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Van Vleet qualifies for track Junior Olympics

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Photo by Wayne Crick Paonia's Brianna Van Vleet shows good form during long jump competition at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction this past track season. The standout jumper won this year's state long jump competition in Class 2A and qualified for the Jun

Paonia long-jumper Brianna Van Vleet has qualified for national competition in the U.S.A. Track & Field Junior Olympics.

Van Vleet, the daughter of David and Tracy Van Vleet, is a state record-holder in the long jump. She is dedicating her summer to improving her technique. At the Colorado USATF Junior Olympic Championships, held June 18-19 in Denver, she cleared 5.43 meters (17 feet, 9 inches) to win the meet and qualify for the Region 10 championships, held last weekend at the University of New Mexico Albuquerque.

The Colorado Junior Olympics are the equivalent of an all-class meet, said Van Vleet. "It was different going against all divisions."

Van Vleet, who began long-jumping her sophomore year, said she began by "taking small steps." Now, she said, she is "taking bounds."

As a junior at Paonia High School, Van Vleet cleared 19 feet, 5 inches to re-set the Class 2A state record, set in 2003, by 5.5 inches. It was also the Paonia girls' fourth consecutive team state title. Paonia jumping coach Brent McRae has been coaching her throughout the summer.

Van Vleet set the state record using the hang method. Traditionally considered a women's technique, it gives the appearance of the jumper hanging during flight. This summer, with the help of Coach McRae, she shifted to the hitch kick, largely considered a men's technique during which the athlete appears to run through the air. It's "definitely a more advanced way to jump," she said.

It's also a lot more fun, said Van Vleet, who had reached a point where she couldn't improve her distance with the hang method. "Honestly, the hang was getting to the point where it was routine, routine. I know what I'm doing. I know what I need to fix, but I don't know if I can make (the hang) much more advanced."

The Paonia girls track team won its fourth consecutive state 2A title last May. Van Vleet, along with sister Ashley, who graduated in May and signed to compete for Idaho State University Pocatello, were integral members of the team. Van Vleet said she believes the team can win state again this year, in large part because of their strength in field events, and she looks forward to seeing what she can do in her final season of high school competition.

At regional competition, Van Vleet's technique carried her 17 feet, 10.25 inches to place second and qualify for USATF National Junior Olympics Track & Field Championships, July 25-31, in Sacramento, Calif. This is the event's 50th year.

If Van Vleet performs well at nationals, she could qualify for the world competition July 19-24, in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

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