Prescott’s Makennah Mills to run in 4 events at Jr. Olympics
PRESCOTT – For the second straight summer, Prescott High distance runner and hurdler Makennah Mills has qualified for the USA Track and Field (USATF) National Junior Olympic Championships.
And while that’s an impressive accomplishment in and of itself for the 16-year-old junior, this year Mills said she’s confident that she can medal in more than one event. In 2015, Mills placed third in the 2,000-meter steeplechase.
“Mostly I just have to get in the mental statement that I need to be [in order] to do well in my races,” Mills said on Thursday. “Just trust my training, trust that everything’s going to follow through and make sure not to push myself too much.”
Mills, a varsity cross-country and track star for the Prescott Badgers, will be running in the 400m hurdles, 1,500m, 3,000m and the 2,000m steeplechase at nationals July 25-31 in Sacramento. She posted fast enough times in those four events at the Arizona Junior Olympic State Championships and at regionals in Albuquerque this summer to advance.
An athlete can compete in no more than four events at nationals.
“I feel like I have a really good chance to medal in some of my events, especially the steeplechase and the 1,500 meters, and maybe the 3,000 as well,” said Mills, who’s been running track since the sixth grade in Prescott. “With the hurdles, I’m mostly just doing it for the experience because there’s a lot of tough competition there in that.”
At the 2015 nationals in Jacksonville, Florida, last July, Makennah ran in two events, the 1,500m (one of her strongest events) and the 2,000m steeplechase. She didn’t make it past regionals in the 400m hurdles and chose not to run the 3,000m at the Junior Olympic state meet.
This year has been a different story, though, as Makennah’s become more determined to keep improving. Born in Edinburg, Texas, on the southeast Texas-Mexico border, Makennah has lived in Prescott with her family since age 3.
“Last year still it was very new to me and it was very exciting being in all these huge meets,” she said of running at the Junior Olympic level. “But this year [at nationals] I’m going to be more mentally strong and focused, and ready to pull out some really good races.”
Makennah’s mother, Yvonne, said her daughter “chose to set a very aggressive schedule for herself [in 2016], hoping to do well enough to move on to the national meet where the events would be more spread out [during the meet].”
“It’s really aggressive because I go from event to event, and all of the events are hard in their own ways,” Makennah said. “I believe my events are almost the four hardest events you can choose. But they are spread out to the point where I won’t feel like I’m still exhausted from the first event.”
Makennah runs the 400m hurdles on July 27, the 1500m and 2000m steeplechase on July 28, and the 3000m on July 29, at Sacramento State University. The semifinals and finals are set for the same venue on July 30 and 31. She will drive to California with her family on July 25.
At regionals in Albuquerque, Makennah finished the 2000m steeplechase in 7 minutes and 39 seconds, surpassing her previous personal-best time by more than half a second. At 2015 nationals in Jacksonville, Makennah placed third overall in 7:39.35.
Makennah said she enjoys the 2000m steeplechase because, as Yvonne says, it’s “a unique event that requires a special skill set – the combination of distance and hurdles.”
“I like the steeplechase a lot because it’s fun and it’s a very challenging race,” Makennah added. “The experience of doing it is just very valuable.”
In addition to training for the USATF Junior Olympics this summer, Makennah has been preparing for the upcoming varsity cross-country season at Prescott High in the fall. She said cross-country races have sharpened her mentally, pushing her to keep running despite the fatigue factor.
“After nationals I’m definitely going to be switching gears more towards cross-country and focusing on making that season the best it can possibly be,” she said.
Next spring during track, Mills intends to run the 1,600m and 3,200m, as well as the 100m and 300m hurdles, at meets.
“I definitely have some strong suits; I’m still finding them,” she added. “But until then, I’ve just got to keep myself very versatile and just try a lot of different things.”
After running two more seasons for the Badgers, Makennah wants to compete in college. She likes the experience that Junior Nationals is giving her – allowing her to run in front of large crowds while gaining exposure.
“It gives me something to work towards all summer – working towards a goal to do well at these meets,” she added.
The USATF National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2016.
USATF representatives say Junior nationals “is the most visible youth athletic development program in the world.” Many Olympic track-and-field stars in the modern era have cut their teeth at the meet.
Athletes gain entry to nationals based on their performances at the preliminary, Association and Regional levels of the 2016 USATF Junior Olympic Program.
Nationals features six two-year age divisions, spanning primarily from the ages of 7-18.
USATF reps add that nearly 70,000 athletes compete annually in the Junior Olympic Track & Field and Cross-Country programs.
The USATF Nationals will be streamed live over the Internet at www.usatf.tv from July 26-31. A subscription is required to watch most events and may be purchased at plus.runnerspace.com.