June 15, 2014

All-Area Spring Female Team: Salinas hoping things keep getting better and better with age

Isabel Salinas’ freshman season for Southeast Whitfield High School’s track and field team wasn’t up to her standards, and she really isn’t sure why it ended up that way in 2013. It could have been her injuries. It could have been not being in proper shape.

One thing Salinas, nicknamed “Izzy” by friends and coaches, does know is that her sophomore year went a lot better.

She trained harder, ran faster, labeled herself a runner and found her season lasting longer. In fact, her season went as long as possible when it comes to Georgia High School Association track competition — she reached the state finals for both the 800- and 1,600-meter run at the Class 4A meet in Albany last month.

Not bad. But Salinas knows she has two more years to do even better.

Salinas was one of the premier athletes in Murray and Whitfield counties this spring, and she scored points for Southeast in both of her races at state, finishing seventh in the 800 and fifth in the 1,600. For her achievements, she has been chosen The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Spring Team’s Girls Athlete of the Year.

The boys team was announced last week, when Coahulla Creek junior high jumper Josh Foxx was selected the top boys athlete among local golf, tennis and track and field participants.

Salinas also was The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Girls Cross Country Team’s Runner of the Year last fall. She joins Dalton’s Eder Mora, the newspaper’s All-Area Football Player of the Year and All-Area Boys Soccer Player of the Year as the only two athletes in 2013-2014 to receive a pair of the paper’s highest honors.

Salinas, who has been a competitive runner since she was at Valley Point Middle School, said people often told her she was a talented runner.

“I knew nothing. I just ran,” she said. “I didn’t start believing it until late my eighth-grade year.”

Her freshman year, though, wasn’t what she expected. She competed in the 800 and 1,600 but didn’t advance beyond the region meet in either event. She considered it “a bad year,” and others wondered what was wrong.

“Everyone tried figuring out what was wrong,” she said. “I don’t know. It’s just a question I can’t answer. I did everything my coaches told me to do. I guess I didn’t take care of myself. I just don’t know what happened.”

Southeast coach Mike Durham has a more direct answer.

“She had some shin-splint issues,” Durham said. “That leads to (a lack of) fitness. We just had to be cautious with her. Any time they were bothering her, we had to shut her down. ... That affects fitness. Basically, she rode the bicycle a lot. Riding the bike and running are two different things.”

Salinas’ 2013 and 2014 season were also two very different things.

This year, she finished first in the 800 and 1,600 at the Northwest/Southeast Invitational, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe Invitational and Gordon Lee Invitational. She was third in the 800 (2:30) and fourth in the 1,600 (5:39) in the loaded field at the Ronnie McClurg Dalton Rotary Invitational. She won the Region 7-4A title in the 800 (2:28.07) and finished runner-up in the 1,600 (5:42.67). At the Class 4A “A” Sectional, held at Carrollton High School, she finished fourth in the 800 (2:26.67) and eighth in the 1,600 (5:33.13).

Salinas, also a part of Southeast’s 4x400 relay team, considered both sides when asked if she expected to do well this season.

“Kind of and kind of not,” she said. “I always think there’s someone out there who can do better than me, but I’m also someone who if you give me the challenge, I’ll take it.”

At Albany’s Hugh Mills Stadium in the state meet, Salinas finished the 1,600 in 5:30.04 and the 800 in 2:25.34.

“It’s an honor knowing I will run with them,” said Salinas, who admitted she was nervous in her first trip to state. “I was like, ‘It’s time to show them what I’ve got.’”

She showed everyone her talents last fall in cross country, which she didn’t start until her freshman season, when she also still played softball. Cross country races are 3.1 miles — more than six times as long as the 800 and more than three times as long as the 1,600.

“Izzy does a little more than most do,” Durham said. “She does cross country and knows she needs to be fit to run the two races.”

In time, she grew to like cross country. While both are obviously running, there are other differences aside from length and training style.

“Track is pretty much more sprinting now,” Salinas said. “So now I kind of like cross country because it has different paces. In the first mile, you can go slower, the second mile build up and third mile kick it. In track, you go (fast) from the start.”

With running now her main focus, she no longer plays softball or basketball.

“I know I’m good at softball and basketball, but I feel I have a better chance getting a scholarship with running,” she said. “Stick with something you’re great at, not something you’re good at.”

Beyond that, she also enjoys the individual aspect of running.

“When you’re running, your mind concentrates on just the track,” she said. “You’re focused. You don’t worry much about what goes on around you.”

For her junior and senior seasons, Salinas’ goal is to win the state title. Durham believes she has the talent, but knows it’s up to Salinas to push herself.

“A lot of athletes think you can run hard and take it easy the next day,” Durham said. “I don’t necessarily buy into that. I like someone who goes back-to-back days hard, and then back-to-back-to-back days hard. Because that’s what happens at state, and that’s what happened at state with Izzy.”

Durham said Salinas needs to “up her mileage” before next spring. If she does, then she’ll become faster at shorter events. Durham said that’s what happened with Southeast’s Corey Barnes once he started running the 400 to help lower his times in the 100 and 200.

“Izzy works hard,” Durham said. “That’s the first step. You need someone to work hard, and she does. If she ups her mileage ... she’ll naturally get a little faster.

“Does she have the ability to do it (win state)? Yes, I think she does. I’ve been telling her since she was a freshman she had the ability to do it.”

Never crossing the line of arrogance or cockiness, Salinas describes herself as having confidence, “but I know not to have too much confidence.”

She hopes that modesty continues her drive toward the top of the podium.

“Last year, I wasn’t on the podium being recognized,” she said. “This year, I felt honored knowing I was up there. I improved a lot, and I felt accomplished.”

All-Area honorees are selected by the newspaper’s sports staff based on input from area coaches. Here’s a look at the rest of this spring’s outstanding performers in girls golf, soccer, tennis and track and field:

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