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TRACK AND FIELD: Bemidji distance runners aim to stay in front of the pack heading into sections

May 26—Throwers from the handful of competing track and field teams lined up 100 meters apart on the track as the sun set on the Bemidji High School campus.

The muscle-bound student-athletes closed the Bemidji Invitational on Monday night with a just-for-fun throwers relay. Carrying unique batons — a log, a stuffed dinosaur, a cowboy boot, et cetera — throwers raced around the track while their traditionally fleet-footed teammates laughed and cheered in the infield.

Entertainment aside, the BHS faithful will be happy to see the Lumberjacks' throwers return to the shot put and discus stations on Wednesday, May 31, in Brainerd for the Section 8-3A prelims, and the more proven runners will lace up their shoes at least one more time. Seniors Regan DeWitt and Carson Maish hope next week isn't their last on a high school track.

"It's really surreal," Maish said of running his final home meet. "When you're a freshman, you have it in your mind that you get to do this for four years. Being a senior, it hasn't really hit me yet. I graduate this weekend, and that's absurd. I don't know how long it'll take for me to realize it all fully. It's pretty bittersweet."

Only

two current BHS athletes competed

at the Class 3A state track meet last June. DeWitt and Mia Hoffmann ran a Section 8-3A championship-winning time of 9:39.00 in the 4x800-meter relay with then-seniors Mary Beth Mathews and Lauren Berg. DeWitt also qualified in the 800-meter run and the 4x800-meter relay.

With three state track and field berths under her belt, DeWitt is confident in her chances to boost her high school athletic resume, especially in the 800. She took first place on Monday with a time of 2:20.89.

"I know how to race better than I ever have," DeWitt said. "I know what I need to do for my warmup and my pre-meet. When I get on the line, I know what I'm doing. I know what I need to do in the first 200 (meters), and then the first 400. I know how to fight for my spot and where I need to be in every 800 I run."

Maish is looking for his first state track qualification, and Monday was a good start. He won the 3200 with a time of 9:51.23. Will Termont, Brett Kurschner and Ashton Niemi clocked the next four fastest times, further exemplifying Bemidji's prowess in long-form running events.

Maish has made a habit out of winning the two-mile jaunt during his senior season.

"I learned pretty early on that I don't have the foot speed to run the 400," he said. "I also learned that I have pretty good endurance. I thrive in the longer events. It's just my home at this point. You get some weird looks and comments when you tell people you love running the two-mile.

"You learn where it's going to hurt. You have to numb your mind a little bit. When it's hurting, you have to keep the whole race in perspective. You have four minutes left of running that race when it starts hurting. It's just temporary. You just have to go."

Ryan Aylesworth couldn't hide his appreciation for his senior leaders if he wanted to.

"This group has really bonded well this year," he said. "They're competitive with each other, and they want to beat each other, but there's also really good camaraderie between the group. That's been really nice, and the positive leadership has been really good. The chemistry of the kids working together, no matter if one is the fastest or the slowest, is great to see. They're all trying to get things done."

The longtime BHS cross country and assistant track coach is proud of his veterans for their efforts on and off the track. It's helped establish a Bemidji distance program that is routinely represented on a statewide scale.

"The dedication to doing not just the big things — practices, workouts, meets — but also the little things is second to none," Aylesworth said. "They focus on their nutrition and sleep really well. When you start lining up those little things together and build off of that, the positivity and success really snowballs as a group."

DeWitt, Niemi,

Maish

and

Kurschner

are committed to continue their running careers at the collegiate level next fall, along with a handful of underclassmen likely to have those same opportunities if they choose.

"We are a (Class 3A) team, and we run for a really big school," DeWitt said. "Until this year, our distance teams have been pretty tiny. Our coaches have been able to focus on more individually. Now that we're a little bigger, we can help teach the younger kids what we have learned. We want to get people to run with us. We teach them what we know."

Before Maish continues his running career at the Division I level, he aims to continue an impressive streak of athletes representing BHS at the State Track and Field Championships.

"I think a lot of the credit has to go to (Aylesworth)," Maish said. "Since 2008, he has a streak of taking at least one runner to the state meet. Everybody has bought in. We do stuff without asking too many questions. He's been around. He knows what to do. Everybody has bought in and wants to get better. I can't think of a better way to end my high school career than going to state with these guys. We want to make some noise."

To make said noise, the Jacks need to get there first. The Section 8-3A representatives will be finalized on Saturday, June 3, at St. Michael-Albertville High School. The state meet returns to STMA starting Thursday, June 8. DeWitt wants to keep a big-picture perspective as she heads down the home stretch as a Lumberjack.

"I want to push my teammates so they finish this season with their best," DeWitt said. "I'm going to cheer my heart out for them. I want them to reach their goal times. I want them to go to state. I want to go to state again in the 800, and I really want to go in the (4x800-meter relay), but I just want to live in the moment. I want to experience these last memories with these girls."