Saturday will mark the beginning of the busy season for both girls and boys track, when the teams travel south of Delta for the Hotchkiss Tournament. From there the team will participate in a meet a week on average.
The Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs are used to running in a tournament immediately after spring break, but Hotchkiss presents a new meet on a new track, the Class 3A school renovated its facilities last year.
The meet will be one of the last times teams will participate in a non-qualifying meet this season. A non-qualifying meet is one that holds no significance other than to get the athlete's out on the track in live races.
"It's the kind of meet that works really well as a measuring stick to how we're doing in the season," Coach Mike Gleason said. "I like it because it gives me chance to refine our races, and figure out who going to run what events come districts."
The tournament will draw approximately 18 teams from around the state, and might include the top Western Slope Conference (WSC) teams from Rifle and Palisade.
Both Moffat County squads will travel sending the varsity and junior varsity teams, but will be short-handed this week because of state band competition and a number of field trips being scheduled.
For the boys team, this means that many of the missing upper clansmen's traveling positions will be filled by freshman, a proposition which coach Gary Tague doesn't mind. He feels it will give the underclassmen a chance to gain some much-needed experience on a team which is untested as a whole.
The boys will count on a number of team leaders to set the tone at this meet, Jarrod Burns in the distance events, Nate Browning in sprints, and Matt Sheldon in the throwing events are all expected to fare well in their matches. Cody Palmer will be the Bulldog jumper to watch. The weather has stifled much of the jumpers spring preperation, holding their first rehearsal of the year in the outdoor pits during Monday night's practice.
"Overall, as a team, we're really untested, and need to use a meet like Hotchkiss to get out on the track and compete. It will be a good time to just let the kids run, jump, and throw since we haven't done that against opposition yet this year," Coach Tague said.
The girls, who have competed in a qualifying meet once already this season at the Micky-Dunn in Grand Junction, look to use this race as more of a dry run for the later races in the year.
The team already has commanded respect in Class 4A competition this year, pulling in at a close second to Denver's Mullen in this week's state rankings. The girls are one of two teams in the WSC to be voted into the top 10. Palisade, home of distance standout Natalie Hughes, placed fifth, but the Lady 'Dogs have little to fear in WSC competition according to Gleason.
The girls will also be missing many of their upperclass athletes going to Hotchkiss, including 800-meter standout Emily Mortensen. She will also be the missing link in the 4x800 relay team. Participants in the two races were the first of the girls' events to qualify for state.
Gleason is not worried about the absence of many of his older runners for this fledgling meet, feeling that while it will present an opportunity to better the team, it doesn't hold as much consequence as later meets will.
"That's the thing about track, you don't need the season record to have a successful season, it all comes down to those last races at districts," he said.
The next chance for both sections of the track team to qualify will be the following April 7 in Meeker. Most all of the field-trips and band competitions will have drawn to a close, and will allow the team to compete at full strength.
Tague and Gleason both feel it is early in the season to pass any real judgement about their teams, saying that foul weather has caused a late start for the team.
The coaches don't see the last start as an overwhelming disadvantage to track competition, in fact their view is the opposite.
"So many track coaches push to get out on the track as early as possible, and then push their kids right away when they get out there, that can cause some real problems down the road in a season. That's why I feel that our program does so well, we have to take the emphasis off of early season track and hone in on the later meets," Gleason said.