Photo by: JOLIE GREEN  jgreen@dailynews.net

The sun blazed down on the Hays Striders practice Tuesday evening at the Hays High School track.

Coach Dave Haberman’s commands carried through the air.

“Set. Go,” he said each time a new group stepped up to the line for their plyometric drills.

“OK, go get some water,” Haberman said to the children as they took a break from their warm-ups.

Tuesday marked the second-to-last practice of 2016 for the track club, as the AAU Junior Olympic Games begin Monday in Houston.

The Striders had 13 athletes qualify for the Junior Olympic Games.

The first qualifying meet of the year for AAU was the district qualifier in El Dorado on June 4, and the second qualifying meet was in Lawrence on June 23.

Eleven athletes qualified for the junior Olympics: Abby Rueschhoff, triple jump; Beth Bowles, 80-meter hurdles and turbo javelin; Lacy Droegemeier, 80-meter hurdles; Lyndi Zimmerman, long jump and 1500-meter run; Chase Schmidt, high jump; Dahlon Fischer, long jump; Eli Dopita, pole vault; Hunter Molthan, 1500-meter run; Lance Lang, 400-meter dash and 80-meter hurdles; Levi Armon, shot put; and Matthew Vahling, turbo javelin.

The Striders also qualified two athletes for USATF Junior Olympic Games after qualifying meets at Kansas City, Mo., and Joplin, Mo.: Katie Rankin, long jump and 200-meter dash; and Olivia Rankin, high jump. Both girls opted not to attend the meet which is taking place this week in Sacramento.

Only two athletes from the team will attend the Junior Olympic Games this year: Droegemeier in the 80-meter hurdles, and Bowles in the 80-meter hurdles and turbo javelin. Bowles has the sixth-best throw in the nation going into the meet, - 68 feet, 10 inches - and Droegemeier has the 17th-fastest time in the nation in the 80-meter hurdles with a time of 16.85 seconds.

Droegemeier said her best meet of the year was the qualifier in Lawrence, where she PR’d in her events. Bowles agreed her best meet was in Lawrence also and said her favorite part of the season was the coaching she received.

“Having Coach Dave and Elaine (Haberman) help me all the way through was really good,” Bowles said.

“Junior Olympic medals are this big around,” Haberman said as he held his hands up to make a circumference bigger than a softball.

The kids’ eyes grew wide.

“Wow,” they said.

“That’s something to shoot for,” Haberman said.

Haberman reminded the athletes he and the other coaches were proud of the work they did this season, whether they qualified or not.

“You improve and learn every day,” he said.

The Striders had 132 kids in the program this year from age 5 through 15. In addition to head coaches Dave and Elaine Haberman, coaches Tim McElroy, Keshawn Sewell, Maddux Winter and John Moore have been instrumental in the success of the club.

Next year the USATF Junior Olympics will be in Lawrence, and the Striders will have to attend only one qualifying meet. The club is hopeful more kids will qualify and be able to attend that since it’s close to home.

“I’m not saying it will be easy to qualify next year,” Haberman said. “But it will be easier to qualify for us next year than it is when you have to go to two or three different qualifying meets.”

Haberman had final instructions for the athletes.

“Don’t forget to watch the Rio Olympics next week,” he said. “There are 21 people from Kansas competing.”

Bowles and Droegemeier will depart for Houston this weekend and will compete early next week. The last time the Junior Olympic Games were in Houston in 2012, there were 20 sports represented and 14,252 athletes in attendance.