Ottawa’s young group has their sights set on nationals.

The Ottawa Track Club, coached by former Ottawa High School standout runner Aaron Miller, has tripled in size in its third year of existence. The program has more than 30 kids between ages 8 and 16, and about half of those who qualified are set to compete starting today at the four-day USA Track and Field Missouri Valley Regional meet at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Missouri. The top five in each event advance to USATF Hershey Junior Olympics July 24-30 at Rock Chalk Park in Lawrence.

“This year, I want to get four relay teams to nationals,” Miller said. “I think we can do it. I think we can get one or two individual qualifiers if everybody has a good day, which it’ll be nice because normally everybody is usually having to do three or four events on one day, and now we are at a four-day meet. It is a good opportunity for someone to run a PR, then get 12 hours of rest and run the next day.”

Ottawa will have relay teams in the 4x100-meter, 4x400-meter and 4x800-meter running, Miller said, along with individuals in an array of events including 300-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, 1500-meter run and high jump.

Miller coaches two factions —a younger group for kids up to 12 years old, and an older group for 13 and up. The teams, comprised of kids from Ottawa, Princeton, Pomona and Baldwin City, regularly practice three times a week, getting in hard workouts on Monday.

Ottawa already has four meets of competition under its belt, including two meets in Grandview, Missouri, one meet at William Jewel College in Liberty, Missouri, and one meet in Olathe. Miller noted his team is currently ranked eighth in the Missouri Valley Region standings going up against much larger clubs from Kansas City.

“It exposes [the kids] to better talent than they see in their school leagues,” Miller said. “It helps them mentally too because they’ll be racing against kids from St. Louis, which is a huge area that has really good talent. We had one girl who picked up like 17 medals last year. The year before she had like one.”

But the main goal for Miller’s club is to push kids to try new things, he said.

“The first thing, with the younger group, I just want to introduce them to track,” Miller said. “I feel like it isn’t a popular sport anymore with the younger age group, so I like to get them out and have them do something they’ve never done before.

“I want the older kids out to get better, work on stuff that they don’t have time to work on during the school year, like a little more one-on-one action. Now is the time to work on their form, and if they can keep that going, when they get back to school they are going to run more smooth mechanically, and efficiently. A lot of kids are all over the place with their running, and I take one at a time and we work on that.”

The track group rose in size rapidly thanks to some athletes who performed well last year, and news spread by word of mouth, Miller said.

“I’ve had coaches come up to me and say, ‘Dang, your team has really grown,’” Miller said with a laugh.

He hopes to get the team to 50 members by next year.