Track and field started as an afterthought of sorts for Prairie’s Meri Dunford.
She didn’t participate in a spring sport entering high school and several of her friends ran track. The then-freshman figured: “I might as well try it out.”
She won nearly every 1,600- and 3,200-meter races that year, finishing with a second-place state finish in the former. Four years later, she is preparing to run for Brigham Young University.
She ends her Falcon career as a three-time state medalist in track and field, a three-time state podium finisher in cross country and was an all-league first-team basketball player this past season. She has also been named The Columbian’s All-Region female multi-sport athlete of the year.
“I’ve played three sports all four years of high school. That’s a lot of hours in the gym, on the soccer field or on the track,” Dunford said. “Being able to spend all those hours with people I love and are fun to hang out with has made it just so memorable.”
Dunford never predicted she’d flourish on the track. But when she excelled to such great heights in her first season, she made the commitment to drop her once-favorite sport, soccer, for cross country in the fall. At the time, it was a difficult decision.
“Looking back as a senior now, I can’t imagine having not done that,” she said.
She finished on the state podium all three years of cross country, capping her career with a 10th-place finish this fall.
On the track, she never got a final chance to showcase her growth after the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to spring sports. She finished third in the 3,200 and second in the 1,600 at state her junior year. She holds school records in both events and had her eyes on setting a record in the 800 this spring.
Instead of having a state medal or two on her neck, Dunford’s final appearance in a Prairie uniform came on the basketball court in a sport she pondered giving up to prepare for her senior track season. She was a key reserve on the 2019 state championship Falcons’ girls basketball team and already had a BYU commitment awaiting her on the track.
“I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind, but I’m so glad I did play,” Dunford explained. “We came together as a team and saw what we could really do when we worked together.”