South Ridge eighth-grader shines at sectionsFrom eating toast to yogurt or even a granola bar between races, Esko’s Marisa Shady makes sure she stays well-nourished before stepping on the track. Gracelynn Otis, meanwhile, has her own style.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
From eating toast to yogurt or even a granola bar between races, Esko’s Marisa Shady makes sure she stays well-nourished before stepping on the track. Gracelynn Otis, meanwhile, has her own style.
“[Marisa] has given me pointers on how to run and eat and it’s helped me out,” said the South Ridge eighth-grader of her track and field and cross country-developed friendship with Shady, “but as much as I try to eat before a race, I don’t eat much at all on race day.”
Hungry or not, Otis was wildly fast last week, as the 5-foot-5, 110-pound speedster won both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs at the Section 7A track and field meet last Friday at a sunny Malosky Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Otis, who has participated at the state cross country meet the past two fall seasons, qualified for her first state track meet last week. The young teenager said her 5-minute, 17.22-second mark in the 1,600 and 11-minute, 51.50-second finish in the 3,200 were both personal records.
“I wasn’t close to those times at all during the year,” Otis admitted Tuesday. “I used a different strategy and saved my kick for the last lap. I was surprised. I’ve never had a kick like that before.”
According to Panthers Coach Jeremy Polson, Otis sped away with the 1,600 title, before sprinting past 3,200 favorites Carlton’s Lindsey Dahl-Holm and Esko’s Kallyn Knutson in the final 50 meters.
“You could see her smiling when she got to the finish line,” Polson said. “It took her the whole race to catch up, but [she] relied on her finish.”
Polson, who ran both varsity track and cross country at Duluth Denfeld before becoming a standout at the University of Minnesota, said he excelled with Otis’ strategy when he was a younger runner.
However, he said Otis is a runner who understands the sport.
“She knows what it takes,” Polson said. “Running takes commitment and she’s made a name for herself. If you talk to people up here, they probably know who she is. She’s usually in front of her races.”
Dahl-Holm, a senior who finished as the 3,200 runner-up less than half a second behind Otis, tipped her cap to the middle-school runner.
“She had a little more gas left in the tank than me,” said Dahl-Holm, who has qualified for state in that event four of six years running in Carlton. “In the last 200 meters, you have to kick it and go. She did. The first time at state is like a little frog in a big pond, but she’ll be back a few more times, too.”
Running only relays for Esko that afternoon, Shady said it was enjoyable to watch her good friend Otis sprint around the oval successfully.
“I have talked with Gracelynn during cross country and helped her out as a younger runner like I was,” said Shady, a cross country state champion her sophomore year and now fifth-year track state entrant. “I was happy for her.”
Shady participated in three winning relay events last week, as a number of Esko girls advanced to state while winning the team title with 124.5 points. Moose Lake-Willow River won the boys crown with 87.5 total points.
Other local individual qualifiers for this weekend’s state meet at Hamline University in St. Paul included Cromwell-Wright senior Austin Johnson in the discus with his throw of 141 feet, 1 inch, along with Cherry junior Breena Alfredson, who topped the high jump at 5-foot-1 for South Ridge’s cooperative program.
Yet it was the Panthers’ other dynamo who stole the spotlight.
“She’s the only middle schooler in the state running the two-mile,” Polson said of Otis, only in her second year on varsity. “She’s moved herself up the ladder, and is just very easy to coach.”
“I have to say it was just a really good day,” Otis said. “Once I finished my mile, I was happy. Then [after] my two-mile, I was really happy. And after the day was over, I just couldn’t stop smiling.”