A year ago today, the Carson City Striders were in Spartanburg, S.C., preparing to run at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic National Cross Country Championships. The trip was nothing new because in previous years they had traveled to sites in Louisiana, Kentucky, Illinois and Oregon.
Today, coach Penny Sparks is looking forward to when watching the Striders compete on their own backyard when the Junior Olympic finals are staged in Reno.
A total of 2,463 entries overall have been received for 10 age group races for runners up to 18 years of age will be held starting at 10 a.m. at Rancho San Rafael Park.
"We're very excited," said Sparks, who has a contingent of 30 Carson City Striders running today. "They're going to be in our own backyard, where people know them. There's no jet lag, no time changes to adjust to, this is something the kids are used to."
The Striders hope to take advantage of the familiar hills of Rancho San Rafael Park - not to mention the near mile-high altitude - and bring home individual and even team honors.
One of the Striders' best chances for prominence will be the youth girls (13- and 14-year-olds) race, where a team championship is within reach.
"If our youth girls run the way they did at regionals, they have a shot at winning," Sparks said of a team that won its division at the regionals held on Nov. 19 at Rancho San Rafael Park.
The group includes Amber Ramos of South Lake Tahoe, who placed fourth at the Nevada state 4A championships last month, plus Winnemucca's Kelsey Engstrom, Katie Engstrom and Whitney Mentaberry, freshmen who led Lowry to the state 3A team championship (Kelsey Engstrom won the individual title). Carson City's Amanda Benson, Sheena Bonaldi, Annie Brinson and Jessie Clemensen round out the group.
The Striders also have strength in the intermediate girls (15-16) division, led by Carson High School sophomore Shanna Sparks. Megan Zahnter, Taryn Joyce-Mendive, Marin St. Michel, Caitlin Robinson and Heather Thomson round out a group that won its regional team title.
Sparks is Nevada's state high school individual champion and coming off a 39th-place finish last weekend in the seeded girls race of the prestigious Foot Locker Western Regionals at Mt. San Antonio College, where she ran 19:19. Zahnter ran 19:57 over the same course to finish in the junior girls race.
The Striders are also sending boys teams that placed third at the regionals in the bantam (10-and-under) and intermediate divisions.
Brett Ferrier of Winnemucca also figures to be among the front-runners in the young men's (17-18) race. Ferrier, the Nevada 3A individual state champion for Lowry High, finished 13th at last weekend's Foot Locker Western Regional in a time of 15:53 and also won his Junior Olympic regional at Rancho San Rafael Park with a solid 16:39 effort. Daryl Nourse of Carson High and Chad Sanada will be running for the Silver State Striders in that race."
Today's weather forecast calls for 42 degrees with some wind and scattered clouds, according to meet director Donnie Nelson. The meet, which is being co-hosted by the Pacific Association and the Reno-based Silver State Striders, marks the culmination of at least eight months work.
"A national meet like this doesn't just happen overnight. We've had a committee of people who have done many wonderful things to make this all come together," Nelson said. "There are so many different aspects that go into putting on a meet like this, it's almost overwhelming.
"I just think it's great for Northern Nevada and for the local running community," Nelson added, pointing out that the 2001 Junior Olympic cross country finals will be held in Lincoln, Neb. "It should be a lot of fun; this should be a source of pride for the people of Northern Nevada."
10 a.m. bantam girls, 10:30 bantam boys, 11 midget girls, 11:30 midget boys, noon youth girls, 12:30 youth boys, 1 p.m. intermediate girls, 1:30 intermediate boys, 2 young women, 2:30 young men.