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Despite a successful fall season that brought runner-up finishes at the cross country and tennis state championships, Kelly Walsh freshman Finley Klinger had no idea what to expect in her first track and field season.

“My idea was just kind of to run,” she said recently. “I just came in wanting to do my best and give it all I have. They don’t have a two-mile in middle school so I just kind of go out there and pace myself as I would in a cross-country race.”

So she simply ran. And just as she did in the fall, Klinger now finds herself in championship contention. The two-sport juggler won the 3,200-meter run and took second in the 1,600 at this past weekend’s Class 4A West Regional Meet in Evanston. She’s primed for her first state meet, on her home track, through the ups and downs of the season.

Two of her proudest moments came back-to-back in mid-April with the Roy Peck Invitational in Riverton and the Gary Benson Border War in Sheridan. Klinger swept the mile and 2-mile in Riverton, including a pre-qualifying 11:42.85 in the 3,200. She went on to pre-qualify in the 1,600 in Sheridan with a 5:23.36, which established a new personal record.

“That’s been really feeling good,” she stated. “I’ve been dropping times and I’ve been hitting new PR’s.”

Klinger’s momentum carried her into the home Kelly Walsh Invitational last month, where the wind stiffened later into the day. Klinger’s 3,200 came as one of the final events of the day and she ran the back-stretch of the race straight into a harsh wind. She still won that race but finished in a disappointing 12:30.82.

“That was pretty rough,” Klinger summarized. “The wind was so bad on that back stretch. I feel like I ran my best for the day but I just feel like I could have done better. I pushed myself as hard as I could but that’s all I could hope for.”

She hopes the wind is more cooperative this weekend so she can achieve the goals she’s recently established. Instead of eyeing gold, Klinger’s focus remains on the clock. She hopes to break 5 minutes, 20 seconds in the 1,600 — ideally 5:15 — and has since put the school record for the 3,200 in her sights. She’ll keep going all-out for both marks this weekend.

Klinger will also run as the anchor leg on Kelly Walsh’s sprint medley relay team. Last year was the first time the event was ran at the Wyoming state meet and it’s since become a staple at most in-state track meets. It’s also one of the events that the Trojan freshman looks forward to at practice and meets.

“We all kind of get into groups with the sprinters, distance runners, throwers and all of that at practice,” she explained, “so I like the medley because it incorporates all of us. It gets your sprinters, gets your mid-distance, gets your distance (runners) in there.”

The Trojans’ sprint medley relay team finished third at regionals against stiff competition in both Rock Springs and Cody. Both of those teams can contend for the state championship this weekend at Kelly Walsh’s Harry Geldien Stadium, which the Trojans’ team pre-qualified for ahead of that disappointing mark at regionals.

Klinger hopes they can better that mark. That hope comes from the same mindset that has gotten her to within reach of her goals in the 1,600 and 3,200. In her first high school season she’s constantly improved and gotten to within reach of the school record she hopes to ultimately break.

Her secret motivation? Just run.

“Coach says to run this and I run it,” she said. “That’s what I try to do because the two-mile is so long that if I go out there and think about how many laps, and the wind, then it’s bad. So I just go out and run.”

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Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @BradyOltmans

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High School Sports Reporter

Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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