One local youth track club has reached the national stage — gearing up to compete against some of the sport’s best.
Speed Starz Track Club recently qualified for the 21st Annual AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Club Championships, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
The Wesley Chapel-based club is sending five athletes, ranging in age from 13 to 17, for its first appearance in the national showcase, held July 11 through July 15.
The club championships offer the last chance for athletes to qualify for the 2017 AAU Junior Olympic Games in Detroit, Michigan, July 26 to Aug. 5. The top eight finishers in each track and field event qualify for the Junior Olympics.
Representing Speed Starz at the national meet are a trio of athletes from Sunlake High School — rising seniors Arielle Boone and Melissa Mowery, and rising sophomore Gianna Levy.
Joining them are Guadalupe Guerra, a rising freshman at Wiregrass Ranch High School, and Landon Williams, a rising seventh-grader at John Long Middle School.
Since May, the five athletes — along with several others — have been training extensively with BB Roberts, the club’s head coach.
Roberts organized the Speed Starz in 2013 and simultaneously created a sports training company — Fast, Sprint, Quick Athletic Performance LLC.
The AAU circuit is regarded as more challenging than the high school and middle school levels. That’s because it has an increased number of elite-caliber athletes from every region of the country.
“It’s much more competitive,” said Guerra, a long-distance runner who last season was named 2017 Pasco County Middle School Girls Track Athlete of the Year.
“At the school level, there’s not as many people that have as much fast times, so (AAU) pushes you harder,” she said.
The athletes’ emotions have been swirling, leading up to the weeklong festivities.
“I’m happy, and I’m nervous,” said Boone, “because I’ve never been to a national event.”
“I’m kind of just anxious to see what happens,” added Levy. “I feel like this type of competition will give me motivation to really try hard.”
Williams, the youngest competitor at 13 years old, echoed similar sentiments.
“I’m a little nervous, but it will be exciting,” she said. “I just want to do my best, and beat my previous times.”
The national showcase, meanwhile, provides an opportunity for track athletes — particularly upcoming seniors — to catch the eye of college recruiters, who seldom attend regular high school meets.
“I tell kids all the time, ‘If you really want to get recruited, get involved with this stuff.’ I wish I had done it,” said Roberts. “(Recruiters) go to the state meets sometimes, but they always go to AAU meets every summer.”
Roberts also does his part to ensure the club’s athletes get noticed.
“He makes sure that we have our own portfolio…and he really pays attention when it comes to getting recruited,” said Mowery, who’s competing in the heptathlon.
Roberts, now 31, was a record-breaking sprinter at Wesley Chapel High School, and later at Coffeyville Community College, a junior college in southeast Kansas.
Today, he maintains his passion for track and teaching youth, of all ages and abilities.
“Track can help you do anything,” Roberts said, noting it translates well to other sports, including football and soccer.
His pupils come from all over Pasco, including Dade City, Zephyrhills, Wesley Chapel, Wiregrass and Land O’ Lakes, over the last few years.
Roberts emphasizes proper running form.
He’s also an advocate of resistance training, utilizing Kbands and speed parachutes, among other products.
Those methods helped Boone set a personal record in the 200-meter dash (25.97).
“My first two weeks working with him, I PR’d by over half a second; it’s been a really big help,” said Boone, the 2017 Sunshine Athletic Conference (SAC) East Field Athlete of the Year and one of the county’s top jumpers.
It likewise helped Levy, a 2017 SAC East Second-Team All-Conference sprinter and hurdler.
A former gymnast, Levy acknowledged her running stride used to be “really bad.”
Intense, one-on-one work with Roberts quickly changed that.
“He’s really helped my arms, so now I don’t even think about the way I run,” Levy explained.
“He takes more time to develop you.”
No matter the group’s outcome in Orlando, each is laying the groundwork for next track season.
“If you compare their times back when they ran in March or February, there’s a big difference,” Roberts said.
“If you ask any professional track athlete, during the summertime is when you peak the highest. It’s why the Olympics are in the summer, and why they have tryouts in the summer.”
And, that summer grind has made the athletes eager for the possibilities ahead.
That’s especially true for Boone and her fellow Sunlake High comrades.
“It’s exciting,” Boone said, “because I know when we come back to the high school season, we’re going to do really good.
“We’ve been training all offseason — and that’s when you get better,” she said.
Speed Starz Track Club national qualifiers
Arielle Boone, senior, Sunlake High School
Events: Long Jump, Triple Jump, 200-meter dash, 100-meter dash
Gianna Levy, sophomore, Sunlake High School
Events: 400-meter hurdles, 200-meter dash, 100-meter dash
Melissa Mowery, senior, Sunlake High School
Events: Heptathlon (100m hurdle, 800m, 200m, high jump, long jump, shot put, javelin)
Guadalupe Guerra, freshman, Wiregrass Ranch High School
Events: 3,000-meter run, 1,500-meter run, 2,000-meter steeplechase
Landon Williams. seventh-grade, John Long Middle School
Events: 3,000-meter run, 1500-meter run, 800-meter dash, shot put
Published July 12, 2017