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Valley Catholic's Cleveland, Bernards eye the gold


by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior Makenzee Cleveland won the 400-meter dash against Catlin Gabel on Thursday. Cleveland is after four first places at state this year.

One gold medal won’t meet Makenzee Cleveland’s standards this season.

Two will do, but the Valley Catholic girls’ track star is gunning for more.

Three is what Cleveland amassed last year, yet even a trio of golds isn’t enough.

Cleveland won’t stop, rest or let off the training gas until she’s won four 3A state championships, two as an individual in the 400-meter and 800-meter dash, and a pair in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.

Last year, Cleveland nearly pulled off the astonishing four-peat, and even led the 800 at the 2013 state championships at Hayward Field. But, the then-junior ran out of fuel, fell back to the pack over the final 300 meters and ended up fifth.

“I look back on it and I’m like ‘OK, this is my year. It’s my senior year, it’s time to get the four golds’. It’s time to make it happen,” said Cleveland.

The biggest stumbling block in winning four titles, Cleveland said, was timing. There is only a small window of time between the 400 and 800-meter dash at state, to reenergize and revamp for the next race. The back-to-back demands of the events hit Cleveland like a brick wall on the second lap of the 800, leaving the Valiant dissatisfied and yearning for more.

“I won’t accept anything less than first,” stated Cleveland. “I’m not trying to get fifth place. I wasn’t happy with fifth place last year, and I won’t be happy with it this year, either. I have to get the endurance and strength of running the 400 and 800 and just hold the speed to get it done.”

Cleveland decided to run the 400 rather than the 800 on Thursday because she hadn’t competed in the event all season. Her 1:02.22 put her less than a second behind teammate Hannah Rehm in the Lewis and Clark standings.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior Mikaela Bernards won the 100, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and anchored the Valiants 4x100 relay on Thursday.

The senior is centering her seasonal focus on the 800, being that the two-lap event will be Cleveland’s main race when she suits up for the University of Montana next season. After being thrown into the competition the past two years, and told to go like mad around the oval, Cleveland’s taking a more strategic approach of having a strong first lap and speeding up the second lap.

“I’m a sprinter, but I can also do long distance so I figured the 400 and 800 would be the best races for me,” said Cleveland. “It takes me a little bit to build up my speed, so doing those two races give me the best shot to do well.”

Hitting somewhere between the 2:12-2:16 range would be wonderful, Cleveland said, not just for state championship motives, but because the UM said if the Valiant can reach those times, an athletic scholarship will kick in next season.

“I just have to keep on training, and getting the endurance and speed,” said Cleveland. “I have to learn how to do both races correctly and most efficiently.”

Mikaela Bernards said she doesn’t want to jump over the hurdles, but run smoothly over the top and through them. Similar to the football field where the lineman who gets further down in leverage wins, hurdlers like Bernards want to stay shallow, almost skimming the barriers.

Bernards said her steps were “really bad” racing against Catlin Gabel, but the former soccer star was still able to breeze to a 17.78 triumph in the 100-meter hurdles and a 49.50 win in the 300-hurdles

“The lower you are, the faster you go,” said Bernards. “I try to keep sprinting and attack each hurdle. “My steps were actually off from the start today. They were really short so I had to either reach or stutter-step. Adding extra steps equals extra time. I just tried to sprint in-between the hurdles.”

The cold climate on Thursday impeded Bernards from running the 100-meter dash at full force, yet the senior ran a 13.08 to beat teammate Sara Connelly. Getting the lead from the beginning with a good start after the gun goes off goes a long way toward winning any race, especially when the conditions aren’t ideal, Bernards said.

“You want your momentum going forward rather than straight up out of the blocks,” said Bernards.

Currently, Bernards’ season’s best 12.44 in the 100 is almost a second faster than the rest of the Lewis and Clark district, though the 2013 third-place finisher in the 100 has been dealing with shin splints the past couple of weeks. Along with Connelly, Bernards has fellow teammates Reilly Blood and Gabby Rosenthal in the hunt for superiority in the 100-dash. Bernards, Cleveland, Rosenthal and Connelly helped the Valiants’ 4x100 relay take first, giving Bernards a quartet of first places on the day.

“A lot of it is mental, staying focused and trying to get better every race and every practice,” said Bernards. “I just have to stay focused on me and not worry about the competition. I need to focus on making myself better.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior Ella Turkot won three events on Thursday including the triple jump versus her old school Catlin Gabel on Thursday.

As influential as Connelly’s speed has been to the track side of competition for Valley, it could be argued Ella Turkot — a junior transfer from Catlin Gabel, who was a huge addition to the Valiant girls’ soccer team as a tall, skilled forward — has been equally impactful in the field events. Turkot won the shot put (28-02), long jump (15-10) and triple jump (34-02) against her former school to help the Valiants flatten Catlin Gabel, 79-25.

“I would love to help the team get a championship,” said Turkot. “Especially playing soccer, I’m all about the team. It’s different in track because they’re all solo events, and you tend to forget you’re on a team. But, even just focusing on four events, and trying to get to state in as many of them as I can would help.”

A couple months ago, there was a time when Turkot thought she might not ready for track season after tearing a disc in her lower back during the soccer season right before the Valiants’ state championship game.

Physical therapy and rest have helped Turkot avoid going under the knife for any type of procedure, and while her back isn’t quite right, Turkot still set a seasonal personal record in the long jump.

“It’s going to be a slow progression instead of a quick improvement.” said Turkot. “But, anything is improvement at this point in the season. I definitely have a long ways to go in all my events, but I’m excited to see what happens.”

Turkot said triple jump is her “baby,” the event she’d like to win a state championship in ,and the one she focuses most on when healthy. Having a sore back limited Turkot’s ability to run and poached her power in the winter, so the Valiant revolved her training around the form.

“I need to get my legs back, and hopefully soon I can hit 38’ by time I graduate,” said Turkot. “I’ve got a ways to go, but I think I can get it if I stick with my form and get my strength back.”