Siblings in Stride

<p>Staff photo by E.J. Harris Pendleton High School siblings Hannah and Joel Boozer have both qualified to compete in hurdles at the 5A state track meet in Eugene.</p>

Long before Joel and Hannah Boozer came to realize their long, athletic bodies would bode well in the hurdling spectrum, Jodi Bettineski had a hunch.

Six years ago Bettineski, Pendleton’s hurdling coach, took a cursory glance at the lanky and fleet-footed siblings who’d just moved to the Round-Up City from Cottage Grove.

The two already boasted primo measurables and a brand of athleticism to thrive in the hurdles, the former Southern Oregon University hurdler thought.

So when the two breezed to district titles to qualify for this weekend’s OSAA Track and Field Championships, Bettineski’s initial thoughts were validated.

The Boozers return to their stomping grounds in Eugene at the University of Oregon, with Joel seeded fifth in the 110 hurdles and the Hannah sixth in the 100 and 300 hurdles.

No longer leaning on raw ability has been their biggest coup this season. They’ve become fluid in each stride and believe the offseason work will equate to a nice spot on the podium.

“I would say that both of them this year have perfected their hurdle form and have become sprinters at the same time,” Bettineski said. “They both have become faster. They were hurdlers first, and became faster later.”

In the beginning, though, they were into other things first, track and field later.

It didn’t take long for 5-foot-11 Hannah, also a varsity volleyball player, to give her allegiance to track when she stopped playing softball in junior high.

“I just remember someone asking me, ‘Hey, you’re pretty fast and tall, do you hurdle?,” Hannah said. “I said no because I was playing softball, but I ended up trying it and really liked it.”

It took her 6-foot-5 brother a little more convincing.

Joel began his first few years as the reluctant trackster whose real passion was on the hardwood. As a freshman and sophomore, the high jump was even more of a priority to him than hurdling.

Pendleton’s leading scorer and rebounder the last two seasons, Boozer — a two-time all-Columbia River Conference forward — figured basketball would help pay his college tuition.

When the collegiate basketball recruiting wasn’t coming in droves, he figured he’d put his eggs in one basket heading into the spring.

While Hannah had the luxury of using the winter to condition, Joel couldn’t hone in on his respective event until March. When he did, though, he focused on one thing in particular.

“My form,” Joel said. “Now I can get down to the ground faster and make my times between each hurdle better than previous years.”

His personal best this season, 15 seconds flat, is almost a full second ahead his top time in 2013 (15.87). He qualified for state, but didn’t earn a spot in last year’s finals.

His swift progress this season caught the attention of NAIA Lewis-Clark State, where Joel recently signed a letter of intent.

Track has supplanted basketball as his primary athletic pursuit, which Bettineski believes will bolster his progression even more.

“I really see him maturing as a track athlete,” Bettineski said. “He’s figured out what it takes to be good. I could see Joel being very successful in the 110s and getting down to (14 seconds).”

Joel, the free spirit of the two siblings, has learned to love the individualized pursuit.

“It’s my own individual thing,” he said. “I don’t have to rely on teammates. It’s all me. I just love being in a race. I love the feeling of it.”

Hannah, who takes a more reserved, business-like approach, has also improved substantially.

Last season she topped out at 16.77 in the 100 hurdles, almost a second slower than her 2014 state-qualifying time (15.83). She only qualified for state in the 300 hurdles, where she went on to finish eighth.

She, too, pointed to the improvement of her form.

“It feels a lot more fluent to do the hurdles now,” she said. “It’s just felt right doing them this year.”

Pendleton head coach Nicole Stewart was quick to point to Bettineski’s effort in helping develop the two.

“I really appreciate the special relationship (the Boozers) have with her,” Stewart said. “Every year since she’s coached, Pendleton has sent a hurdler to state. I think these two can finish high on the podium.”

Joel agreed.

“I think we can finish higher than what we’re seeded,” he said.

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Contact Ryan Collingwood at rcollingwood@eastoregonian.com at (541)-966-0839

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