Class 6A state champion's previous best by more than a full second.

"This is so much cooler because it's not just a state championship," said Valencia, asked to compare her newest gold to the one she won last spring in Wichita. "And to run at KU, it's like it's a college-level meet. I just love being in here."

After losing a late lead and finishing second in last year's 3,200, Valencia adopted a humble approach entering this year's competition, stressing the need to stay under control and let the race come to her.

That strategy didn't make it 400 meters. Valencia stepped on the gas soon after the starting gun fired and never came back to the pack, finishing more than 13 seconds ahead of the field.

"It happens every time," Valencia said. "And every time, I'm like, 'OK, stay calm, run steady.' And then I hear the gun and I take off.

"But coach (Free State coach Steve Heffernan) and I are still working on that. It's been four years, and it still hasn't come."

After watching his pupil blow away the field, Heffernan is staring to believe it never will - and perhaps never should.

"It does work for her, and that's how she's comfortable racing," Heffernan said. "That little quick start helps her relax.

"I don't have a lot of credibility arguing about what she has to do when she's running 10:49."

While Valencia finally earned the Relays coronation many expected, she had company in the land of gold from a city athlete no one saw crashing the party - including the athlete himself.

After squeaking into the high jump competition at the very bottom of the seeding list, Lawrence High junior Kevin Logan cleared 6-feet, 8-inches, shattering his personal record and finishing in a three-way tie for first place.

"I expected to get demolished," Logan said. "I know you're not supposed to say that, but I was the best of the worst. You had to get 6-4 to get in, so I just barely made it. And I ended up winning it."

Logan helped his cause - and his confidence - by clearing each new height on his first attempt. He didn't trip the bar until it sat at 6-10, the same challenge that knocked out Dustin Andrews of Lee's Summit (Mo.) North and Dustin Jones of Park Hills (Mo.) Central.

"The key word to describe it was staying focused. I stayed focused the whole day. I felt good every time I had to go," Logan said. "Once it got up to 6-6, that's when everyone started dropping. I was like, 'Here's my chance.'"

Logan's surprising gold capped a strong day by LHS in the field events. Senior triple jumper Amy Magnuson fared well enough in the prelims to earn the sixth seed entering the finals, then made her best leap of the day, 36-5, to vault all the way to the bronze medal.

"By my second phase (the skip), I was pretty pleased with it," said Magnuson of her thought process during the medal-winning jump. "At the end, I heard my coach yelling, so I knew it was pretty good."

Fellow field star Scott Penny came in right on his seeding number with a seventh-place showing in the shot put. Like Magnuson, he saved his best effort for the finals, throwing 54-51/4 on the last of his three attempts.

"I was able to bring all my focus together there at the end and get a daily best and a season best," Penny said.

Notes: Free State's girls distance medley relay team finished fifth in 13:05.88, more than 10 seconds faster than its seeding time. The boys 4x1 mile relay took seventh in 18:54.68. : Lawrence High's Courtney Barber and Free State's Brooke Carter tied for seventh in the girls high jump at 5-2 1/4. : Free State's Keron Touissant recorded a PR in the boys 400 prelims (49.92) to earn a spot in today's finals. Lawrence High's Kristina Taylor made the girls 400 finals with a time of 58.64. : Lawrence High's boys 4x100 relay team qualified for today's finals with a time of 43.49. The LHS girls 4x400 relay team also advanced with a time of 4:03.39.