Local athletes advance to AAU Junior Olympic Nationals

Brittney Rose, Emily Keeter and Brindin Strickling of Carl Junction advanced to the AAU Junior Olympics on Saturday at the AAU Junior Olympic National Games Qualifying Meet at Fred Hughes Stadium.

“It’s really exciting,” said Rose, who won the young women’s 400-meter hurdles in 1 minute, 8.40 seconds. “If you had told me my freshman year that I would qualify for the Junior Olympics, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

While in high school, Rose’s teammates have included Taitum Mead, a hurdler at Missouri Southern, and Hope Joyner, who qualified in the 100 hurdles last May at the Class 3 MSHSAA Track and Field Championships.

”Those two ladies have always been there to help me,” said Rose, who will be a senior this fall. “We’re all good friends. We’ve always pushed each other.

”I have one more year to lower my (school) record. I want to set the bar high for those kids coming up.”

Rose and Keeter ran along with Sydney Koch and Alex King on the Bulldogs’ 4x400 relay team that qualified for the Class 3 finals at the state meet.

This summer, Rose and Keeter compete with the Carl Junction Freedom Track Club under head coach Danny Sluder, a safety supervisor with The Empire District Electric Co.

“This is the first year it has really been successful,” said Keeter, who placed fifth in the 400 meters in 1:04.17. “It helps keep us in shape during the summer, and we’re running against a lot more competitive runners.”

Strickling, who will be a senior this fall, placed second in the high jump with a leap of 5 feet, 2 inches.

Carl Junction’s track club includes young athletes from College Heights, Thomas Jefferson, Webb City and Joplin, said assistant coach Mick Ward. “There are a number of kids who come out and train and don’t compete,” he said. “It’s open to everybody. I think it’s going to grow considerably next year.”

Other national qualifiers from the club Saturday were Jelynn Tatum, 14-year-old, Will Bebee, 13, and Isaac Chase, 11, in the 3000 meters; Cana Sluder, 12, and Maegan Derfelt, 11, in the 80 hurdles; Ally Montez and Austin Depratt, 8-and-under, in the long jump, and Montez in the 400.

The AAU national qualifying meet was moved to Lawrence, Kan., last summer because of a lack of available motel rooms and other difficulties in Joplin. Its return was welcomed by Craig Hull, director of the Joplin Sports Authority.

“The beautiful thing is AAU has been in Joplin for a number of years with this event,” Hull said. “The circumstances last year made it so we could not host it.

“But we’re glad to have it back. When you talk about 1,033 participants, that doesn’t count the parents, the coaches, the volunteers and other event support.”

The meet, which continues today, attracted athletes from Kansas and Missouri, excluding the St. Louis area, which competes at a different meet, said Bobby Carter, meet director and president of Missouri Valley AAU.

“This is our first time as a group hosting it as Missouri Valley,” said Carter, who was a running back at the University of Oklahoma in the 1980s under head coach Barry Switzer. “That’s the new change this year. For the last 15 years, our district was Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ozarks, which is the St. Louis area, and Missouri Valley.

“We dispense the proceeds to our area clubs,” he said. “That helps us to build and do sports clinics and develop coaches. We have new clubs springing up everywhere. I would love to see Joplin explode with a youth group because they have the base here already.”