4x800 sets tone for state competition at Mullen

Far from the big sky of the Yampa Valley and the crisp clean air it holds, the Moffat County girl's 4x800-meter relay showed Colorado they're the team to beat.

The Mullen Invitational, cloaked in the haze of the Denver skyline, was the site of girls' state-wide challenge to all-comers.

Saturday, the 4x800 relay team of Stephanie Hurd, Charlotte Steele, and Laurel and Emily Mortensen, came roaring back from a poor start, with their opening relay split putting them in 13th place after Hurd's leg.

Steele, though, initiated the huge comeback for the relay, pulling them from 13th place into a tie for first.

The sisters' Mortensen were able to take over in the remaining four laps to put the race away for the Lady 'Dogs.

The girls cruised to the finish-line from that point leaving the field behind, winning the relay by 60-meters, and setting the state pace at 9:43.34.

The team ran in the final heat of the relay event, which was made up of the fastest eight teams in the state.

"We sent the 4x800 team to Mullen because we wanted them to go up against tough competition," said girls track coach, Mike Gleason. "They've done so well this year that they haven't been pushed the way that we have wanted them to.

"The Invitational probably has more substantial competition than at the state meet, and the girls showed that they can hang with the class runners in Colorado," he said.

Gleason not only refers to the runners in Class 4A, but 5A as well, since the majority of the 70 teams at Mullen were 5A schools.

Steele's 13th- to first-place comeback in the 4x800 was enough to earn her a split for the girls Trackster of the Week award.

Beth White earned the other half of the Trackster award, qualifying herself for state in the 3,200-meter run at Palisade.

White's qualification makes her one of two girls to qualify for state in an individual event. Jill Adamek is the other, having qualified in the 100-meter, an event she won at Mullen.

Along with the stellar performance by the 4x800 relay, the 4x400 relay team also finished a strong first in its heat, and place second overall.

The 4x400 team is composed of the same girls who make up the 4x800 team.

Heather Urbanoski, the other sprinter who is expected to qualify, will be out at least a week with a stress fracture in her leg. The team hopes to have her back by the next home track meet on May 5.

"Both squads of girls [Mullen and Palisade] had good days on Saturday, and we're looking for more state qualifications before the regular season's done," Gleason said. "I think we have enough quality athletes that it should be no problem."

The boys track team traveled to Palisade on Saturday, and were shutout in all but two events.

Jarrod Burns took first in the 3,200 run, while the 4x400 relay team of Drew Morris, Nathan Browning, Tim Bailey, and Colton Grinolds took fifth place. Browining earned the Trackster of the Week award for his performance on the relay team, his first time running the 4x400.

The boys team's inexperience in competition this year was dealt another blow, as three sprinters were hampered with injuries.

Cody Palmer and Chad Hettinger are day-to-day with hamstring injuries, while Neil Binder is slightly more serious with a torn hip-flexor, which may keep him out for the rest of the season.

"It's a hit losing three guys that you're depending on, but we have a lot of underclassman talent," boys track coach Gary Tague said.

Tague has been impressed with what the freshmen and sophomores have done this year to answer the call of adversity, and he sees good things to come in the young team.

"We've struggled this year, but we have some younger guys who are picking up a lot by being thrown in harder competitions. The competition they get this year, along with the talent they already have, should make them a hard team to beat when they mature a little more."

Both girls and boys track will participate in three meets this week.

The North Park Invitational will be held in Craig on Thursday, and then both teams travel to Frutia on Friday, followed by a trip to Glenwood Springs on Saturday.

Six regular season meets remain, and the Bulldogs will finish thhree of those this week.

"We plan to mainly compete in the weekend meets, and kind of use it as a rehearsal for regionals in May. We saw the fastest girls in state at Mullen, now we just have to get in the mode to run two consecutive days."

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