Apple Valley sprinters could be hard to catch

Eagles have several returnees from state championship 4×100 relays

Apple Valley’s Quinn Hooks (right) hands off to teammate Herschel Brazell during the 4x200 relay at the 2011 state Class AA boys track and field preliminaries. Brazell has graduated, but Hooks is back to help the Eagles in sprints, relays and jumps. Photo by Rick Orndorf

Sprinters competing against Apple Valley might spend a lot of time noting the brown and gold colors on the backs of the Eagles’ uniforms.

Apple Valley swept the boys and girls 4×100-meter relay races at last year’s state Class AA track and field meet, and several runners from each of the winning teams are back this season.

Juniors Quinn Hooks and Steven Wilson and senior Jalen Stewart return from the state championship boys relay, while juniors Megan Maki and Jaryn Pipkins are back from the group that won the girls relay.

The winning 4×100 relay helped the Apple Valley girls earn a team trophy for third place at last year’s state meet. Apple Valley’s boys believe they are capable of moving up this year after finishing 13th at state.

Apple Valley competed against Burnsville and Prior Lake in a co-ed triangular April 5. It was the first outdoor competition for the Eagles, and scores weren’t as important as seeing where athletes could fit into the picture in May and June.

“We have two or three weeks before the big invitationals and the (South Suburban) conference relays,” Apple Valley boys head coach Rod Dirth said. “So for now we have the luxury of using guys in different events. We also have 106 kids out, which is the most we’ve ever had, and we’d like a chance to see them all compete.”

Stewart had to replace the since-graduated Herschel Brazell on the 4×100 relay at state at the last minute after Brazell was injured while running the 100 dash final.

Hooks, Wilson and senior captain Mitch Hechsel ran on a 4×200 relay that finished eighth at state last year.

Junior Dom McDew-Stauffer, one of the Eagles’ best all-around athletes, could help out in sprints.

“He’s running a lot better this year,” Dirth said. “He’s also our No. 1 discus thrower and one of our top shot putters.”

McDew-Stauffer threw the discus 153 feet, 4 inches in the Eagles’ first outdoor meet last week.

Several athletes in the sprint group likely will help in jumping events. Hooks finished 10th at state in the high jump last season and already has cleared 6-6 this year. Stewart and Hechsel also can do the high jump, and “we have a group of young kids who were jumping 5-6, 5-8 right away,” Dirth said.

Senior captain Grant Christian is one of the Eagles’ top hurdlers and can run a leg of the 4×400 relay. Zach Martens (shot put and discus) and Alex Brandel (middle distance and distance) also are senior captains.

Dirth said one of the Eagles’ goals is to be strong in all four relays.

“We’re looking at kids and trying to decide if we can have a respectable (4×800), the coach said.

Improving on last year’s 13th-place finish at state appears to be a definite possibility.

“We hope so,” Dirth said. “Our goal is to improve on what we did last year. We’ve got some guys who are very talented. At the same time, anything can happen if you don’t prepare the right way.”

In addition to being one of the Eagles girls’ top sprinters, Pipkins also should score points in the triple jump. Maki, meanwhile, is the top returning hurdler.

Apple Valley also should be tough to beat in the pole vault, with state qualifiers Hannah Linder, Emily Bonewell and Kelsey Harms all back. Linder was seventh, Harms 11th and Bonewell 17th at the 2011 state meet.

Senior Marissa Akinseye reached state last season in the shot put, finishing 11th.

Sprinter Hallie Schliesing and distance runners Alexa Nelson and Maddie Ihrke, all seniors, are among the Eagles’ top runners. Nelson, Ihrke, Harms, Schliesing and Erin Callahan are team captains.

Girls head coach Geri Dirth said Eagan, Eastview, Lakeville North, Lakeville South and Prior Lake all should have strong teams the South Suburban Conference.

Apple Valley will hold its annual True Team Invitational on Friday, April 20. Chanhassen, Mankato West, Roseville, Stillwater and Totino-Grace are scheduled to compete. The meet will use the True Team scoring format in which all athletes entered in an event score points for their teams.