Sports

Leading the way

It doesn’t take long for discussions about track at Olympic to become focused.

After all, the Trojans have had their share of talent come through the school.

Now, the baton passes from Jarrell Nelson, who became the school’s first athlete ever to win an individual title at Star Track as a senior last year, to Jonell Hodge. And if the Trojans are to repeat as state champions in the 400-meter relay, Hodge may be the key.

“If we can keep him healthy through the cold meets, I expect him to do a lot,” Olympic co-coach Joel Grindeland said.

With Hodge, the health issues relate to his hamstrings.

“I wasn’t even able to touch my toes last year,” he said.

Hodge hopes an offseason of work will have his hamstrings ready for early-season meets — and beyond.

“I’ve been doing yoga with our weight instructor,” he said. “Everything is getting more worked out and flexible.”

While fans anticipate seeing the Trojans in the 400 relay, Grindeland said Hodge also could excel in the 200 dash.

“The 200 might be the better event for him (than the 100),” Grindeland said. “I will be totally shocked if he’s not top 5 at state if we can keep him healthy.”

Nelson was the 200 state champion last year, which Grindeland said might benefit Hodge.

“Track-wise, I think he’ll be ahead of the game after watching Jarrell,” he said.

Hodge doesn’t mind seeking advice from his former teammate, who now runs the 60 dash for Washington State University.

“We grew up together and have been friends since third grade,” Hodge said. “We call each other every weekend. He’s been telling me to be ready.”

Hodge, who also starred as a running back on the football team, knows he faces a challenge in the 100 from Pasco’s Leon Jackson, a three-time defending state champion in that event.

“Leon Jackson is my biggest challenge, but you can’t take anyone lightly,” he said. “Anyone can surprise you.”

That shouldn’t be a problem as Hodge will see some of his competition next month at the Pasco Invitational.

“I’m looking forward to Pasco,” he said. “I like seeing runners from all over.”

Just as long as it doesn’t remind him of the 1998 Junior Olympic Relays.

“I would have won the 200, but I got disqualified,” he said. “Ever since then, I wanted to do everything well.”

Hodge, an Ohio native, hopes that attitude will lead him to bigger adventures eventually. He hopes to attend Hampton (Va.)University next fall.

“They came after me for football first,” he said. “I liked what I saw — it doesn’t rain as much.”

In addition to Hodge, the Trojans return Ryan Benko, who also was on the 400-relay team last year, Robert Buster (long jump and triple jump), Tony Hamilton (discus), Tony Higgins (discus), Joe Joslyn (300 hurdles) and Chris Shepherd (1,600 run), Brian Smith (javelin).

“We probably can take quite a few first places,” Grindeland said. “We’ll be competitive in individual events. I think we’re going to have quality, we just lack numbers.”

Shakira Dixon, who competes in the long jump and triple jump, said the girls team has the same problem.

“We are smaller than other teams, so we have to work hard and keep pressing through,” she said. “I just want to keep the intensity up throughout the season.”

Rochelle Duane already has her goals set for the 800 run.

“I want to get down to 2:20 (minutes) in the 800,” she said. “Last year, I went to districts and I want to get back.”

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