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Local club takes on nation's best

Four members of the Alpha Omega track club find success at the National AAU Junior Olympics.

Sue Vien, Ridgewood High track coach, knows all about the difficulties of taking young athletes on the road.

"I'm used to the high schoolers, and those trips can be hard, with the travel and responsibilities," Vien said.

Which makes the performances of six members of the Alpha Omega track club this week all the more impressive. Not only did they have to go all the way to Cleveland to compete in the 1999 National AAU Junior Olympics, but they had to do it without their coach, Vien, who stayed behind for financial reasons.

And one more thing: These weren't high schoolers, but kids ages 10-12.

Stephanie Fleres, 10, Leon Holmes, 10, his sister, Latrasha Holmes, 11, Lauren Connolly, 12, Jessie Barag, 10, and Catlin Morrison, 11, made the trip to Ohio with their families to compete.

Fleres, competing in the bantam division, tied for 18th in the high jump with a leap of 3 feet, 6 inches. Leon Holmes, also competing in the bantam division, finished 13th in the shot put with a throw of 24-1{.

Barag, competing in the bantam division, placed 18th in the shot put with a toss of 17-5{. And Morrison, in the sub-midget division, finished 18th in the discus (46-7) and 24th in the shot put (19-4).

Latrasha Holmes will compete Saturday in the shot put and discus, and Connolly competed late Thursday in the high jump.

"I am so proud of them," said Vien, who has coached Alpha Omega, which was founded in 1988, for two years. "The fact that they're so young, as young as 10, and taking on such responsibility, training very hard and competing, I'm very proud."

The group qualified for the national meet at the Florida AAU Track and Field Championships at Sebastian River High in Vero Beach in June. Five other Alpha Omega members also qualified but could not make the trip for various reasons.

Fund raising helped support the individuals and families who did make the trip, but Vien stayed behind _ this year. Next year's national meet is in Daytona Beach, and she expects a much larger contingent of Alpha Omega athletes to compete.

She also expects to be there coaching and encouraging them.

"I couldn't go. It was a decision we had to make because of finances," Vien said. "But next year, I'll be there.

"We'll be ready for that. We have a long way to go, but we're making big strides."