Maui track youths go national

(From Right) Margaret Reese O’Neal, Jayce Bulosan and Mele Sjostrand sprint the curve Wednesday, running one of their last few practices before the AAU track and field club national championships. -- The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

WAILUKU — Although far from home, seven track and field athletes will proudly wear team Hawaii uniforms in Florida.

Maui’s Cruz Braun, CJ Hamasaki, Margaret Reese O’Neal, Zack Genobia, Duke Kapua, Mele Sjostrand and Jayce Bulosan will suit up and spike up for the 23nd annual AAU National Club Championship at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex from Sunday to July 14.

“They’re pretty cool, it’s white and black with ‘Hawaii’ in yellow sparkles,” Genobia said of their uniforms. His main events are the 200- and 400-meter dashes, but he is adding the 100 this weekend.

“I’m excited, my goal is to at least make semifinals,” he said.

As a sophomore for Kamehameha Schools Maui, Genobia qualified for the Hawaii High School Athletic Association State Track and Field Championships in the 400 and 200 in May.

Zack Genobia and teammate Cruz Braun sprint down the track this week in preparation for the AAU track and field club national championships in Orlando, Fla. -- The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

“I also did Junior Olympics in California last year, so I feel a little more prepared for the competition,” he added.

The AAU stages high-caliber competitions for athletes ages 8 to under 18. The top eight finalists in each race and division qualify for the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Greensboro, N.C., set for July 29-Aug. 3.

The AAU National Club Championship also awards overall team scores.

Coach Rudy Huber said there’s “well over 150 people per age group” and will expect 100 percent from his squad while they are competing.

“They are passionate in wanting to do track and get better,” Huber said Wednesday morning during their last workout on-island at the Yamamoto Track and Field Facility in Wailuku. “They’re a special group of kids.”

CJ Hamaski explodes from the line under the hot sun Wednesday morning. -- The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

Rising sophomore Sjostrand, who also plays basketball for the Warriors, aims to run under 60 seconds in the 400.

“I haven’t raced in awhile, but I think I’ll be faster in the race because it will be in the moment,” Sjostrand said, who also will run the 200. “Having people there that I know will make it less scary.”

Team Hawaii also includes Kamehameha Maui’s Kapua, who will be competing in the flat 100 and 400 dashes as well as the 400 hurdles, and Hamasaki, whose events are the long jump, 100 and 110 high hurdles.

In addition, O’Neal of Lahaina will race the 200 and 400. Bulosan will race the 100 and 200, which are the two main events she competed in at the state championships in May.

Braun is brand new to track and field competition on the Mainland but has traveled for football.

Coach Rudy Huber looks on. -- The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

“I think the competition is going to be really intense over there, I don’t expect myself to win,” he said, who is also racing the 100, 200 and 400. “I just hope to PR (personal record) in all my events, so that’s my main goal.”

And like many of his teammates, Braun continued to train after the HHSAA Track and Field Championships in preparation for nationals.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity. I’m so thankful for it, just being able to travel to that place,” he said. “I think having, like, a purpose over there is kind of fun, too.”

* Dakota Grossman is at atdgrossman@mauinews.com.