Dayton’s Elissa seeks first state crown
DAYTON — Aaron Elissa remembers, albeit painfully, his first attempt at running the mile.
“It was in seventh grade and it was terrible,” said Elissa, now a senior at Dayton High School. “I ran like a 14:35. I loved doing it though. I kept at it, and by the end of seventh grade I was running in the 5s.
“I just love running. It’s my passion. It helps me cope with things. When I’m sad, I put on my shoes and go for a run. When I’m mad, I go out and find a trail to run on. It’s what I love about the sport. It’s an important part of my life and always will be.”
And, nothing would make Elissa happier than to win a state championship in his last two races as a high schooler. Elissa, a two-time regional champion at 1600 meters and an 800-meter entrant, leads the Dayton High contingent into this week’s state meet at Carson High School. Action gets under way Friday at 3 p.m. with field events. The meet starts at 8 a.m. on Saturday.
“It (winning a state title) would mean absolutely everything,” Elissa said. “It’s something I’ve wanted since my freshman year. I’m ready to experience my first state title. I’m going to give it all I have. I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Elissa comes into the 1600 ranked third at 4:37.01 which was a season-best effort last week in Winnemucca. Faith Lutheran’s Chase Wood and Mohamad Abdirahman of Desert Pines lead the entrants at 4:33.98 and 4:34.33, respectively. Elissa has a career-best 4:35.0 in the event.
“I’m sure Chase is going to go out hard,” Elissa said. “I race to win. If I need to run from the front that’s what I’m going to do. If I’m leading for the whole race that’s fine. Sometimes strategy is determined as the race goes on. You play within the race.”
“It (the 1600) is his specialty,” Dayton coach Mike Paul said. “He’s run really well all season. He didn’t run quite as low as last year, but he’s ready to go. He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever had. He is always putting in extra time; extra miles.”
This is Elissa’s first year of seriously running the 800. In the past, he’d concentrated on the 1600 and 3200. He entered all three races last week, but failed in his quest to make the field in the 3200. That may be a blessing in disguise, because it means he’ll have just one race each day.
Last week at the regional meet, Elissa broke a school record with a 2:00.41 clocking. Unfortunately, he’s in a fast event. Six of the eight runners, four from Vegas and two from Spring Creek, all ran under 2-minutes last week. Sunrise Mountain’s Manuel Hernandez ran a 1:55.74.
“I was pretty excited about that,” Elissa said. “It was such a fast race. I was expecting to run a 2:01 or 2:02. I was shocked at 2 flat. I looked online and most everybody was sub-2 minutes and there was one guy at 1:55. I’d like to get under 2, but I’m not going to be able to drop five seconds. I was second-to-last after the first lap, and had to kick just to qualify. I need to go out quicker this weekend. I can’t get stuck in the back again.”
“I think he can probably drop a couple of seconds this week,” said Paul. “We weren’t sure between the 800 and 1600 or 1600 and 3200 in terms of what we wanted him to concentrate on. We wanted to run him against better competition, but every time we went to a large-school meet, a lot of the good runners had gone over the hill to run in California.”
Benji Ply will probably be the busiest Dust Devil in individual events this weekend. He’s competing in the high jump, pole vault, 1600 relay and 110 high hurdles.
Ply is seeded second in the high jump at 6-2, trailing just A.T. Sanders of Sunrise Mountain, who won last week at 6-4. Ply is third in the pole vault at a school-record 14-feet and fifth in the hurdles at 16.31. Dayton’s 1600 relay team of Ply, Andrew Goodman, Dallon Mendoza and Skyler Berntson is seeded second behind Sunrise Mountain with a time of 3:26.09.
“The 1600 team has looked fantastic,” said Paul. “They ran a great time (school record) last week, and I think they can get another school record this week.”
Josh Koch and Zach Hawley have a good chance to go 1-2 in the shot and discus. Koch won both events with marks of 54-2 1/4 and 159-1, respectively. Hawley had marks of 49-6 1/2 and 156-9 to finish second in both events. Jesus Castaneda is seeded fifth in the shot at 46-4 3/4.
“I would expect Josh and Zach to go 1-2,” said Paul. “Zach hasn’t had a bad meet all year. Josh was hampered by a hand injury, and he also had some control issues in the discus.”
Jon Ply is in the pole vault with a mark of 12-6, which ties him for the fifth-best mark. Dayton’s 400 relay squad is seeded seventh and will be hard-pressed to medal, while the 800 relay team is seeded fifth. Goodman and Mendoza are seeded third and fourth in the 400 at 50.37 and 50.77, respectively.
“I think that both Dallon and Andrew are primed to run in the 49s,” Paul said.
On the girls’ side, Lettie Lynch is seeded eighth in the 100 at 13.19 and sixth in the 200 at 26.56. Cheyanne Strong is seeded sixth in the long jump, while Kaylee Turner is second in the discus (120-1) and fourth in the shot (33-9).