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When she arrived at last year's state track and field meet, Loreen Tupou was a first-year thrower who'd never hurled the discus farther than 100 feet.
Tupou was Juneau-Douglas High School's only state champion at last year's state meet, throwing a then-school record 110 feet, 10 inches.
As she enters this weekend's state meet Friday and Saturday at Anchorage's Bartlett High School, Tupou, now a junior, is the top-seeded discus thrower after tossing the discus 119-8 during last weekend's Region V meet at Juneau's Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. Tupou enters the state meet throwing the discus four feet farther than Lathrop's Alana Clooten (115-6) and five feet farther than Soldotna's Sasha Cvetkovski (114-4), who have both been ranked ahead of Tupou at times this season.
Tupou is also seeded third in the shot put, with a throw of 35-3 last weekend that ranks her behind just Cvetkovski's 38-2 and the 35-8 thrown by Wasilla's Betsie Erickson. Earlier this season, Tupou threw the shot put 36-10, but only the results from last weekend's region meets are used for seeding at the state meet.
"For discus, yes, I think I've got a chance," Tupou said. "The shot put, I'm still working on it. I tweaked my wrist last week, so it hurts a little bit when I throw the shot. I'm top-seeded in the discus, and I'm going to be practicing the same release I had last week. It felt perfect. What's exciting, though, is Bea (Juneau thrower Beatriz Muse) is going to be there with me. I got a lot of support from the track team last year, but it'll be nice to have another thrower there with me in both events."
Tupou and Muse, who qualified in both the shot put and the discus, are just two of the 23 athletes Juneau has entered in 23 individual events and six relays at the state meet. The contingent is about the same size as the one Juneau sent to last year's state meet, where the girls tied for 11th place in the team standings and the boys tied for 14th. But this year's group has better seedings than last year.
"I knew Beatriz was going to make it to state, but I was surprised by how high she was seeded (10th in the shot put at 30-8 and sixth in the discus at 106-11 1/2)," said Juneau co-coach Ned Clooten, who is related to the Lathrop thrower. "I was pleasantly surprised by Bryce (Iverson) making it in the mile (1,600 meters), Alan (Floresca) in the 300 hurdles (300-meter intermediate hurdles) and Emily (Krehlik) in the 300 hurdles (300-meter low hurdles)."
"Everybody I thought would make it made it, or at least the people that worked hard are going," said Juneau senior Jesse Stringer, who qualified in the 3,200 meters, the 1,600 and the 800, plus he's listed as a member of the 4x800-meter and the 4x400-meter relay teams. "Bryce will do good in the 3,200, but I'm not running it. I hate the 3,200. I'm concentrating on the 800 and the 1,600 (he took fourth in the 1,600 last year at state). We've been doing some tough workouts and we'll see what laying off last week will do for us. It seems like there's always a lot of upsets at state."
The last few Southeast state champions could all be considered upsets, as Tupou, Ketchikan's Elisa Bolling (girls 800 meters last year), Ketchikan's Geoff Nordlund (boys 110-meter high hurdles in 2000) and Juneau's Maria Eley (girls 3,200 meters in 1999) weren't the top-seeded athletes in their respective events when they won state titles. Other than Tupou in the girls discus, no Southeast athletes hold top seeds at this year's state meet, so they're all hoping for more Southeast upset magic.
Besides the seedings of Tupou and Muse in the throwing events, the best Southeast individual-event seedings are held by Floresca (tied for third in the boys 110-meter high hurdles), Haines' Coleman Stanford (fourth in the boys discus), Juneau's Rachel Chenoweth (fifth in the girls 300-meter low hurdles), Petersburg's Zac Drillevich (fifth in the boys triple jump) and Iverson (fifth in the 3,200). The best relay seed is sixth, for Juneau's girls 4x800-meter relay team and Juneau's boys 4x800-meter relay squad.
"I'm feeling pretty excited," Floresca said. "It'll be a really cool experience to race against people as fast as these. The meet will be on a rubber track, so we'll have better accelerations."
"I've definitely got a shot," said Chenoweth, who had a faster time earlier in the season than her qualifying time of 48.90 seconds. "I kind of stumbled in finals on Saturday. I'm hoping to break the school record and run in the low 47s."
Even those runners who aren't among the top seeds hope they can improve their times once they get on Bartlett's track, which is considered to be a faster track than the one at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
"I'm in four events this year," Juneau senior Emily Krehlik said. "I've always been in two, but this year I'm in everything. I'm so excited to make it in the 300 (hurdles). I always wanted to go to state in an individual event. This year has been so awesome. We've had more PRs (personal records)."
"I was pretty happy," Juneau senior Stephen Perry said. "I'm seeded ninth (in the 400) and eighth (in the 200). There's been some 51s for the 400, but I'm hoping to drop into the 52s. I'm not going expecting anything, but I'm going for it."
Juneau has several athletes entered in multiple individual events, including Tupou, Muse, Stringer, Iverson, Floresca, Chenoweth, Perry, Molly Krehlik and Heather Bennett. Both Chenoweth and Molly Krehlik took fifth place in events at state last year, the 300 hurdles for Chenoweth and the 3,200 for Krehlik.
The state meet opens at 11 a.m. on Friday at Bartlett with the finals in the shot put, discus, long jump, triple jump and 3,200 meters. The running preliminaries on all individual events except the 3,200 take place at 3:50 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday, the meet opens at 10 a.m. with the high jump finals, followed by all the remaining running event finals starting at 12:30 p.m.