Moffat County track shines amid ‘weird year,’ coaches expect big future
For the Craig Press
There’s no denying the 2020-21 athletic calendar was an odd one, but for Moffat County High School track and field, after the Season That Wasn’t, even a weird year had its perks.
MCHS girls took 12th and Bulldog boys were 13th among 3A teams to conclude the CHSAA State Track and Field Championships, a three-day stretch that saw state titles in two events, placement in eight additional events, a new school record, and further indication that MoCo athletes will continue to be a big deal in the years to come.
While most running races were in preliminary rounds as part of Day 1, the field events of the afternoon were conclusive as Bulldog jumpers claimed medals.
MoCo sophomore Evan Atkin made it to the 3A boys long jump finals and ultimately placed seventh with a leap of 20 feet, 11 inches.
The jump, his second of the qualifying round, came with a mild wind against him to come up a little short compared to the 22-0.5 that got him to state, though the bundle of athletes hitting the sand pit were each facing similar difficulties in the cool, breezy conditions at Jeffco Stadium.
“I just wasn’t feeling it that day,” Atkin said, adding that after winning nearly every go in long jump this season, he was facing more hardcore competitors for the first time.
Also on the north end of the field was the girls high jump as cousins Emma and Alexis Jones worked on their up-and-over mechanics.
As the list of jumpers was whittled down as the bar rose inch by inch, the two were comfortably among the likely placers.
However, Alexis faced issues clearing the 5-foot mark and was out of the running after three attempts, her final result 4-10, a trying outcome given her personal best of 5-1 reached two weeks earlier during the Multi-Leagues Meet.
“It’s just frustrating when you clear it once, then you can’t get it again for a while,” Alexis said. “I think I hit it with my shoulder. Landing on the bar hurts a little bit.”
Emma, an MCHS junior, comforted her sophomore cousin before taking her turn to vault over the 5-foot height.
“It’s so cool to be able to compete together because then we can support each other,” Alexis said.
The two cousins added that more often than not, organizers running the high jump mention the names Jones and Jones back-to-back, and many competitors have asked if they’re sisters.
Ultimately, the two were side by side on the state podium to get their medals, Emma solo in the sixth-place spot and Alexis tying with two other jumpers for eighth.
The Joneses — including Emma’s brother Hudson, who was cheering on family members from the fence — have been pushing each other in the high jump all spring, usually getting similar results despite approaching the event from opposite sides, Alexis from the left and Emma from the right.
Alexis credited knee surgery for her favoring one side over the other, though her cousin has had no definitive preference.
“I’ve never really tried from the left, I’ve just always done it that way,” Emma said.
While this is Alexis’s first year at the state level, Emma primarily did running events as a freshman, and the more sporadic field format was a welcome change.
“It’s nice to get a rest,” Emma laughed.
The lone running race with no prelims was the 4×800 relay as sophomore Lizzy LeWarne, junior Bree Meats, and freshmen Brook Wheeler and Teya Miller placed 17th for the Bulldogs with a time of 11:10.77.
The running order was unusual for its first and last baton holders, both of whom were used to different positions.
“It was different because I haven’t started yet this year,” LeWarne said. “I was a little nervous since there’s a lot of people and it was all crowded. I think I liked it better than anchoring, there wasn’t as much pressure there. With more people around you, you can pace yourself better.”
LeWarne’s handoff to Meats wasn’t without some trouble, as a cluster of runners during the exchange required Meats to maneuver around competitors.
“It was kind of a mess, but just being here is an accomplishment,” Meats said. “I’m happy with how we ran.”
By the time Meats handed off to Wheeler, runners had started to separate more and the third of the four runners was already strategizing.
“I was trying to stick with Gunnison, but then they took off, and all I saw was Delta’s back and said, ‘I have to get up there.’ I ended up handing off with Delta, so I was pretty happy,” Wheeler said.
Miller served as the anchor, a distinction that was fresh to her.
“That was my very first time doing it, but it was nice to have someone to pace you,” she said. “I think I started my kick too soon, a little bit before the 200, so I was pretty tired on that last 100.”
Though their result was higher on the clock than the time that earned them a state berth, the group was satisfied with their effort by the end of it, clad in cold towels provided by organizers.
Even more so, they are looking forward to the future.
“We have a really young team here; two freshmen, a sophomore and a junior,” Wheeler said. “Next year if we run this race again, it’ll be a lot different.”
