NEW BRITAIN — For the first time in her three-year track and field career at Bethel, Ava Graham is a state champion.
But it’s not for the junior’s main event — the distances races. Instead it was in the 800-meter run, an event she just started training for this season. She finished in first and won the state title during Tuesday’s CIAC Class MM Track and Field State Championships.
“This was a change in speed for me but I’m happy with how it went down,” she said.
Graham’s title showed once again that track and field is a family tradition. Not only did Ava perform well in an event brand new to her, but so did her younger sister, Talia.
In her first state championship meet, Talia, a freshman, finished fourth in the pole vault after picking up the event this winter.
“It’s just a great experience,” Ava said about competing alongside her sister. “We definitely got a lot closer over this track season because we’re together all the time. And I’m so proud of how she’s been doing this season.”
Tuesday’s state championship 800 was just the third time Ava ran the event this season. The cross-country runner said after suffering a knee injury during the offseason, she added short-distancing training to her practices.
She started in the pack of Tuesday’s race but jumped out into the lead around the 350-meter mark and never slowed down. Running the first lap in 1 minute and 9 seconds, she finished the race in 2:18 to claim the state title.
“It’s just so different than the 1,600 and 3,200,” Ava said. “Those you have to be really strategic, and it’s like you have to have endurance, you have to focus. This one is more kinda of you go and then you sprint.”
In her first state championship meet, Talia finished fourth in the pole vault with a height of 8-feet, 6-inches. After hitting the bar on her first attempt at 7-6, she made three vaults straight before failing her three attempts at 9-feet.
Talia began training for the pole vault this winter after concluding her three-year gymnastics career last year. She always thought the event was fascinating and wanted to try it after watching it during previous meets for Ava and Zoe, their older sister who graduated from Bethel in 2020 and also competed in track and field.
“It’s been interesting. The hardest part for us is not being able to coach her. We don’t know enough about the sport to tell her, ‘Hey, try this.’ But we’re learning,” said Anthony Graham, the girls’ father. “It’s really interesting. It’s kinda like when she was doing gymnastics. Like the first time you see her dismount, there’s a little bit of anxiety, but you get used to it. There’s a bigger mat this time.”
After Talia tried the event for the first time this offseason, she was hooked.
“Right when you get over the bar, it’s just like the most relieving feeling and it’s just like really freeing almost. That’s probably my favorite part,” the freshman said. “It was not as difficult as I thought it was going to be, to be honest. It was obviously hard learning the form and all that.”
Talia also competed in the 100-meter prelims in Tuesday’s meet as the No. 4 overall seed but didn’t qualify for finals with her time of 13.32. An ongoing hamstring injury became too agitated soon after and ultimately caused her to later pull out from the 200-meter dash, in which she was the No. 5 seed.
She said learning how to be handle her injury both mentally and physically is something she’s learned from Ava.
“She taught me it’s a lot of a mental game and that injuries will heal and that you have time to fix them. She’s really pushing that one on me right now especially,” Talia said. “It’s really good to have her here. It’s a support person for both of us, even with like today I was frustrated that I had to pull out of the 200, but she was really supportive of that.”
Ava pulled out of the 1,600 to help rest for the 3,200 after winning the 800. Her teammate Yee-Ying Ng ran in the 1,600 for Bethel instead, while Ava finished third in the 3,200 with a time of 11:45.
Ava and Talia’s combined 21 points helped Bethel to a fourth-place finish in the girls’ meet score.