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Clevenger's natural talent invaluable for Rockets

Published: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 12:22 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 9:04 a.m. CST
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(Michael Krabbenhoeft/mkrabbenhoeft@saukvalley.com)
Rock Falls' Dallas Clevenger has shown a knack for succeeding on the track, even in events she hasn't had much experience in. This skill has made her one of the most valuable members of the Rockets' team.

Dallas Clevenger had no idea what girls track coach Brian Diaz was thinking.

The first-year coach entered Clevenger in the triple jump at Westwood during one of the first meets of the indoor season, and the junior didn't know how to perform the jumps.

"I didn't want to do it because I didn't know what I was going to do." Clevenger said. "I ended up scratching all four times. It wasn't good."

But Diaz was on to something. Clevenger practiced the technique and the next time she was entered in the event, she set a school record of 34-feet.

"She isn't near her peak at all," Diaz said, "and she already has the school record. For my first year, I couldn't have asked for anything more."

But she wasn't done. Like the triple jump, Clevenger's first time running the 800 didn't turn out well. She was in seventh grade, and the 800 was longer than she had ever ran in a meet.

So during the race, she and a friend ran side-by-side and talked throughout the two laps and got an earful from her coach at the end.

"When we were done she was yelling, 'You can't talk and run, what are you doing?' " Clevenger said. "I hated it. It was so long and I never ran it again until high school."

Naturally a strong sprinter with powerful legs, she wasn't happy when coaches asked her to run the 800, but she floursihed. She helped take the 3,200 relay team to state along with the 1,600 team her freshman year.

Sophomore year, she ran a leg on a state-qualifying 800 relay team, and now Diaz and distance coach Mark Truesdell have entered her in the open 800, and the results have been exciting.

Her top 800 is a 2:21, which came at sectionals last season, and she is closing in on that time again this year.

She is a natural athlete and says that her greatest ability is her speed and have been trying to stretch her out and use her speed for mid-distance races like the 800. The race has gone from hate to tolerate, but is growing on her, and she has goals of reaching state in the 3,200 relay and the open 800.

She has a legitimate shot. Her 800 time is already better than the 2:23.34 Class 2A time standard and her triple jump is eight inches away from the 34-8 distance required.

"We would like to put her in more sprint events, but she is just so good at the mid-distances races," Diaz said. "She'll get used to it. It seems like the farther the race is, the better she gets."

Her recent success has drawn the interest of Truesdell, who is also the cross country head coach.

He has been trying to get Clevenger to forgo her favorite sport, volleyball, in the fall and join his cross country team and has pulled out all the stops to change her mind.

"There are a bunch of [girls] that have came up to talk to me at meets," Clevenger said. "Some I don't know and others I do. They all tell me I would be great at cross country."

Truesdell noticed her explosiveness in the 800 and liked how she stayed strong throughout the race. It was also evident that she could pick up something new with relative ease and make an impact right away.

"She says she doesn't like the distance, but I just need to convince her she has the ability," Truesdell said. "The rest will come. She is a probable D-I prospect with the things she can do."

Clevenger won the 800 at last Friday's Rock Falls Invitational, and Truesdell didn't waste an opportunity to recruit Clevenger.

"[Truesdell] is trying to get her to do cross country," Bureau Valley distance runner Regan Weidner said, "and I told her to definitely do it.

"Just running against her, I know she has a lot of talent and she would be great."

Clevenger beat Weidner at the invite by several seconds, and it shows how far she has come in the little time training for the race.

"She's a stud," Rock Falls coach Brian Diaz said. "She's the strongest girl I've seen run. She's that girl you need everywhere."

"The more she runs we will see better things to come, and I can't wait to see it."

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