County athletes qualify for AAU Junior Olympics

By Matt Hill

   Valnessha Redd, Katie Williams, David Hughes and Kiana Hagler didn't play baseball or softball last weekend, but they stepped up to the plate in AAU track and field.
   These four Carter County residents qualified for the AAU Junior Olympics with their performances at the AAU Southeastern Regional Track Meet at the Liberty Bell track in Johnson City last weekend.
   These athletes are a part of the Northeast Tennessee Track Club. Overall, 44 of the 50 athletes that participated from the club qualified for nationals.
   NET Track Club finished third overall out of 26 clubs. NET Track Club coach Brian Buckner was very pleased with the results.
   "I kind of expected it on some fronts," Buckner said. "I did have a few extra that I didn't think would qualify. I had a lot of new kids this year. They came through, and we put 44 kids in nationals."
   The meet featured kids ages 6-18, and there were eight different age groupings.
   Redd, a rising sophomore at Elizabethton High School, really excelled in her age group. She won the long jump and finished second in the triple jump.
   Last week in Brentwood, Redd qualified for the pentathlon. The pentathlon includes the high jump, long jump, javelin, shot put, the 200 meter dash, the 800 meter run and the 110 hurdles.
   As you may remember, Redd won the TSSAA state long jump in Class AA this year, and did very well in the high jump and triple jump.
   Buckner thinks Redd has come so far in a short amount of time.
   "Last summer she didn't want to touch the long jump," Buckner said. "We went to nationals in Savannah, Ga. last summer, and I said something about the long jump. She didn't know what to do. I showed her what to do. She jumped 14 feet. That was sort of amazing. She won the first four events of the pentathlon. We really got her started on the long jump, then she goes and wins the state."
   Redd scored 3,500 points in last week's pentathlon. Buckner believes some improvements in certain events could really pay dividends for her.
   "If she can learn to throw the javelin, and improve in the 800 and the hurdles, she could put up some big-time points," Buckner said.
   Williams and Hughes are both Happy Valley High School standouts that are once again shining on the AAU scene. Hughes won the 3,000 meter run, and Williams qualified for nationals in that same event.
   "This is Katie's second summer, and David has been with us four years," Buckner said. "We also do a cross-country program, and they ran that, too.
   "They're starting to get in that cross-country mode. That's a hard balance."
   Buckner said Williams was a little injured, but she still put forth a good effort.
   "Katie struggled a little bit in the 1,500," Buckner said. "But she had a very good time in the 3,000."
   The talented running of Hughes and Williams will be on display in the next few months. Hughes and Williams are both threats to win state titles in cross-country and track this season for the Warriors.
   An up and coming star in Elizabethton track circles is Hagler. The 12-year-old Elizabethton resident qualified in the pentathlon, as well as the long jump, shot put and discus.
   "I was a little surprised," Buckner said. "She was with us last year, and she's just learning. For her to make it to nationals in all four of her events is pretty good.
   The AAU Junior Olympics will take place in Knoxville Aug. 3-10.
   The Northeast Tennessee Track Club helps young kids get involved in track and field. This year, there were 60 kids participating in the club.
   Buckner was hoping that number would be higher, but was pleased with a lot of the younger kids coming out.
   "It was a lower number than I thought we would have," Buckner said. "With the Junior Olympics being held in Knoxville, I thought that number would have been higher. But we had a good group of younger kids. Some them know a lot more about track than a lot of the high school kids.
   Buckner wants parents to know that anybody is accepted into the Northeast Tennessee Track Club. Buckner just works with the kids so that they can get better.
   "We take them all," Buckner said. "We don't care whether they're good or bad. It's nice to win, but we strive for improvement. We stress self-improvement."