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Dexter's next star has arrived

Sunday, May 11, 2003

(Photo)
Dexter junior Hannah Burleson
DEXTER - Ever since her freshman year, any casual fan of high school track and field could tell that Dexter's Hannah Burleson was going to be a good one.

On a hot spring day two years ago during the district meet, she didn't qualify in any event, but the fact that she competed with the area's top athletes certainly boded well for her.

Fast forward one year to last season where Burleson quickly established herself as one of the premier track and field athletes in the region.

She broke Dexter High School's record in the long jump with a leap of 18-feet, 1-inch. On a chilly day at the Class 3A, District 1 meet, she qualified for sectionals in three different events when she took second in the 100 meters (12.34), third in the 200 meters (27.09) and fourth in the long jump (14-10.5).

Then at the sectional meet, despite a disappointing long jump where she scratched on all three attempts, she still qualified for the state meet in the 100 meter dash.

And while she finished 12th at the state meet with a time of 13.18, well below her standards, it was obvious that Dexter's next track and field star had already arrived.

She seems to have it all. Speed, strength, endurance, brains and beauty.

Dexter athletic director Gavin Miller said it best last year.

"She's a well-rounded athlete," said Miller, who also coaches the girls basketball team. "She's just a well-rounded person. She wins all the beauty contests, she wins all the popularity contests and Miss Dexter things. She's that type of kid.

Everything she does, she does to the best of her ability."

This year, the best of her ability is keeping her unbeaten.

She hasn't been defeated in the long jump or the 100 meter dash. And she also runs legs on the team's 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 meter relays, where they've only lost once.

She's even broken her own school record in the long jump with a leap of 18-feet, 1 1/2-inches.

But that's still not good enough for her.

"I want to get at least 18-5 for sure," said Burleson, now a junior. "That's like a really awesome jump for me. I want to get it, that's my goal this year."

Such a jump would almost certainly place her in the top few in the state.

But she has to first make sure that she keeps her feet behind the board on take-off. It's something that still leaves a bitter memory.

"I scratched three times, but we have got it corrected," she said. "I'm not even touching the line when I start my run throughs. I take four steps away from the line just to make sure I don't scratch."

Last year's state champion in Class 3A leaped 18-feet, one-half inch, with 16-feet, 7-inches coming in second.

It further shows that Burleson at her best is right in the thick of things statewide.

"If I'm jumping like I am now I should be in the top three," she said. "If I jump 18-1 1/2 I should win. But you never know when you get to state. I'm not going to jinx myself saying I'm going to make it because you never know what's going to happen. Everyone is so awesome and it's just a whole different atmosphere at state. Hopefully I'll do okay."

Just making to the state meet as a sophomore speaks for itself. Burleson says the whole experience, running in front of thousands of fans in Jefferson City, has her prepared for the big stage this year.

"Last year I was so nervous -- you know, state!" she said. "It's like the biggest thing you could get to. I've been working my whole life to get there. And then when I was there it was awesome and it messed with my mind a little bit. This year I should be ready and I hope I get through it. The crowd up there is amazing. It's really neat."

While long jump is her best event, she obviously is quite strong at the 100 meter dash.

She's still a ways off from the school record of 12.08 in the 100 meters, but her times are good enough to place at state. Burleson's personal best in the 100 meters is 12.5.

"I want to get about 12.2 or 12.3," she said. "I haven't really gotten to run it yet. It seems like every track meet we've had, the wind's been really bad. It's getting pretty now and hopefully my muscles will loosen up. I don't run very good in cold weather."

She thinks her two relays teams can also make some noise in the district meet.

Her 4 x 100 meter team, along with freshmen Mallory Kennedy, Natalie Hayes and Amanda Pixley, is just barely off the school mark of 50.46 set in 1990.

Burleson and her young teammates have run the event in 51.10 seconds, which would've been good enough to place the girls sixth at state last year.

Dexter head coach Jill Becker says Burleson's presence alone makes her teammates better.

"I know the rest of the girls on the track team look up to her," said Becker. "She's really set an example for all the girls. She's by far the best all around athlete that I've ever seen. She's just a hard worker and she's got so much potential. She will be successful in anything that she does."

Burleson's 4 x 400 meter team consists of the same girls except Heather Russell fills in for Kennedy.

They have run the event in less than 4:30. The school record is 4:22.19.

Last year's eighth place team at the state meet ran the relay in 4:27, so that's another event where the girls are capable of placing in.

"They're really good and we should make it pretty far," said Burleson of her relay teammates. "I've run track with them about my whole life."

Running the extra relay was something Burleson did for herself, and the team, so she decided to drop the 200 meter dash.

"I don't have very long legs and my fastest part of my race is at the beginning," said Burleson. "And I don't have very good lung capacity. I just decided that I'd rather do a relay than do a single event in the 200. These girls are really good and we have a way better chance of racking up points in our relays than we do anything else."

Having the experience of Burleson is like having an extra coach on the sidelines for Becker, who is in her first year as the head coach.

"She's made it pretty easy for me," said Becker. "Having a hard worker like that, I mean, I'd take 10 of her. She's the one we look to for success at a track meet."

Not only there, but she is also a starter on Dexter's basketball team and volleyball team.

"Hannah is the type of athlete every coach wants," said Miller in an interview last year. "It's 'yes sir, no sir,' and it's 100 percent for the team. She never complains and will do everything you ask her to do at a top rate of speed."