At track practice Brandi Babin can feel the eyes on her.
The Moffat County High School senior sprinter doesn't mind though; she remembers intently watching the upperclassmen when she was a freshman.
"My freshman year I used to watch Jill Adamek (a 2001 graduate) and copy everything she did," Babin said. "Now I notice that girls watch to see what I do in practice."
The last few years the Bulldog girls track underclassmen have had a lot of talented seniors to follow.
The worst the Bulldogs have finished at the regional meet is third place the last five seasons. Babin's freshman year the team finished third in the state.
Seven state qualifiers graduated from last year's team, leaving Babin, senior Ashlee Hafey and junior Angela Nelson as the only returning state qualifiers.
"We are down a bit in numbers this year," said coach Vicki Haddan. "But every single one of the girls out are hard workers and have a great attitude."
As an individual state qualifier in both the 100- and 200-meter sprints, Babin is the most proven returner. She still looks up to Adamek, who sent her workouts to do in the summer. With the extra summer work Babin hopes to be more than a state qualifier this year.
"I've put in the work to hopefully place this year," she said. "I've already completed two workouts in practice."
A three-time state qualifier proud she has finished two workouts?
"I've never been able to finish workouts because of asthma or injuries," she said. "It's a good feeling."
Babin was the anchor on the 400 and 800 relay teams last year. It is a spot she enjoys.
"Everybody knows you are the team's fastest runner when you anchor," she said. "It's a good feeling to know that people are aware you're the team's best."
The people handling the baton before Babin will be mostly different this year. Hafey is the only returning sprinter with state experience. Stephanie Urbanowski could fill one of those spots. She is also the top returning Bulldog in the jumps.
In middle distance, Nelson is in a similar situation as Babin. She was the only non-senior on the 3,200 relay team that finished fifth at state.
Nelson's top-five finish at the regional meet in cross country in the fall established her as one of the Western Slope's top distance prospects in track.
"It will be interesting to see who fills in those other three spots," Nelson said. "I think we have enough good girls to still have a decent team."
Sophomore Mari Katherine Raftopoulos was the alternate on the 3,200 relay and will probably run it this year, and junior Emily Sperl has been running up front in practice for the middle distance crew.
Sophomore Cortney Grandbouche is expected to lead the long distance crew after missing the end of the cross country season with a stress fracture. She was the cross country team's front runner until the injury.
Throwers April Sanchez, a sophomore, and junior Brittani Weber also came on toward the end of the season last year and coach Haddan said they would contribute important points.
"Really the only event we don't have depth in is the hurdles," Haddan said. "We might not have as many girls as we've had before, but I look forward to the season to see what we can do."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org