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Malaki Connella will head off to Lane Community College in the fall to pursue track and field.

DALLAS — Last year, when he was first nominated as the I-O’s Athlete of the Year for boys track and field, Malaki Connella, who recently graduated from Dallas High School, said soccer was his passion — over track and field.

“I have a lot more passion for soccer; I’ve been playing my whole life, so I think my heart’s in soccer a lot more,” he had said.

Fast-forward to this year, and things have changed.

After a successful track and field season, walking away with state championship titles in the 200- and 400-meter races, Connella is headed to Lane Community College in Eugene to pursue track and field.

“I chose Lane because I think it is a good opportunity for me to excel and move on to the next step in my track career,” Connella said. “I’ve talked to the coach and I’ve only heard great things about the school. Everyone seems pretty friendly.”

Connella said he plans to complete two years at LCC and then transfer to a four-year university.

University of Oregon would be his first choice.

“That’d be pretty sweet,” he said.

Going from last year, where he took fifth in the 100 and was disqualified in the 200, to capping his season off this year with two titles is a stark display of personal improvement.

“Well last year I had a lot of competition, because I was still a junior and I was competing with all upper classman at state,” Connella said. “And so, obviously, this year those seniors weren’t there. And I think my head was in a better place. I was a lot more passionate about track this season; I had a lot more drive and I was much more focused on what I wanted at districts and state.”

In addition to the 200 and 400, Connella was also a member of the 4x100- and 4x400-meter relays.

He said he figured he would do well throughout the season, but there were some surprises he didn’t see coming.

“I didn’t expect to do as well in the 400, honestly,” he said. “I kind of surprised myself with that. I didn’t expect too much out of myself, but at the end of the season I was pretty impressed with how I did. The 100 and 200, I’ve always been doing those, so the 400 was a little new for me. So I wasn’t expecting it (a title) in the 400, but I worked for it and it’s what I got.”

Not only did he finish first in that race, he also set a personal record by crossing the line in 49.30.

Head coach Bill Masei had nothing but good things to say about Connella.

“Malaki has been a force in our league the last four years,” Masei said. “A two-time state qualifier, three-time league placer and four-year letter winner, and state champion this year, caps off to an impressive four years at Dallas High School. Another thought is, considering he trained as a 100- and 200-meter sprinter on the football turf since we didn’t have a track and won a 400-meter title, it is very impressive. He has been a great leader by example, a type of athlete who never looks to get noticed, but just works hard each day in practice and crushes the competition.”

Collegiate competition is what Connella is excited about as he prepares for the next step as an athlete.

“I’m looking to run some more and win. That’s all I want to do,” he said. “Just win, keep getting better, keep beating my times, be at the top, that’s what I’m going for. I love running. I love competing.”

The question is whether or not he plans on pursuing soccer anymore.

“Maybe if it comes up somehow, but I think track is more my thing,” he said. “Soccer is always fun to me, but I don’t think that’s the plan for me right now. I think I’m more focused on track.”

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