For Cassi Land and Kaela Dishion, running at the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Championships will be familiar territory.
Maggie Beck / Union Democrat Foothill Gold Track and Running Club’s (Clockwise from top left) Cassi Land, 14, of Sonora, Connor Landis, 14, of Arnold, Brendan Dishion, 12, of Murphys, Broen Holman, 8, of Sonora, and Kaela Dishion, 14, of Murphys all qualified for the National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships to be held July 21-27 at Houston, Texas.
Land, of Sonora, and Kaela Dishion, of Murphys, both qualified and competed last summer at the 2013 Junior Olympics in Greensboro, N.C., and both are making return trips this year on July 21-27 as members of the Foothill Gold Running and Track Club coached by former Cal Poly and Sonora Wildcat phenom Darren Holman.
“They’re the veterans of the group,” Holman said. “When they’re at the starting line, they’ve been there before. I think some of the anxiety that they had at being a first timer at a national event will ease them. I think they’ll definitely have an advantage.”
In 2013, Land placed 10th in the 1,500 meters at 4 minutes and 56.21 seconds. She also ran in the 800 meters, where she came in 16th at 2:25.77.
Land remembers her 10th-place finish quite fondly. After breaking out and running near the front of the pack with 600 yards to go, the incoming Sonora Wildcat freshman got tangled with another runner and tripped on the track surface.
“She was in the hunt to be an All-American,” Holman said of Land. “I think this time, her experience from last time will definitely show through. Right now, she’s the favorite to win. Her time is the fastest time in the country.”
Kaela Dishion, who will be a freshman at Bret Harte in August, finished 23rd in the 3,000 meters after recording a time of 11:14.20.
“It was interesting for the first time,” Kaela Dishion said. “It was very different from what we were used too, but it was a great experience and I think we learned a lot. It was fun.”
Both runners, along with four other youth sprinters from Foothill Gold, qualified for nationals after finishing in the top five or better at the Central California Association USATF Region 14 Youth Junior Olympic Championships on July 5-6 in Hanford.
Kaela Dishion, 14, is set to run in two events: the 1,500 and 3,000 meters.
“In the past years, I only did one event,” Kaela Dishion said. “I didn’t get to do the 1,500 and now I get too. I’m really looking forward to that.”
Kaela Dishion’s personal best in the 1,500 is 4:57 and 10:43 in the 3,000.
“Kaela is going to do excellent,” Holman said. “She’s an extremely good runner. I think her experience last year will, once again, help her. She’s had a great year and has run excellent. She was always finishing in the top three positions all the way through. I think her experience last year will just help the nerves. Nothing’s new. She knows how it works, she’s done it before.”
Land, again, will be running in the 1,500. The 14-year-old, who trains over 20 miles a week, set a personal record of 4:45, which is also the top time in the country at her age group this year, Holman said.
“I’m probably more prepared this year,” Land said. “Last year, I didn’t know what to expect, but this year, I know more because I’ve been there.”
Holman, 38, believes Land is in line to be one of the top runners in her field.
“Everybody knows who she is,” Holman said. “She’s expected to be in the top three or four, and I think she can potentially win. It holds a lot of pressure, but she goes in driven that she knows she can do it. It’s not an outlandish goal, she knows she can accomplish it. That’s going to carry her a little further than not having that.”
Other Foothill Gold speedsters making their way to nationals are: Brendan Dishion, 12, of Murphys; Brian Hastings, 14, of Oroville; Broen Holman, 8, of Sonora; and Connor Landis, 14, of Arnold.
Brendan Dishion, Hastings and Landis all qualified for two events: the 1,500 and 3,000 meters. Brendan Dishion’s personal records are 4:51 in the 1,500 and 10:26 in the 3,000. For Hastings, his best times in the 1,500 meters is 4:20 and 9:40 in the 3,000. Landis’ records is 4:29 in the 1,500 meters and 9:52 in the 3,000.
Broen Holman, son of Darren, is the youngest runner to be moving on to nationals from the club. He will be competing in the 800 and 1,500 meters with older boys in the 9-10 age division. He established a personal best of 2:43 in the 800 and 5:23 in the 1,500.
“The one thing that is really advantageous for our group is that there are six of them going,” Coach Holman said. “They’re there together. They have a team. It’s not one or two individuals that made it. It’s a team.”
Five of the six Foothill Gold runners hail from Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.
The 2014 USATF National Junior Olympic Championships kick off July 21 in Houston.
“It’s amazing,” Holman said. “In fact, it just shows the kind of talent we have in this small community for all sports. We have a very, very talented community. To have these kids fare so well at such a high level — this is nationally, every small town, every city, every state in the entire country — and our kids are ranked in the top 10. We’ll see what they actually end up running, but to have these kids from our small area be able to go and fare so well is absolutely amazing.”