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Alex girls' track: Cards send some star power to state meet

Alexandria 8th grader Bethany Hasz will join her sister, Megan, and senior Jamie Piepenburg in the 3,200-meter run that will open up the Class AA state meet today. (Echo Press photo by Eric Morken)

The Alexandria girls' track and field team has the star power and the depth heading to the state meet that will make for an exciting couple days at Hamline University this weekend.

The meet opens up today, Friday, and fans won't have to wait long for one of the feature events of the entire weekend. Jamie Piepenburg and the rest of a loaded distance field will battle in the 3,200-meter run at 9 a.m. in what the senior from Alexandria hopes is the first of two state titles for her.

Piepenburg is one of 10 athletes Alexandria will be sending to St. Paul. The Cardinals finished second in the team standings the past two seasons at state, relying heavily on the star power of Rosey Erickson and Piepenburg. Hopkins won the last two years with 84 and 81 points, respectively. Those are the numbers the Cardinals will likely have to reach this weekend to have a shot in the final team standings.

"That's a lot of points in a meet like that against great competition," head coach Mike Empting said on Tuesday. "We have our girls who are going to score really well...I think it would be kind of bold to say we're going to place first or whatever, but I have a lot of confidence in the kids we're sending."

No one instills more confidence in Empting than his senior distance runner who will try to rewrite the record books again this weekend. Piepenburg set her mind on winning both the 3,200 and 1,600 coming into the season. She has the fastest seed time by more than three seconds in both of those races over long-time rival Maria Hauger of Shakopee.

"I've learned after watching her over the years that you don't count her out of anything," Empting said. "Once she puts her mind to something, it's pretty certain that it's going to happen. One thing we know is Jamie has the training behind her, and as far as her physical readiness, she will be ready. Mentally, she'll be ready. Now it's just a matter of going out and getting it done."

The scary thing for the rest of the field is that Piepenburg never shows any signs of plateauing. She broke onto the scene as a freshman in 2009 with a state title in the 3,200 in a time of 10:54.01. She will head into this year's race with a seed time of 10:24.57.

Piepenburg won the 1,600 state title in 2010 with a time of 4:58.23. She saw a section record up for grabs at the 8AA meet last week and went out and grabbed it with a time of 4:54.19.

"Every meet down the stretch here, she's come out and bettered herself and set new records," Empting said. "It gets to the point where we ask ourselves, 'How much better can she get?' But there is absolutely no indication that she won't keep it going."

Where as Piepenburg heads into this weekend with plenty of experience, Wensia Johnson will be going through a lot of this for the first time. The Alexandria 8th grader has overcome a knee injury that kept her out of action through the middle of the season to become a serious threat in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

Johnson's seed times of 12.14 in the 100 and 25.23 in the 200 are second fastest in both fields. There is no question she has the speed to compete, but how she will handle the pressure of her first state meet remains to be seen.

"She hasn't had to run in a close race yet," Empting said. "She's definitely got the talent to do it. But you know, young athletes like that where she's going to be in competition really for the first time this season. How's she going to respond? Plus, there's the added factor of having to be at her best in back-to-back days for the prelims and the finals."

Empting is confident there will be more athletes racking up points for his team than just Piepenburg and Johnson. Megan and Bethany Hasz will be going through a similar feeling as Johnson when they run in a strong 3,200 field as just 8th graders.

Junior Briquelle Bowden and senior Brittany Ludwig will try to help out in the field events. Bowden will compete in the high jump starting at 9 a.m. today, while Ludwig will compete in the discus that starts at 10:15 today.

The Alexandria 4x800 and 4x100 relay teams will also try to add to Alexandria's point total. Karly Betterman and Julia Sieling will join the Hasz sisters in the 4x800. Johnson, Gabby Koel, Bowden and Madi Urman will battle in the 4x100.

"As a coaching staff, we're just thrilled that we're able to send this many girls," Empting said. "Especially Jamie and Brittany. They are our two seniors. Everybody else we'll have coming back next year. That bodes very well for the future of girls track and field in Alexandria."



Friday, June 8 Class AA Prelims

9 a.m. 3,200 FINAL

9:40 a.m. 100-meter hurdles

10:05 a.m. 100-meter dash

10:30 a.m. 4x200 relay

10:54 a.m. 4x100 relay

11:16 a.m. 400-meter dash

11:34 a.m. 300-meter hurdles

11:49 a.m. 800-meter run

12:15 p.m. 200-meter dash

12:35 4x400 relay

Field Events

9 a.m. Long jump

9 a.m. High jump

10:15 a.m.................................................Discus

Saturday, June 9 Class AA Finals

9 a.m. 4x800 relay

9:55 a.m. 100-meter high hurdles

10:10 a.m. 100-meter dash

10:25 a.m. 4x200 relay

10:42 1,600-meter run

11:13 a.m. 4x100 relay

11:35 a.m. 400-meter dash

11:50 a.m. 300-meter hurdles

12:03 p.m. 800-meter run

12:24 p.m. 200-meter dash

12:44 p.m. 4x400 relay

1:07 p.m. Class AA team awards

Field Events

9 a.m. Shot put

9 a.m. Triple jump

9 a.m. Pole vault

MorkenEric Morken Eric Morken started as a sports reporter for the Echo Press on July 9, 2007. He is a graduate of Augustana College in Sioux Falls where he majored in journalism and minored in history and communications. In his spare time, Morken enjoys hunting and fishing or just being in the outdoors. He is also an avid Minnesota sports fan. Follow Sports Reporter Eric Morken on Twitter at @echo_sports. Read Eric's sports blog, More with Morken at Areavoices.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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