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Hodges, Dunn to compete in national meet

Timekeepers at last spring's middle school district track meet stared at their stopwatches in disbelief when Brittany Hodges crossed the finish line in the 400 meters.

The district record in the event was 61.2 seconds. Hodges hit the tape in 57.7, a time that would have won the Southern Oregon Conference district meet this past spring and placed her fourth at the Class 4A state meet.

Not even Hodges, who was just completing the eighth grade at Hedrick Middle School, could believe it.

I hadn't been training very much because of my knees, says Hodges, whose recent growth spurt had left her with Osgood- Schlatter disease, a condition that causes severe pain when running. My times hadn't been very good leading up to that meet.

When they yelled out my time, I was really surprised.

Hodges, 14, hasn't equaled that clocking in the two months since the district meet. But the North Medford High freshman-to-be has continued to excel in the sprints, most recently winning the 200 and 400 and finishing third in the 100 at the Northwest Regional Junior Olympic meet last weekend in Springfield.

Her times were 58.38 in the 400, 26.08 in the 200 and 12.73 in the 100 and qualified her to run in all three events at the National Junior Olympics in Buffalo, N.Y., July 27-30.

She's been doing some things in practice that lead me to believe she can run a lot faster, says Mark Hodges, Brittany's father and the head coach at North Medford. Her knees haven't been bothering her at all since June. She's been able to do a lot of speed work in practice, and I think she's ready to pop a real impressive time.

Another North Medford sprinter, sophomore-to-be Emily Dunn, qualified for the national meet in the 100 and 200. Dunn will compete in the 14-15 age group, while Hodges will run in the 13-14 category.

Christine Tacha of Hedrick qualified in the long jump but won't compete at nationals.

Hodges has qualified for the national meet each of the past four years, but the expense of the trip has limited her to one appearance. That was in 1996 in Houston, when she finished sixth in the 400 and ninth in the 200 as a 10-year-old.

We're anxious to get back there and see how she can do, Mark Hodges says.

The elder Hodges expects roughly 50 competitors in each event.

They?ll probably have six heats and only the winners plus the next two fastest times (in all of the heats combined) will advance to the finals, he says. It's going to be intense.

But Brittany Hodges seems ready for the challenge. A competitive sprinter since the age of 8, she has run in several big meets

Her goal at the national event is to make the finals in all three sprints. She also hopes to break 57 seconds in the 400.

``Making the final eight would be pretty sweet, her dad says. There's going to be some quick kids back there, we know that.

Mark Hodges has been careful not to push his daughter too much. He encourages her to play other sports — — she's a superb basketball player — and limits her track training to the spring and summer months.

She loves to sprint more than anything, but the last thing we're going to do is run her into the ground, he says. As we go along and the stakes get higher, then her training will pick up, but right now it's a four- or five-month ordeal.

Dunn, meanwhile, ran a lifetime best of 26.4 in the 200 and came within 4/100ths of her best time in the 100 (12.65) to qualify for the national meet.

I've never earned anything like this in my life, Dunn says. It's really exciting.

Brittany Hodges will compete at nationals later this month in Buffalo, N.Y. - Mail Tribune/Jim Craven