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North phenom set to fly

Hodges heals in time for district meet

For the first time in more than a year, Brittany Hodges feels healthy.

The Osgood-Schlatter disease that sent waves of pain shooting through her knees as a middle school athlete is gone.

The severe ankle sprains she endured during the basketball season have healed.

And the hip injury she suffered at the Junior Olympic national track meet last summer has mended.

Hodges looked happy and relaxed during practice Tuesday in preparation for the Southern Oregon Conference district track meet that kicks off at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. The coed meet picks up Saturday beginning at 11 a.m.

As a national caliber sprinter, Hodges faced high expectations when she entered North Medford High last fall, expectations that were made even higher considering her father, Mark Hodges, serves as the Black Tornado's head coach.

But simply being healthy enough to put in vigorous workouts and run her best during meets the past six weeks has left the 15-year-old freshman eager to take on the best sprinters in the SOC and, potentially next week, the state.

"I really haven't felt any pressure," Brittany Hodges says. "I love the sport of track so much and I've been running since I was 7 years old. I just take it as it comes."

Hodges enters the district meet with the SOC's fastest times in the 200 (25.5) and 400 (57.8), and runs legs on the Tornado's 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams that are favored to win.

However, she'll face stiff competition in the 400 from Klamath Union senior Sara Schaaf, the defending state champion who beat Hodges at the Crater Classic in their only meeting this season.

Hodges is also no lock to win the 200, where her teammate, senior Jennifer Abbott, has equaled Hodges' best time and beat her in a dual meet two weeks ago.

But only the foolhardy would count out the freshman phenom.

Hodges set the track world on fire at this time last year when she broke 58 seconds in the 400 as an eighth-grader. A month or so later, she qualified for the Junior Olympic national meet in the 100, 200 and 400, running the latter event in a sizzling 57.1 seconds despite hobbling over the final 100 meters when her hip first went bad.

"I realize now it was a mistake to have her in so many events," Mark Hodges says. "She ran five races in three days - counting the preliminaries - and that was too much.

"But when you get to that level you want to see what you can do."

The injury was diagnosed as an inflamed connective tissue in the joint capsule of the hip.

Brittany Hodges did no running the rest of the summer and went into the basketball season seemingly healthy. But she sprained one ankle, then the other, and just when her hip started to feel 100 percent, she reinjured it late in the season against South Medford.

"I hardly practiced at all during basketball," Brittany Hodges says. "It was very frustrating.

"It seems like I've always had some aches and pains but right now I feel great. I can hardly wait to run this weekend."

With Schaaf and Hodges in peak form, and with North Medford's Rosanna Medina and South Medford's Natasha Wright also expected to run well under 60 seconds, the district 400 record of 56.54 seconds - set by South Medford's Amois Gonzalez in 1997 - could be in jeopardy.

"If it's not real cold and there isn't much wind, the district record could definitely go," Mark Hodges says. "This is probably the best girls 400 field ever (in the SOC)."

The Black Tornado girls are also hoping to approach, match or even break the district record of 48.84 seconds in the 4x100 relay they set last year. The foursome of Hodges, Emily Dunn, Denali Tice and Abbott has run 49.5 this year - second-best in the state - and has yet to put everything together.

"Our short relay has been disappointing, to be honest," Mark Hodges says. "Our handoffs have been sloppy and we've been undisciplined in other ways. But we've had some good practices this week and that makes me think some good things are going to happen Saturday."

North Medford won the meet last year, but Klamath Union looks like the team to beat in 2001.

Schaaf will be the favorite in the 800, where her best time of 2:12.91 is No. — in the state, as well as the 400. Sam Gilbert is the favorite in the 100 and 300 hurdles, Liz Lindgren will score heavily in the distance races, Jenna Fay is a contender in the pole vault, Kristina Bott is a threat to win the high jump and Allison Huntley figures to score in the long and triple jumps.

"They've got more firepower than we do this year and they've been consistent all season," Hodges says of the Pelicans.

South Medford likely doesn't have enough oomph to win the meet, but the Panthers have several athletes who could win individual titles. They include defending district long jump champion Whitney Grant, 800 star Noi Hilgendorf, shot putter Hope Berkey, 400 runner Wright and Teri Silva, who will be the favorite in the high jump and a contender in the long and triple jumps.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail

North phenom set to fly