Punahou’s wide margin of victory at the ILH girls track and field championships on Saturday morning wasn’t the only reason longtime coach Duncan Macdonald was pleased.
Many of the Buffanblu who recorded wins in individual events are underclassmen.
“I’m very positive about the future,” longtime coach Duncan Macdonald said. “The season was a real trial and the girls handled it really well. I think in particular we have a huge number of ninth graders. We brought up a lot of them for this meet and they performed beautifully.”
Hannah Miura was busier than most, winning gold in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, and teaming up for first place in the 4×100 and 4×400 relays.
“I kind of just felt like it’s the last one, so might as well give it my all,” Miura said after capping an unbeaten junior season. “When I was in 10th grade and ninth grade, I lost all the time.”
“From last year, Hannah, I think, the group of girls we had last year is one of the best we ever had,” senior Ally Little said.
“They pushed me and supported me,” Miura said. “It’s so much fun.”
This season, shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, could have been the best opportunity for Punahou’s talented opponents in the ILH. On paper, it was ‘Iolani that had success in the early going of the championship meet at Alexander Field. From Tate Garcia (95-11 in the discus) to Cameryn Ann Nagaji (35-01.50 in the triple jump) to Lexi Fujita (5-02 in the high jump), the Raiders showed their young talent, as well.
When freshman Jolie Nguyen rallied for a win in the 1,500 run (4:58.83), ‘Iolani was already at peak-performance level, or very close to it, in the first hour.
But Punahou began its golden flash of runners. Miura took the 100-meter dash in 12.48 and the 200. The relay team of Rae Yoshioka, Miura, Xevani Salanoa and Adri Maroney took the 4×100 relay.
Little (1:00.23), a senior, edged Hawaii Baptist’s Jordy Davenport in the 400 dash, and momentum tilted to the host team. Malia Dichkens won the 800 run (2:25.57) and teammate Sasha Iizuka-Sheeley added points with a fourth-place standing (2;28.62).
Miura then won her second individual race, the 200, in 26.18 seconds with Maroney (27.09) and Salanoa (27.34) in third and fourth, respectively. Salanoa is a freshman.
The big blue run closed out with sophomore Isabella Ford notching a victory in the 3,000 (11:16.72) ahead of Nguyen (11:20.23) and freshman Madison Murata of Kamehameha (11:25.95). Lauren Saunders brought Punahou more points with a fourth-place run (11:37.63).
“After watching the 800 and 1,500, I noticed a lot of people started out really strong and really fast, so my coaches told me, especially with 7.5 laps, you don’t want to burn out on the first two,” Ford said. “It was nice that I was able to set the pace and lead. I didn’t feel pressured by anybody to go faster or slower. Jolie passed me with three laps left and I didn’t want to burn out my energy, and I’m still kind of working on my kick. I decided when there’s the last 300 meters, I tried to catch up to her and I was somehow able to do it, which was really satisfying.”
Having one race and one goal was a good fit for Ford.
“Oh my gosh, Jolie and Maddie both ran one or two races beforehand whereas I had the fresh legs, which really helped,” she said.
Ford was a double distance runner as a freshman.
“My coaches said if you can win in the 3,000, you should focus on that,” she said.
Punahou’s 4×400 relay team of Miura, Salanoa, Yoshioka and Little capped the day with a winning time of 4:13.91.
As powerful as Punahou’s core is, there may have been a point during the season when a rash of health and injury issues cast a bit of doubt. Little hurt a hamstring while working out on her own during spring break. Dichkens had trouble with her shins while growing three inches in the past year. Ford was sick with a non-COVID illness and didn’t run for three weeks.
Punahou outscored runner-up ‘Iolani by 63 points (174-111), so the math says it could have withstood the loss of three individual champions to circumstances. But factor in their impact in the relays, as well, and it becomes much closer.
Dichkens’ injury had lingered since the 2020 track season. Word was that she might return late in the 2021 cross country season this past winter. But her return on Saturday for the ILH track and field championships confirmed that she was close to 100 percent.
“The shin splints turned into stress fractures. They’re still not healed, so I haven’t been able to train. I was growing, so that’s what kept the shin splints from getting better. Luckily, the couple weeks right before this race, I got the opportunity to do two speed workouts. That helped me get confidence for the 800,” she said. “I’m really just happy that I was healthy enough to race and hopefully I can continue getting healthier so that I can compete in cross country.”
At this point, it has been a sensible and productive recovery.
“I couldn’t come back for the cross country championships. Right now, the most I’ve done is a 2.5-mile run when normally I would do an eight-mile run,” she said. “The pain isn’t really an issue. It doesn’t debilitate me. It’s just that if I keep running, the further I run, the pain will keep getting worse. I don’t have pain until after running.”
The long stretch off the track may have contributed to a mental error during the early stage of her race. With a fairly large lead after the first turn, Dichkens stepped over the line into another lane and the race was halted, then restarted.
“They didn’t have cones (placed) and I don’t think they gave them proper instructions before the race,” Macdonald said.
“I know you’re not supposed to cut over, but I don’t know what was going through my head. I cut over a little early. I put one foot in the lane and I was, oh no, and I bounced back into my lane,” Dichkens said. “They shot the gun and I thought I was going to get DQ’d, but thankfully, they hadn’t told us the same instructions before, so I didn’t get DQ’d, which is lucky.”
When the race restarted, she built a comfortable lead again.
“I think I was overconfident. I ended up going out pretty fast and my second lap was really slow. I didn’t have that great of a race, but I’m just happy that I was able to pull it off. I was overconfident because I feel good for the first 400, then I realize that I haven’t had proper training. I’m recovering from an injury so I can’t actually sustain that pace,” Dichkens said. “I’m still happy with the outcome.”
After 14 months, she relied on cross training to stay in relatively good shape.
“I’ve been doing a lot of biking and swimming. Me and my teammate Sasha will go to the beach or to the pool in her condo and do some interval training. We do distance swims and also speed workouts in the pool, too,” Dichkens said. “Cross training has definitely helped me get stronger while I haven’t been able to run.”
Little’s injury was a matter of doing too much.
“I was doing sprints at home on an off day,” she said. “I’d say have a good warmup and practice when they tell you to. It wasn’t the smartest, but it’s OK.”
Ford, the 3,000 winner, is ready for the offseason, and then cross country once again this fall.
“Being a distance runner has its challenges, but it really creates a sense of community. I always look forward to racing against my teammates. Running is so interesting because it’s very individual, but because we’re all going through the same thing, it brings us all together. I’ve made some of my closest friends through it,” she said.
The restrictions of the pandemic kept the team apart and off campus, but runners found their space.
“When COVID hit, I knew I just wanted to keep running. With everything going on, it was kind of a way for me to escape from everything. Just listen to my music, get in the zone and not focus on the global pandemic for once,” Ford said. “Also, it was some really nice time to go outdoors because we were on house arrest for so long. Even though running is really hard, I would go outside for a jog.”