LANCASTER — By the time the Lancaster High School-hosted Area Meet at Beverly D. Humphrey Stadium, Ellis County had 11 individual competitors and two relay teams slated for the University of Texas at Arlington regionals.
Three of those athletes in four events came from inside the borders of Midlothian.
Midlothian and Waxahachie both placed long distance specialists in the regional meet. Keila Finnestad finished second in both the 1,600-meter run (5:29.37) and the 3.200-meter run (11:59.17) and was the only Ellis County female runner to reach regionals.
Panther Bailey Belk and Indian Brandon Gilliland earned 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter berths with respective third (4:33.04) and fourth (10:20) times.
Though she didn't claim the area championship after dominating the district meet discus competition, Ross Hutchison, the MHS second-year throwing coach, said Midlothian's first-year hurler has the bloodlines and raw natural talent to be one of the next greats in track and field.
"This is her first year and she's doing phenomenal things bit the crazy thing is she's still climbing," Hutchinson said about the Fijian-born Avisake Bulai. "There's no ceiling to how far she can go. Everything with her is mental. I've seen one other athlete with her type of potential, but I wasn't their coach. She is one-of-a-kind and what's amazing about her is that this is still new to her. Once she gets a foundation and learns how to attack these meets, she's going to be somebody people are going to know."
Avisake's bloodlines run from her parents Usaia and Kelera Bulai and side-by-side with her 27-year-old sister Tavaita Bulai, the No. 3 all-time hammer thrower in San Jose City College history that fell 10 meters short of reaching the Olympic trials in 2012. The Bulai family immigrated from Fiji to Santa Clara, California when Avisake was in fifth grade then moved to Abilene her freshman year.
What sparked the idea to throw the heavy elliptical object for distance wasn't sparked by gentle prodding from the second-year Midlothian student's father or motivation to surpass her sister. It was born from the internet.
"Over the summer I saw a YouTube video, thought why not and tried it," Bulai said. "my sister pushed me to try it, too. Honestly, I didn't think I'd be that good. Don't get me wrong, what I did today was in my best effort but I still never thought I'd be where I am today. Every time I throw the discus, it makes me feel better. I never thought I'd be a thrower, but now that I am, I'm in it to win it."
Her sister, too, was late in the throwing game. Tavaita found the sport in at San Jose City College before transferring to Trinity Lutheran College and accepting a scholarship through the National College Scouting Association. Her final link to the sport, though, was through her Head Track Coach David Flynn and his personal friend and U.S. Army Major Michael Mai.
Mai, a 6-foot-4 and 2-55-pound hammer thrower part of the Army World Class Athlete Program, finished second in both the 2011 Pan American Games and the 2012 USA Indoor Championships.
"It was quite hard and scary at first because of its techniques but I had to get used to it," Tavaita said to the Fiji Sun Online in May 2013. "I started throwing from 40 feet to 120-130 feet after just three months of practicing. Not forgetting that I was also the only girl thrower last year, quite a challenge but it was fun for me because I got to lift, throw and hang out with the guys and it makes me feel tough. Seeing my team mates lifting, I wanted to lift too and show them that I am strong. It makes me feel good too because by knowing this, I get better every day. I got excited knowing that this could be my passion. As the season started, I did well in track but to be honest, when it came half way into the season around April, 2012, I was going through some obstacles, training and trying to make it to class early. Sometimes I would sleep in class, sometimes I couldn’t make it because I was sick, but I never gave up."
Midlothian, Waxahachie and Red Oak High Schools will compete in the UIL Class 5A Region II Spring Sports Championships at the University of Texas at Arlington on Friday at Maverick Stadium.
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.