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Puumala’s perfect performance powers Mustangs

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON - East Marshall senior Melinda Puumala, center, clears the final hurdle in the 100-meter hurdles well before her other competitors on her way to winning the event at the Class 2A state-qualifying meet in State Center on Friday. Puumala won four events and earned four state qualifications in her final district meet.

STATE CENTER — It’s often said an athlete wants to be competing their best at the end of the season, and East Marshall senior Melinda Puumala took that saying to heart.

Puumala was incredible in her final state-qualifying track and field meet of her career, as she finished a perfect 4-for-4 with victories and state qualifications in all of her events at the Class 2A meet in State Center.

The Mustangs finished in sixth in the meet with 67.5 points, 40 of which came directly from Puumala’s efforts.

“I’ve only scored 40 points in one meet before tonight, and scoring 40 points at districts is kind of awesome,” she said, still in partial disbelief. “I am proud that I can wear East Marshall across my chest at state one more time.”

Puumala’s first win in the day came in the 100-meter hurdles, her newest event of the four. She not only won the race, she was the only competitor to run under 13 seconds, turning in a season-best time of 12.80 seconds.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON - East Marshall senior Gage Hulin launches himself off the runway in the long jump during the Class 2A state-qualifying meet in State Center on Friday. Hulin placed second in the long jump to earn a bid to the state meet next week.

She had to stop her actual first event of the day, the long jump, to go run the 100, but after getting her first win under her belt Puumala used that momentum to jump further than she has before. She won the long jump with a season-best distance of 16 feet, 11 1/4 inches, and that came on her first jump of the final heat immediately after her run in the 100.

Puumala wasn’t done there, however, as next she had her two bread-and-butter races, the 100 hurdles and 400 hurdles. She just missed running her season-best in the 100 hurdles, turning in a 15.75 to take first by nearly a full second, but what she didn’t shave off in the shorter race she more than made up for in the longer one.

Puumala capped her day by running a 1:05.17 in the 400 hurdles to win, not just her career-best and another East Marshall school record, but the fourth-fastest time run in the state this season regardless of class.

She said all of her accomplishments on Friday were ones she will remember forever, but there was definitely a hierarchy in how proud she was.

“As far as pride, it’s probably the 100-meter dash, but the most proud of my times/jump would be the long jump and 400 hurdles,” she said. “All my four years at districts, I have not jumped a 16-foot. Then I jumped a 16-11 1/4, almost 17 feet, so I am very proud of myself.”

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

Puumala has been a strong competitor for the Mustangs her entire tenure at East Marshall, but she said coming into the season she wouldn’t have dreamed of winning four events at the state-qualifying meet.

“I didn’t think it was possible, we didn’t know what my fourth event was going to be,” she said. “We knew my three events I was going to do, but then I started experimenting with the 100-meter dash and then I started getting good at it. That’s when [East Marshall girls track coach Trent Taylor] said, ‘OK, no more relay for you, you’re going to be in the 100-meter dash.'”

Puumala was the only East Marshall girl to earn an automatic bid to the state meet next week, but she wasn’t the only Mustang to punch her ticket.

On the boys side there were a trio of qualifications by a pair of East Marshall competitors. Gage Hulin finished second and earned a bid in the long jump with a vault of 20-9 3/4, just surpassing teammate Korbin Seth’s 20-7 on his final attempt in the final heat, and Austin Elliott qualified in both the 100 and 200.

Elliott matched his time in the 100 with an 11.45 and he fell just short of beating his record in the 200 with a 23.31, but he finished second in both events and that was good enough to get him in the state meet.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

“It’s amazing, I have been working really hard this season,” he said. “I was out with a hamstring problem, so I had to work my butt off to get back here.”

Last year Elliott got to compete at Drake Stadium on the blue oval in a relay, but he said this being his first individual qualifications is something special.

“It’s quite the accomplishment, I was talking to coach this year and I told him my ultimate goal was to qualify in the 100 and 200,” he said.

Now that he’s in, Elliott said he has just one goal in mind for the state meet, which starts next Thursday at Drake Stadium.

“I’m going to go for first, that’s all there is,” Elliott said confidently.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON