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Chelsea Pettit proved she can keep pace with some of the top distance runners for her age group in the nation.

The resident of Savage competed in the USA Track & Field National Junior Olympic Championships July 24-29 in Walnut, Calif. She took ninth in the 1,500-meters in the intermediate girls division. Pettit was one of 6,000 athletes from around the country competing. Entry to the meet is based on qualifiers through state and regional  Ninth at nationals.Chelsea Pettit: Ninth at nationals.meets.

“It was a great experience,” said Pettit, who will be a sophomore this fall at the Academy of Holy Angels. “I had never competed in such a big event like that before. I ran my best time in the finals. I had a really good race. There were a lot of really talented runners there. I definitely want to try to make it back next year.”

Pettit’s time in the finals was 4 minutes, 51.49 seconds. The top 12 runners qualified for the finals. Pettit had a time of 4:53.02 in the preliminaries, which placed her 11th. So she moved up two spots in the final race.

Pettit qualified for the national meet by taking second in the 1,500 at the Minnesota regional meet July 13-15 with a time of 4:53.95. The top three finishers moved on to nationals. Pettit was also sixth in the 800 with a time of 2:25.51.

Pettit has big plans for her next three seasons on the Holy Angels girls track team. One of her goals will be to qualify for the Class AA state meet.

“That’s what I’m hoping for,” she said. “That would be really cool if I could get there.”

Last year, at the Section 6AA meet, Pettit competed in the 3,200 and finished 10th with a time of 11:50.15. She also was on the Stars’ 4 x 800 relay team that took fourth with a school-record time of 9:34.66, which was roughly seven seconds off the state cut (9:27.85). Pettit was fourth in the 1,500 at the Missota Conference Championships and the 4 x 800 relay won the conference title.

Pettit understands she still has a lot to improve on if she wants to make it to state in high school in the next three years. Perhaps, the way she ran at the junior Olympic meet will be her breakthrough performance. Competing against some of the top runners in the nation for her age group and hanging right with them can only help her confidence.

Pettit hasn’t been running track all that long. She grew with soccer as her primary sport. She decided to go out for track to try something new.

“I thought track would help with soccer,” said Pettit. “But I think I might be a little better at track. Both sports are great for cross-training.”

Pettit said she’s also learning the ins and outs of running a distance race. Competing in one- or two-mile races isn’t just about pacing yourself. Good runners know when to hang back, set the pace or make a move.

“I try to go out there with a plan,” said Pettit. “I’m learning every time I race. There’s definitely more to it than just running.”