Emma Hodapp

Northfield sophomore Emma Hodapp sped to third place at Saturday’s Section 1AA championships at Lakeville South High School, and did so in 12.20 seconds to automatically qualify for the state meet on time alone. It was Hodapp’s fastest time of the season. (Michael Hughes/Northfield News)

The first step for Northfield sophomore Emma Hodapp might seem like the most obvious.

Before the sprinter for the Northfield girls track and field team is anywhere close to racing, she has to make sure her blocks are right. Not close to right, but exactly the same as they are every day at practice and at every race.

After that comes reacting quickly to the gun and taking powerful strides to build up speed. She has to make sure to keep her head and body low until she sees the arrows about 20 meters down the track, where she’ll start to slowly rise up, but not too abruptly so as to maximize her forward momentum.

So far this year, Hodapp has excelled at all of that, including at Saturday’s Section 1AA championships at Lakeville South High School, where she blazed to a season-best time of 12.20 seconds in the 100-meter dash to finish third and automatically qualify for state.

“Her race in the prelims, she had her best start of the year and held the race for about 70 meters,” Northfield coach Karl Viesselman said. “Then Saturday she had that same start and held it for about 95. It was a great race, and she’s right where she wants to be.”

The key to unlocking the 100 for Hodapp has been maintaining the lead gained during those quick starts. She nearly crossed the line first Saturday, if it wasn’t for a stumble in the last couple meters.

“I thought I for sure didn’t get third, but with the time I got I was pretty happy and I was fine with the accident,” Hodapp said.

Still, last weekend was the best two-race stretch of the year for Hodapp, who’s been fighting a hamstring injury most of the year but is beginning to feel like she’s back to full speed.

That allowed her to take third despite a hectic last five meters in a race that saw eight of the nine runners all go below the automatic-qualifying standard for the state meet, which starts Friday at 9 a.m. and continues into Saturday at Hamline University in St. Paul.

This will be Hodapp’s second straight year at the state meet, after snagging second at last year’s section meet and then finishing 13th in the state prelims, .13 seconds out of a spot in the finals with a time of 12.75, which was .23 seconds slower than her seed time.

“It was just not a very good warmup,” Hodapp said. “I didn’t have much time to warm up and it didn’t end up being a good day.”

That lesson’s been learned, and the mistake won’t be repeated this year, she said.

All that’s left to do now is replicate the starts from the section meet, and maintain her good form down the track while staying loose enough to allow her to drive through the finish line.

Those last few steps across the finish line, compounded with the added belief and confidence that’s been gained over the past calendar year, might result in her standing on the podium Saturday afternoon.

“Our job last year was to convince Emma that she belonged in every meet,” Viesselman said. “She was one of the best runners at every meet, and this year we’ve still had to do that a little bit, but I think she’s truly beginning to see that she belongs and she can run with everybody. That part of our job is pretty much over. She’s figured it out.”

Reach Sports Editor Michael Hughes at 645-1106. Follow him on Twitter @NFNSports.

Sports Editor for the Northfield News. Also a California native looking for tips on surviving the winter and an Indiana University grad on the quest for a good breaded pork tenderloin.

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