Moffat County girls speed to state title in 4×200 relay
Timing is everything, and though a lightning delay hit the state track and field championships Friday afternoon, the Moffat County High School girls 4×200-meter relay was well ahead of the storm and ahead of everyone else on the track.
MCHS claimed its first state title since 2016 with first place in the half-mile relay finals at 1:45.83.
Led by junior Stephenie Swindler, followed by freshmen Halle Hamilton and Emma Jones and anchored by sophomore Emaleigh Papierski, the Bulldogs rose from their preliminary ranking to capture a championship.
No looking back
Though the foursome had their best finish of the season during Thursday’s prelims (1:45.28), the prospect of gaining gold in the finals seemed like a lofty task as they were seeded third after the initial qualifier.
Besides being behind Western Slope rival Coal Ridge at No. 2, the Bulldogs knew the team to beat would be Montezuma-Cortez, who broke the 3A state meet record Thursday, achieving a staggering 1:42.61 despite a near disaster for the Panthers during their final handoff, which also nearly knocked Jones off her feet after she handed off to Papierski in the neighboring lane.
The small mistake didn’t hurt Montezuma-Cortez the first time, but another handoff hiccup did them in Friday, which left the door open for another team to step up, which Moffat runners quickly realized midway through the race as Swindler and Hamilton wrapped their segments of the relay.
“I really love Stephenie and I’s handoffs. They’re always so crisp,” Hamilton said.
A stadium-wide announcement was what got their attention that the event was theirs to lose, as spectators were notified of the “three-way tie” between MCHS, Coal Ridge and The Classical Academy while Jones barreled down the straightaway to get the baton to Papierski.
Jones said she was barely thinking about the competition — her only thought was making it to the handoff mark.
“I just knew I had to get faster and get it to Em,” she said.
The two contenders, both Titan teams, were vying closely in the last 200 leg, yet Papierski did her job as the anchor with a final explosion of speed to win it four-tenths of a second in front.
“We pulled away a little bit thanks to their lead,” Papierski said, motioning to her teammates. “I crossed the finish line, and in my peripheral vision I was looking for other girls. Then (the scoreboard) said we were first, and I found them, and we were so ecstatic. The best feeling I’ve ever had in my high school career.”
Minutes after their win, the stadium was temporarily evacuated with lightning in the area and rain coming down, though the group remained charged up for hours.
“We were already excited where they were ranked for the 4×2, but it’s an awesome accomplishment for them to win it,” MCHS head coach Todd Trapp said. “For a junior, a sophomore, and two freshmen, that’s really exciting.”
MoCo girls rounded out their afternoon Friday with a guaranteed spot in the 4×400 relay finals, placing second in their prelim heat and third with a season-best 4:04.96.
Swindler and Hamilton also medaled along with Kelsey McDiffett and Lydia Berkoff in Thursday’s 4×800 relay.
As the oldest member of the 4×2 and 4×4 group, Swindler said knowing they have another season together is a driving factor.
“We’re just so grateful for friends and family and coaches and teammates and how young we are so that we can continue,” she said.
The girls’ 4×2 championship is the first for MCHS track and field in the past three years, collecting 10 total between 2014 to 2016, all of which involved Kayla Pinnt. Pinnt was a three-time state champ in the 100 and 200 dash, a state meet record holder and champion in the 400 dash, and anchored 2015’s 4×2 — with Ary Shaffer, Emma Samuelson and Lauren Samuelson — as well as the 4×100 in 2015 — with the Samuelsons and Selena Hernandez — and 2016 — with Shaffer, Emma Samuelson and sister Quinn Pinnt.
End the season strong
While Papierski had the girls team’s only other event Friday morning — placing 13th in the long jump at 16 feet, three inches — Bulldog boys had an active day with Jesse Earle seeing the most success.
After getting his strength built up Thursday afternoon with a stint in the shot put, Earle began bright and early in the discus during Day 2.
Part of the first flight seeded 10th, he scratched twice in the initial round, but a throw of 135 feet, six inches got him into the finals.
With three tosses left for his high school career, Earle hit distances of 133′ 9″ and a 135′ 7″, the latter of which would be his best of the weekend, placing seventh.
Though he placed higher in the disc last year, fifth, Earle said competing in both throwing events to end this season was part of a spring that was more about enjoyment compared to some of the tension he felt as a junior.
“It’s really nerve-wracking having a lot of people watch at this level, but I’ve had a lot more fun this season than I did before,” he said.
On the track for the boys, Jared Atkin showed he will be taking home medals Saturday in both the 110 and 300 hurdles, qualifying for finals in 300 in fifth place.
Atkin was in run-and-jump action shortly after the guys 4×100 relay, which saw Bulldogs leap up the rankings. Despite being seeded in last place heading into preliminaries, AJ Barber, Victor Silva, Cale Scranton and Kevin Hernandez ended the year with their fastest time yet at 45.15 seconds, ranked 14th.
Barber and Silva joined Atkin and Wilson Eike in the 4×400 prelims to end the day, finishing 17th at 3:40.26.
Moffat County track and field competes in the final round of state Saturday, complete with Caylah Million and Tiffany Hildebrandt in girls discus, Atkin in dual hurdle races, and the girls 4×400 completing the stretch.