Kenai Central's Lierin Flanagan is currently ranked No. 1 in the state of Alaska in the 200- and 400-meter dashes on athletic.net. She's also part of the top-ranked 1,600 relay team. Last year, she helped Kenai set a new state record in the 1,600 relay. She also holds school records in the 200 and 400, which she set at last week's Kenai Peninsula Borough meet, breaking her own record in both events.
But Flanagan's top track achievement came in February when she committed Montana State University, an NCAA Division I track program that competes in the Big Sky Conference.
"It's always been my goal to go Division I," she said. "It obviously takes more than hard work to get there. It was definitely a feeling of accomplishment. I was so proud of myself."
Perhaps the only thing more impressive than Flanagan's natural speed is her work ethic.
"She wants to do what you ask and more, and doesn't know it any other way," said Kenai track coach Tim Sandahl, who's been her track coach since middle school.
"If you want to be the best, you have to do whatever it takes to be the best," Flanagan said. "You have to do that if you want to succeed. You can't expect yourself to succeed without hard work."
"She just has to win," Sandahl added. "She does not ever give up. It doesn't matter how far behind."
Trailing in races isn't familiar for Flanagan. Out of 12 events she's competed in over the last three Region III meets, Flanagan has 11 first-place finishes. The only race she didn't win was the 400-meter dash her freshman year. She took second to Maggie Miller of ACS.
"That's a pretty amazing record," Sandahl said.
Toughness, too, ranks high on Flanagan's list of attributes.
"She can run into the pain better than anybody I've ever seen," Sandahl said. "It does not affect her. I've never seen anything like it.
"Every day I ask her, 'How ya feelin'?'" Sandahl said. Flanagan always responds, "Feelin' great," he said.
It's the resilience that Flanagan has gained from growing up in Alaska that will enable her to succeed next year, said MSU head track coach Dale Kennedy.
"They have the toughness and the character to work against the environment and almost thrive on it," he said of Alaska natives. "That's the kind of attitude you really have to have coming into Montana."
Over her four years of varsity track, Flanagan's times have decreased. That might sound like a no-brainer, however, it's a rarity for female athletes, according to Kennedy. He said many girls have difficulty repeating their performances from their freshmen and sophomore track seasons.
But Flanagan is an exception.
"She's kind of defying that norm and she's getting better as a senior," Kennedy said. "We felt really fortunate to get Lierin."
MSU's interest in Flanagan began via the Internet. She filled out an athletic questionnaire, including her top times, and received a call from Kennedy. After an official visit to campus, Flanagan said she was 75 percent sure she'd attend MSU. She considered other options over the next couple months, but decided on MSU in January. Flanagan plans to earn a degree in exercise science.
Compared to other schools Flanagan visited, Montana had a certain, unexplainable sense of reassurance.
"You just kind of know," she said. "I just felt comfortable there."
Flanagan's scholarship pays for half of her schooling. As her times drop, that scholarship can increase, she said.
Of course, Flanagan's times impressed Kennedy -- she ran a 56.84 400 this year, beating the current state record of 57.14 set by Bartlett's Andrea Crook in 2006. However, state records can only be set at state meets. But it was her other intangibles, commitment and courage to name a couple, that peaked Kennedy's interest in Flanagan.
"We were impressed with her character, her values," he said. "She funded some of her visit to the school, which told us there was a high interest level on her part. That went a long way with us."
The jump to Division I will be a big one.
"This is a significantly higher level from the high school scene, that's for sure," Kennedy said.
"The level of competition will skyrocket," Flanagan said.
More than 20 runners in the Big Sky Conference have run 56s in the 400 and 10 have broken 25 seconds in the 200, Kennedy said. But Flanagan should make the transition without a problem, he said.
"She's looking like a young lady that can for sure compete in the Big Sky Conference," Kennedy said.
Flanagan, too, said she's prepared for the challenge. She said she knows what to expect and is dedicated to working long, difficult hours.
"I know it's going to take up a lot of my time, but as long as you do something you love, I don't consider it something that's taking up your time," she said.
While the goal is to develop Flanagan into the best runner she can be, Kennedy is expecting her to contribute to the team in her first season.
"We're gonna need Lierin to step in and compete as a freshman right away," he said.
"That's definitely really exciting," Flanagan said. "It just pushes me even more to do even better."
Flanagan, who also played volleyball and basketball, said she likes the individual side of track.
"The cool thing is, individually, it's your destiny," she said. "You decide for yourself. If you mess up, you're to blame."
Being a three-sport athlete was another attractant for Kennedy.
"I think there's a real upside for three-sport athletes that haven't focused on just track," he said.
Kennedy said high-schoolers that participate in many sports have more room for growth than kids who only focus on one.
"I always say, 'Be an athlete first and specialize later,' and she's done that," he said.
At the college level, Flanagan will train year-round for track, which will also help her improve, Kennedy said.
"I'm definitely really looking forward to it," Flanagan said. "I guess I'm just excited to see how I'll do training all year round."
Likely, Kennedy said he'll have Flanagan run the 400. But with her speed, she could be an effective 800 runner, he said.
"It remains to be seen," Kennedy said. "We'll try to develop her speed side first before we try to develop the stamina side."
Flanagan's drive for excellence stems from her family.
"I've always grown up with a family that has always pushed me to do my best," she said. "In anything, not just sports, you have to set goals for yourself and push yourself to get better."
That's what she likes best about track.
"If you put in 110 percent, you'll see improvement," Flanagan said. "That's almost better than winning."
Flanagan doesn't just push herself, she encourages the entire team, Sandahl said.
"She's very, very positive," he said.
For the opening 45 minutes of each practice, Flanagan's the boss, Sandahl said.
"I really just keep my mouth shut. She's in charge."
But when it's time to take orders from the coach, there's no one more attentive.
"She's supercoachable," Sandahl said. "She's a really good friend, too."
Mishler completes final season as member of St. Cloud State swimming and diving team
Landon Mishler, a 2006 graduate of Kenai Central High School, completed his final season with the St. Cloud State University swimming and diving team. St. Cloud State is located in St. Cloud, Minn.
Mishler's season highlights included a 50 butterfly time of 26.85 seconds and a 50 freestyle time of 22.71 seconds. The Huskies placed 19th at the 2010 NCAA Division II Championships.
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