Girls win gold in 4×200 at state
Moffat County High School team takes back the top of the podium in relay
For the Craig Press
The Moffat County High School girls track stars may have had to wait a full 25 months to climb back to the top of the podium, but the sensation was well worth it.
MCHS took the gold Friday in the 4×200-meter relay, run by Halle Hamilton, Emma Jones, Sadie Smilanich and Emaleigh Papierski.
The first-place time was 1:45.46. The foursome had previously broken a school record with their mark of 1:44.8, which had qualified them for state.
The win was the second in a row for Hamilton, Jones and Papierski, who were on the state champion team in 2019.
And the conditions were oddly similar to two years ago, both on the Jeffco Stadium track and in the sky above.
Right around the midday timing of the 4×200 relay races in 2019 was when the state championships went to a lightning delay, promptly after MCHS girls won the event.
This time around, the 4x200s as a whole were interrupted by a hazardous meteorological status in the area.
And maybe that’s part of why Bulldogs were so electric.
When Papierski crossed the finish line in 2019, it took her a moment of shock before she realized she had just run the final leg of a state championship jaunt.
On Friday, her jubilation was obvious well before she crossed the finish line, again serving as the anchor carrying the baton its last 200 meters with a particularly large smile.
“I think the first time I was surprised, but this time I was really confident,” she said. “We trust each other so much that we knew we could do it. We knew we had to defend it.”
Papierski’s first title came as a sophomore, and though she couldn’t run track at all as a junior due to the COVID-19 sports shutdown, the need to succeed was just as strong in her final year at MCHS.
“I knew I had to do it for my team. All I could think about was getting the win for them and getting to that line so we could celebrate,” she said.
Starting things on the right foot
Before Papierski could wrap things up, she needed her teammates to put her in a good position, and the Dogs couldn’t have asked for a better beginning to their half-mile relay.
Hamilton adjusted her blocks meticulously as she readied for the starting gun, though she admitted the ritual was mostly working off nervous energy.
She took off with her trademark explosiveness, a level of momentum which fellow junior Jones took over on the next leg to get a lead on the nearest competitor.
“That handoff was so good, it was literally perfect. I knew I was right in line with Liberty Common,” Hamilton said.
As opposed to the 2019 4×200 — in which Hamilton, Jones, Papierski and then-teammate Stephenie Swindler entered state as the No. 3 seed — the Bulldogs were the undeniable favorite among 3A teams.
“We all worked really hard because we always want to one-up,” Jones said of the effort this season.
And, despite being a few steps behind Liberty Common during preliminaries — each team won their heat Thursday — Hamilton and Jones knew they were capable of big things in the finals.
“It felt like we didn’t really compete against them that day, so we were still really confident going into it,” Hamilton said.
First-time state champ
Midway through the race saw Jones pass the baton to Smilanich, the only member of the Bulldog 4×2 who wasn’t part of the 2019 revelry.
But, if she hadn’t already proved she belonged in the lineup after helping break a school record in early June, the sophomore team member further showed her speed and determination as she whipped around the curve to meet Papierski on the back end.
Smilanich said she was running almost angrily at the prospect of anyone getting ahead of her finals, somewhat of a shift compared to the sizable lead she’d had in preliminaries.
“This time there were some girls I could see and last time, there were no girls I could see. I was really mad,” she said. “I was running as hard as I could because I didn’t want anyone to pass us.”
Smilanich was particularly ready for the 4×200 finals, her third of four Friday relay races. Besides moving on to the 4×400 preliminaries at the end of the day, she had also been in the mix for MoCo’s morning 4×100 prelims with Alexis Jones, Cayden King and Antonia Vasquez and placed eighth in the 800 sprint medley relay with the same group shortly before the 4×2.
“That was a very good warmup. Woke me up,” Smilanich said of the earlier races.
Being the newbie could have caused a runner to feel some pressure, but Smilanich said she only felt kinship.
“I didn’t feel that much pressure, honestly. I knew we were all in it together,” she said. “We’ve got such a team bond that we just push each other to do our best.”
Whether it was their first, last or second state title, each member of the quartet was celebrating with the same loud, joyous intensity before going up to the winners’ circle for their gold medals.
For Papierski, the win was a wonderful finale to a senior year that saw her take home the MCHS Outstanding Female Athlete Award.
“I definitely ended my high school career pretty good,” she smiled.
As for the younger athletes, they intend to be back at the peak of the podium again in 2022, hopefully after shaving more time off the school record.
“If we keep working the way we are, I think we can do it,” Jones said.
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