Dallas Hoofard remembers his first time competing in a hurdle event. It didn't go well. He was a freshman, and fell twice.
The Atwater senior thought about that as he stood on the podium with his sixth-place medal draped from his neck at the CIF State State Meet. “To start from there and to medal at state this year,” Hoofard said. “It was a little discouraging, that first race. I just kept practicing and practicing.”
Buhach Colony’s Brandy Coward didn't fall after running her first 400-meter race but she was completely exhausted.
“In the beginning of the season it was difficult,” Coward said. “After finishing the race I could hardly stand up. In my opinion the 400 is one of the hardest races because you have to run, but you have to pace yourself. It took awhile for me to accept the idea of running the 400.”
Coward qualified for the state meet in the 400.
For their efforts, Hoofard and Coward are the Sun-Star Track & Field Athletes of the Year. For both, the goal this season was to get back to the state meet. Hoofard ran a 38.19 in the 300 hurdles early in the season, but had a hard time coming close to the mark for weeks. He couldn't block out the distractions that come along with being a senior.
“I had to worry about other stuff like deadlines and scholarship stuff,” Hoofard said. “I couldn't just focus on running. “I was glad when I was able to put all that stuff behind me. I could come to practice and have fun again. When you’re a junior you can tell yourself you still have next year.
“There was no next year for me.”
Hoofard was at his best when it mattered.
He won the 110- and 300-hurdles at the Central California Conference championships. He finished second in the 300 hurdles at the Section Div. 1 finals, but turned in his top time at 37.89.
“That time was really surprising,” Hoofard said. “Even though I got second — I’m really competitive and I don’t take losing well — I was happy with that time.” Hoofard won at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet with a time of 38.26. He then went on to accomplish his goal at state by earning a medal.
“That was huge,” Hoofard said. “Making it the finals at state isn't just about running fast. You have to show you can handle the pressure. You can do a lot more than you think. If you don’t have the right mind-set you won’t get it done.”
Coward had to find that mind-set as she trained in the 400 this season.
The Buhach Colony sophomore advanced to state last year in the 200 and expected to make a return trip in the event.
She appeared to be on her way after running a personal best 25.24 for second in the Div. 1 finals. However, the following week at Masters, Coward fell short.
“I’m not exactly sure what happened,” she said. “I thought I warmed up well and trained well. It just wasn't quite enough.” Coward did excel in the 400, though, punching her ticket to state with a third-place finish in 56 seconds.
“I was actually surprised,” Coward said. “The 400 was new to me. I hadn't trained for it before this year, it was different. I was shocked to make it to state in my first year running it.”
Coward has big goals, including qualifying for state in two events.
“Hopefully I can make a state final,” Coward said. “I’m not sure if I’ll run the 400 or 100 with the 200 next year. If my chances look better in the 400 I’ll stick with that.”