While the highlight for Moffat County on Friday was a victory in the 4×200 relay, they weren’t the only group on the podium.
After narrowly making their way into the finals a day earlier with ninth place in prelims, the 800-meter sprint medley relay worked their way up the scoreboard in the finals.
Alexis Jones led off the 100-meter leg, handing off to freshman Antonia Vasquez, with Sadie Smilanich running the 200 leg and fellow sophomore Cayden King wrapping it up with the 400 finale.
The prelim time of 1:56.92 proved to be their best of the season, but the 1:57.62 got them eighth place, beating out Severance.
“That was our goal, to pass at least one team, and we got it,” Alexis said.
The same group had also run the 4×100 qualifying round, albeit in a different order, just shy of the finals, placing 10th in prelims.
Vasquez noted that she had to summon extra strength for the medley after serving as the anchor in the shorter relay.
“It was like I had used everything I had and then I had to do it again,” she said. “Being the youngest on this team, it’s intimidating but it’s exciting. It makes me want to push.”
King was particularly pleased with the medley outcome, knowing it was her last time on the track after a busy day.
Earlier in the day was her turn in the long jump pit, though she struggled to make it into the finals, placing 15th with a distance of 14-11.
“I was really far behind the board on my first one, and it probably would have been 15-something if I hadn’t been a foot behind,” King said. “I’m kind of bummed about long jump, but we made it to state and we’ve still got a few more years.”
While girls got the lion’s share of attention Friday thanks to their state title, the team of Atkin, freshman Ian Hafey, and juniors Taran Teeter and Logan Hafey placed sixth with a new season low of 1:32.88.
The same foursome went on to the 4×400 prelims that afternoon, though they had a significant wait thanks to lightning delays.
That time gap combined with a competitive field helped put them at 3:36.16 in 13th.
Teeter pointed to a difficult jumble of runners when receiving the baton from Ian Hafey on the second handoff that made the race more trying than it needed to be.
“The Coal Ridge kid in front of me and the Frontier Academy kid behind me kind of pushed me and I had no room, so I pushed him back and told him I needed room. That was the only way I could make it,” Teeter said.
The drop in temperature also had an effect as the track was wet from a wave of rain.
“On your feet it doesn’t feel different but internally your body’s colder, you just don’t notice it,” Teeter said. “It’s a lot harder to run fast like that. Everybody’s at their highest level of competitiveness.”
Well apart from the tracksters was senior thrower Corey Scranton, who was the first Bulldog to get going that morning in the discus ring.
Though he won a league championship in the event earlier in the month, his best toss for the day was 118’ 6”, which wasn’t quite enough to move on to the final flight.
“I wasn’t really that nervous. All three of my warmup throws were good,” Scranton said. “I got into the ring and just didn’t explode the way I should have. It just didn’t go the way I planned. I was glad to get out there and compete with everyone.”
For as long as Corey’s father, Lance, has been overseeing the throwing corps, this was the first time he was able to coach one of his own children at state in the rings, though older sons Connor and Cale were high-achieving runners in recent years.
“It’s great coaching, but it’s always great to be able to coach your kid,” Lance said. “Getting to state is just a huge accomplishment for him. It’s been a good run.”
All three have also moved on to college-level sports, with Corey set to join Cale on the Western Colorado University football team.
Now that his youngest has graduated, Lance said the coaching experience will be slightly different.
“In some ways it’ll be a little less stressful, but it’s still all about the kids,” he said.
A state title and a new school record in the 300 hurdles for Logan Hafey was the big story Saturday, but hardly the only one for the Dogs.
Atkin was back in jumping form for the day, taking on the vertical rather than horizontal in the high jump.
He noted a moment Friday when the entire stadium was clapping in unison as the bar was raised above seven feet in the 4A boys contest as Longmont’s Eddie Kurjak attempted to make history.
“That would be fun to have,” he said. “Having a lot of fans really pushes you.”
Atkin set a lofty goal of 6-5, but his final result of 6-2 earned him the bronze and a third trip to the podium.
Atkin wasn’t the only Bulldog jumper this time. Both Ian Trevenen and Evan Beaver waited until Saturday for their opportunity to shine in the high jump.
Trevenen, a junior, took eighth overall by hitting his qualifying mark of 5-10, and while Beaver easily cleared the initial height of 5-8, he struggled to move on from there.
