Grand Junction's Micky-Dunn track meet may have been a preview for the state class 4A 800-meter race and the chance of an upset it might hold for Palisade's queen of distance events Natalie Hughes.
Hughes, a senior, is the three-year defending state champion in the 800, 1600, and 3200 runs, and is the favorite in all three events this year, but the queen was nearly dethroned Saturday by Moffat County senior Emily Mortensen. The two runners went head-to-head in the final lap, the third-place runner was at least 50 meters behind the pair. Mortensen and Hughes were side-by-side going into the last 100 meters, it wasn't until the last 20 meters that Hughes pulled ahead to win.
"The two girls know each other and have competed against each other through high school, so they're fairly familiar which each other's styles," Coach Mike Gleason said. "I have no doubt in my mind that Emily will run as good a race as she did today against Hughes at state, and I wholeheartedly believe that she'll beat Hughes."
The exemplary performance in the 800, though not a win, assures Mortensen a place at state, and decreases some of the pressure of the regular season.
Mortensen and her team also qualified for state in the 4x800 relay, which took first place at the Micky-Dunn meet. Mortensen, her younger sister Laurel, junior Charlotte Steele, and senior Stephanie Hurd are members of the state-qualifying relay team.
The relay team was able to reach two goals at the meet. One was to run to a first-place finish. The other was to qualify for state by breaking the 10-minute mark. The team finished in 9:58.77.
"People were saying it was too early in the season for the girls to break the 10-minute mark, but after the record-breaking run they had at state last year, I had faith in them," Gleason said. "After Saturday's race, I expect them to just continue getting faster as the season goes on."
The 4x800 relay team broke the state record last year, only to have that record broken 21 hours later by Highlands Ranch. The record now stands at 9:21.72, and has a good chance of going down even further this season.
Moffat County runner Beth White was on track to qualify for state in the two-mile run, but a premature final lap bell stopped many of the racers. White continued on, but the entire race was thrown out.
Sprinters Jill Adamek and Heather Urbanoski finished first and second in the 100, with both runners qualifying for state. The race also held a surprise performance by freshman Brandi Babin, who earned a fourth-place finish.
Babin went on to win the 200, and qualify in that event.
"The sprinters did especially well considering how cold it was on Saturday. The cold can really slow down a race or hurt the racers," Gleason said.
Bulldog Jeni Jones made a high jump of five feet, and earned a second-place finish, while teammate Krystal Voorhees cleared 4-10, her highest score of last year, and earned a fourth-place finish. Voorhees also had a fifth-place finish in the triple jump.
"I'm pleased with how we did during this first meet. Most people would come up and tell me that the team looks like they're in mid-season shape. How can't you be pleased with that?" Gleason said.
The girls will take next week off from practice and enjoy spring break, though they will not be discouraged from practicing on their own, Gleason said. The team will not compete again until March 24, when they travel to Hotchkiss for a coed meet.
The girls will be short two teammates when they travel next. Seniors Emily Mortensen and Krystal Voorhees will be traveling with their physical education class, an extreme sports class that will take them to Moab and the Grand Canyon.