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Amherst Regional sends 13 athletes to New Balance Nationals

  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Taj-Amir Torres of Amherst finishes first in the 100 meter run, outpacing teammate Ian Emerson and Noah Jackson of Northampton Monday in Northampton.

    JERREY ROBERTS
    Taj-Amir Torres of Amherst finishes first in the 100 meter run, outpacing teammate Ian Emerson and Noah Jackson of Northampton Monday in Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst Regional High School freshman Jessie Rietkerk runs Saturday during the 4x400 meter relay event during the Western Massachusetts Division I Track Championship at Holyoke High School.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Amherst Regional High School freshman Jessie Rietkerk runs Saturday during the 4x400 meter relay event during the Western Massachusetts Division I Track Championship at Holyoke High School.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Taj-Amir Torres of Amherst Regional High School, left, leads Saturday during the 100 meter dash event at the Western Massachusetts Division I Track Championship at Holyoke High School. Oushane Lewis of Central High School, center, and John Ferrera of Ludlow follow behind.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Taj-Amir Torres of Amherst Regional High School, left, leads Saturday during the 100 meter dash event at the Western Massachusetts Division I Track Championship at Holyoke High School. Oushane Lewis of Central High School, center, and John Ferrera of Ludlow follow behind.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Taj-Amir Torres of Amherst finishes first in the 100 meter run, outpacing teammate Ian Emerson and Noah Jackson of Northampton Monday in Northampton.
  • Amherst Regional High School freshman Jessie Rietkerk runs Saturday during the 4x400 meter relay event during the Western Massachusetts Division I Track Championship at Holyoke High School.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Taj-Amir Torres of Amherst Regional High School, left, leads Saturday during the 100 meter dash event at the Western Massachusetts Division I Track Championship at Holyoke High School. Oushane Lewis of Central High School, center, and John Ferrera of Ludlow follow behind.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

AMHERST — Amherst Regional seniors Emily Biggs and Dylan Owens haven’t competed in outdoor track for very long.

Biggs, a former lacrosse player, is in her first year. Owens is in his second.

Despite their relative inexperience, the pair will join 11 other teammates and compete at New Balance Nationals this weekend.

“It’s so exciting,” Biggs said Tuesday. “I haven’t done track for long, but this was something I had on my list of things I wanted to really get to do.”

Biggs competed in indoor track the past two seasons and decided to run outdoors during her final season.

“I had a decent indoor season but coming into outdoor I was feeling a little disappointed about indoors, so I just wanted to work hard and see where it got me,” she said.

It got her to North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, site of the national meet which starts Friday and runs through Sunday. It also got her to Villanova.

Biggs, who broke the 24-year-old school record in the 200-meter dash during the regular season, will compete at the university outside of Philadelphia in the fall. For now, she is content with her extended high school career.

“It’s been nice to have track still there even though school is over,” Biggs said. “To come to practice every day and still see my track friends, it’s been something nice to look forward to.”

The Amherst program is sending its largest contingent of runners ever. A baker’s dozen left Thursday morning to compete in the prestigious event.

“For me, this is really special because it’s my senior year and I’ve never been able to compete at this level in sports,” Owens said. “It’s good because it’s given me something to do, something to work for and something to look forward to.”

The Amherst girls team will have a busy Friday.

The 4x100 relay will kick things off for the Hurricanes. The team of Biggs, Kanya Brown, Ariel Christie and Jessie Rietkerk will compete in a preliminary round of the Emerging Elite (EE) field at 9:45 a.m.

“All these kids are gassed and I recognize that, but they’re all excited and honestly, this is gravy,” Amherst coach Dan Feldman said. “If my kids do great, I’m happy. If they feel like they ran a poor race, I’m still going to encourage them. This is a great opportunity for them that I don’t think they had before.”

The 1,600 sprint medley team will run in the EE field at 2:45. Feldman will field the relay out of Biggs, Brown, Rietkerk, Devoney and Christie.

Rietkerk will turn around and compete in the freshman 400 at 4 p.m. and Mel Devoney will cap Friday’s events for the Hurricanes. The senior won the 2-mile at the West/Central meet and placed 10th at All-States. With two weeks off since she last raced, Devoney is eager for 5,000-meter, which will start at 8:10 p.m. She will run the event next year when she attends Occidental College in Los Angeles.

“I felt (tired) for Western Mass. and states,” Devoney said. “I was done with racing but having a few weeks to enjoy summer training and running on my own I’m ready to go again.”

Most of the Amherst boys will compete on Friday.

“We’re excited, everyone’s excited,” Taj-Amir Torres said. “It’s nationals.”

Torres, Owens, Devin Clarke and JJ Sylla will compete in a preliminary round of the 4x100 EE field at 10 a.m.

Torres, who won the 100 dash at every championship meet he competed in this postseason, will participate in the EE 100 preliminary at 12:55. The finals are scheduled for about 7:30.

The sophomore has national meet experience, having compete at indoor nationals in March. This marks his second straight extended season.

“A lot of the guys that ran indoors, your legs are starting to hurt, you start taking ice baths and stuff,” Torres said. “It’s tough, but if it’s a big meet, you not going to shy away. None of these guys shied away. We’re going to keep working.”

Amherst will form a 4x200 team out of Torres, Owens, Clarke, Michael Stender and Kelzy Rodrigues and they will compete at 2:05 in an EE race.

Aybars Gungor will compete in the EE javelin field at 3, while an 800 sprint medley team made from the group of Torres, Owens, Clarke, Rodrigues and Stender will race at 6.

The boys 1,600 sprint medley will race at 1:35 on Saturday. Torres, Owens, Stender, Evans and Rodrigues will form the team.

Owens hopes the experience the team gained at the Penn Relays will help.

“In that moment we wanted to soak it in but it was going so fast that it happened and it was over,” said Owens, who ran the 4x100 at Penn. “Being able to go to nationals with this team, we know what it’s like to be one of many teams trying to perform our best and that’s what we just have to do.”

Because the national meet is not a sponsored high school meet, athletes and coaches had to pay their own way. The Hurricanes held fundraisers during the season in advance, while the Amherst Lion’s Club donated $1,000.

“We’re fortunate that they have a lot of parents that are supportive. Even with the boys too, they had to pay they’re own way,” Feldman said. “We figured it out and got it done.”

Mike Moran can be reached at mikemoran@gazettenet.com.

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