“It felt pretty good today, I just hit it with my hand the last time,” Beaver said. “I was hoping to clear at least six feet.”
The Bulldog freshman said that while the later track season was a change, it had its benefits.
“It’ll help a lot the with the conditioning. I’m getting ready to go to football camp in Rock Springs,” Beaver said.
Back on the track, junior Halle Hamilton and Emaleigh Papierski were taking on the open 200 and 400 dash events.
Papierski edged past fifth-seeded Hamilton in the 200, the two ranking seventh and eighth, respectively, in the finals.
“Lifting more this year probably played a part in that,” Papierski said of her burst of speed in the shorter sprint.
While Emma Jones had placed 12th in the 400 prelims alongside her teammates in the same heat, it was just Hamilton and Papierski in the last round, with Hamilton taking fifth and Papierski ninth.
“I feel like this entire season I’ve been progressing on my approach on how to run the 400 and I have learned to really enjoy that race,” Hamilton said.
Last but not least came the 4×400 finals, an event in which Papierski, Hamilton and Emma Jones had already set a new school record in 2019 with Stephenie Swindler.
Now grouped with Smilanich — who helped break the 4×200 record in early June and win the state title in the same race — the weary team that had finished third in Friday prelims wrapped things up seventh Saturday at 4:11.24, with Western Slope rival Coal Ridge winning the event as well as the 3A team results.
“We were a little disappointed in our time, but we also know that not every race is going to go exactly as planned because that’s the sport.” Papierski said.
Hamilton also stayed positive about the 4×400.
“I feel like at the end of the day, we gave that race a really good effort, and even though we always want to win, it’s definitely a reminder that we are racing against the best of the best in the state and we can totally be up there next year,” she said.
The finale was a bittersweet one for Papierski, the lone senior girl to represent Moffat County at state, whose next stop will be running track for University of Colorado-Colorado Springs
“It really hit me that high school was over after that last race and having to say goodbye to my teammates, but I’m looking forward to running in college to see what my potential really is,” she said.
MCHS head coach Todd Trapp noted that even with a gap year of 2020, an odd schedule, a state meet that was a month later than usual, and everything else that’s impacted the program, athletes have continued to persevere.
“Corey and Emaleigh, those guys have been a huge part of our program, so it’s tough to lose those two seniors, but they’re both going on to do cool things. Still, it was a huge accomplishment for us to do what we do with only two seniors at state.” he said. “It’s been a super-weird year for us to be here at the end of June and still competing, but that commitment from 7 to 9 every morning has been great. It’s hard to balance working in the summer with a sport, but I’ve really been proud of all of them.”
Event, Athlete(s) — Time/height/distance; Placement
110-meter hurdles: Logan Hafey — 16.63; 14; Ian Hafey — 16.87; 17
300-meter hurdles: Logan Hafey — 39.26; 1; Ian Hafey — 41.08; 5
4×200-meter relay: Evan Atkin/Ian Hafey/Taran Teeter/Logan Hafey — 1:32.88; 6
4×400-meter relay: Evan Atkin/Ian Hafey/Taran Teeter/Logan Hafey — 3:36.16; 13
High jump: Evan Atkin — 6-2; 3; Ian Trevenen — 5-10; 8; Evan Beaver — 5-8; 12
Long jump; Evan Atkin — 20-11; 7
Discus: Corey Scranton — 118-6”; 12
200-meter dash: Emaleigh Papierski — 26.62; 7; Halle Hamilton — 26.65; 8
400-meter hurdles: Halle Hamilton — 59.36; 5; Emaleigh Papierski — 1:00.18; 9; Emma Jones — 1:01.67; 12
4×100-meter relay: Alexis Jones/Sadie Smilanich/Cayden King/Antonia Vasquez — 52.4; 10
4×200-meter relay: Halle Hamilton/Emma Jones/Sadie Smilanich/Emaleigh Papierski — 1:45.46; 1
4×400-meter relay: Emaleigh Papierski/Emma Jones/Sadie Smilanich/Halle Hamilton — 4:11.24; 7
4×800-meter relay: Lizzy LeWarne/Bree Meats/Brook Wheeler/Teya Miller — 11:10.77; 17
800-meter sprint medley relay: Alexis Jones/Antonia Vasquez/Sadie Smilanich/Cayden King — 1:57.62; 8
High jump; Emma Jones — 5-0; 6; Alexis Jones — 4-10; 8
Long jump: Cayden King — 14-11; 15
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