Rebel sprinters leave a mark in their dust

Junior Joe Sando finishes third in AA boy 100 finals


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The sun was starting to creep out from an overcast sky behind Coon Rapids High School when Doug Swenson came clean.

The Champlin Park High School track and field sprint coach was in the midst of watching his runners dominate the Northwest Suburban Conference finals, when the topic of coaching came up.

"To be honest, it’s not coaching," Swenson said. "I just have some kids that want to work hard enough to be the best. I haven’t done anything different. It’s been all them."

That theory was justified this past weekend at the Class AA boys state track and field meet.

Three of Swenson’s sprinters qualified for the state meet, including three in the 200-meter run alone.

As it would turn out, none of the 200 runners (Joe Sando, Emmanuel Egbujor and Kweku Kwabi) would qualify for the state finals, as all three ran in the June 8 preliminaries only to fall short of the finals.

Yet, as the last day of the high school track field unfolded, the Rebels presence was still felt.

Sando, a junior, ended up finishing third in the boys 100. He ran his race in 10.88 seconds, placing just behind seniors Travis Griffin (runner-up in 10.87) of North St. Paul and Ayuk Tambe (first in 10.79) of Blaine.

"I am one of the top three fastest guys in Minnesota, and that is a huge honor," said Sando. "I’m pretty happy. It was a great season.

Sando’s first step in his final race almost proved costly, as his block slipped at the start. A restart was called, and Sando got back into the blocks. A few blinks of an eye later, he plowed through the finish just a step behind Griffin and Tambe.

"I’ve been chasing Tambe all year," Sando said. "I beat him in conference, but he’s obviously one of the best. I told him the only person that was able to stop me this year was him. Now that he is [graduated], the playing field next year is mine. I’m coming here next year to win."

Sando was one of two juniors in the race – seventh-place finisher Richard Carr of Forest Lake was the other – in a field filled the rest of the way with seniors.

"I should be the favorite next year," Sando. "I think I earned that."

Egbujor could be considered in the same category in the 400. The junior, who abused the school record in the event this spring, qualified for the event finals and ended up placing fifth in the state with a time of 48.84 seconds.

East Ridge junior Nathan Roese won the race in 47.79, with Hopkins senior and defending champion Austin Salargo finishing second in 47.91.

The pace was lighting fast from the start. In fact, each of the top three finishers completed the race with a better time than Salargo posted in winning the 2011 boys 400 title.

Egbujor said he expected the winning time to clear 48 seconds, and he said he would have been right there if not for a poor start.

"I just started too slow," Egbujor said. "I kind of buried myself, and it was too hard to make up."

Considering the stakes, it was a rude time to be handed that kind of mistake, but Egbujor said it was one he intends to uses as motivation.

"Next year, I’ll be ready," he said. "I’ll learn from the mistakes I made this year."

Johnson finishes strong

Down to his final few throws as the most dominant shot put and discus thrower in Champlin Park boys track and field history, Bryce Johnson came up with a big one.

The senior watched as his final toss in the discus sailed 169 feet, 11 inches. It turned out to beat all but one competitor.

Andover senior Thomas Anderson, who is the state record holder in both the shot put and discus, won the event with after his throw was marked at 182 feet, 5 inches.

Anderson also won the shot put with a state meet record toss of 65 feet, 4.25 inches. Johnson placed seventh in that event with a toss of 53 feet, 9.25 inches.

Johnson will graduate with the school record in both events. His discus mark stands at 183 feet, 6 inches, and his shot put record is 57 feet, 1 inch.

The rest

Junior Michael Sales and senior Jay Alexander also competed in the boys state track and field meet for Champlin Park.

Alexander ran in the preliminaries of the 110 hurdles, placing fourth in his heat with a time of 14.90 seconds.

Sales competed in the long jump, where he ended up 16th with a jump that carried him 20 feet.

On the girls side of the AA meet, Champlin Park senior Nkem Nwaokolo placed 11th in the discus (128 feet, 8 inches) and 15th in the shot put (36 feet, 4.75 inches).

Senior Melanie Hill also competed for Champlin Park. Hill was 11th in the long jump at 15 feet, 10.25 inches.