VALPARAISO | It’s been seven years since the Valparaiso girls track team has won the Duneland Athletic Conference meet.
Head coach Adam “Boomer” Nellessen wasn’t the coach, but the reason he knows is that one of the stars of 2007, Lauren Hardesty, is his distance coach now and she remembers those years fondly.
And one of the athletes she coaches directly is part of the reason Nellessen is optimistic going into today’s DAC meet at Chesterton.
Nellessen likes his team’s mix of experience and youth, and the epitome of that mix is the trio of Anna Walls, Alison Mundell and Madison Buyer.
Walls' presence on the team this season is a bonus since Nellessen admits he thought the senior wasn’t going to come out for track.
“I just wasn’t going to, but then I thought I’d miss it,” she said.
Walls runs the sprint events, but loves the 400-meter most for one simple reason.
“I gain speed as a I run and I like chasing people,” she said. “I’m more focused on the 400 because of the (1,600) relay.”
Mundell is a known quantity for the Vikings, but the junior has succeeded more in cross country than track, especially last season.
“She didn’t have a positive sophomore year,” Nellessen said of the junior distance runner whom he can relate to. “I never liked track as much as cross country. I always preferred running on grass. But she’s responded much better this season.”
Mundell’s has a simple explanation for the improvement from last year to this season.
“I’ve worked harder since last year,” she said. “I prefer cross country, but they’re so much different. You can’t pretend one is like the other.”
Upperclassmen like Mundell and Walls might attribute some of their success to an infusion of talented youth (the Vikings only have three seniors on the whole squad), which includes Buyer. The freshman who moved to Valparaiso after going to middle school in the Morgan Township district has shined in hurdles and long jump — the latter as an emergency fill-in.
“She’s a natural hurdler, but we needed some help at long jump and she’s responded well with minimal practice,” Nellessen said.
Buyer did compete in long jump in middle school, but that was against smaller schools. She admits this season has been a learning process.
“It’s been more intimidating with a wider range of good athletes,” she said. “It’s really intense, but I love pushing myself to meet that intensity of going against new athletes.”
Valparaiso lost narrow dual meets to defending DAC meet champ Lake Central, Chesterton and Merrillville, but only two entrants in each event are allowed at the conference meet, so depth and quantity isn’t as important as quality, and based on that with improvement in key events, Nellessen likes the Vikings’ chances.
“I feel good going into Tuesday’s meet,” he said.