The Section 5A Track Meet took place at St. John’s University on Wednesday, May 30, and gave local track athletes a chance to make State. The Dragons were well represented with eight boys and nine girls competing. Pine City had some real high points with a school record set in a relay and sophomore Alaina Steele making State in the 800m.
“I am so proud of how everyone competed at the meet,” said Dragons head coach Jared Clementson. “It was exciting to see everyone give it their all and do their best. We have an amazing group of kids on and off the track.”
On this occasion, none was more amazing than Steele, a mid-distance powerhouse who already holds several school records and went to State as an eighth grader. This year, Steele qualified for the State Meet in the 800m run by running a time of 2:20.27 and coming in third. Normally at sections only the top-two finishers advance to State, but Steele made it by running faster than the “qualifying standard” as she was barely edged in an ultra-competitive race.
“Alaina ran one of the best races of her career,” Clementson said of the sophomore’s 800m run. “She was very smart throughout the entire race. This was a three person race right from the start and was very exciting to watch.”
Steele started off strong and put herself in second place after the 100m cut line. She came through the first lap in 69.3 seconds and maintained her second place position for most of the second lap. At one point in the last 100m of the race, they were three across all fighting for the top spot. Ultimately, Ava Cusciotta from Rockford came from behind to win with a time of 2:19.45, Bethany TenHacken from Milaca finished second in a time of 2:19.50, and Steele came in third with a time of 2:20.27. The “qualifying standard” to beat was 2:20.40, so Steele qualified by 0.13. No other section had any extra qualifiers by time.
“The qualifying standard is determined by averaging the fifth place State finisher over the last five years,” explained Clementson. “This means Alaina ran faster than what normally places in the top-five at State.”
Steele and her Dragons teammates would place 17th out of more than 28 teams competing at sections. The Dragons also scored points in three relays.
Pine City’s girls 4x800m relay team of Marin Foss, Grace Grubbs, Lydia Adam, and Steele placed fourth with a time of 10:21.28. The 4x100m relay team of Ellaina Johnson, Kensi Tayerle, Ainsley Vinaja and Alexis Pankonin placed seventh in a season’s best time of 53.65, the seventh-best time in school history. The girls 4x200m relay team of Johnson, Tayerle, Alexis Thieman and Pankonin placed eighth in a time of 1:52.05, sixth-best in school history.
Two younger girls runners also looked strong as eighth grader Dorothy Miller placed 11th in the triple jump with a jump of 30’ 6” and seventh grader Emma Johnson placed 15th in the 100m dash with a time of 14.22.
The boys team made some waves at sections as well, headlined by a school record performance in the 4x800m relay, running a time of 8:18.61. Remington Steele (2:07.9 sp), Tommy Ryan (2:01.5 sp), Logan Vinaja (2:06.0 sp), and Austin Eckert (2:04.0 sp) ran a spectacular race, breaking last year’s school record by 2.47 seconds. Their time of 8:18.61 would have won in some sections and is the 14th fastest time in the state.
“All four boys ran their fastest times ever and ran with heart, giving everything they had,” said Clementson. “Their efforts earned them a fifth place finish as our Section ended up being incredibly fast. In the past ten years at State, this time would have placed and medaled eight out of 10 of those years.”
Overall, the Dragons boys placed 11th out of more than 27 teams competing. Brandon Haskovec was the Dragons’ top point-getter with 9.5 points. Haskovec placed sixth in both 400m dash (53.12) and the high jump (5’ 9”). Haskovec also placed eighth in the long jump (19’ 6.25”). Haskovec finishes as the fifth fastest 400m runner, tied for third best high jumper (6’ 2” from GRC), fifth best long jumper (20’ 4” from GRC) in school history.
Senior pole vaulter Adam Archambault placed fourth with a near personal best vault of 11’ 11”. Archambault ends his career as the fourth best pole vaulter (12’ 0” from GRC) in school history. TJ Rank placed sixth in the 300m hurdles with a time of 43.87. The Dragons boys also scored with a fourth place finish in the 4x400m relay. The team consisting of Tryston West, Logan Vinaja, Haskovec and Austin Eckert (3:35.74) ran the sixth-fastest in school history.
The State meet will be held at Hamline University on Friday and Saturday, June 8-9, where the team will be represented by Alaina Steele. She will run in the 800m prelims at 5:45 p.m. on Friday night, and will need to post a top-nine time to make the finals, which will be held on Saturday at 6:19 p.m.
Steele is going into the State meet with the eighth fastest time out of the sections. Steele’s school record 800m of 2:17.70 came two years ago in the State prelim race. She later went on to place ninth in the final.