New school record, outdone expectations at state mark bright future for Moffat County track and field
LAKEWOOD — With Saturday bringing with it a new team record, a competition that nearly didn’t happen, and a bet with some slippery stakes, never let it be said that Moffat County High School track and field athletes don’t make their season exciting right up until the very end.
MCHS girls tied for 11th overall and boys 22nd among the crowd at the 3A CHSAA State Championships, as seasoned Bulldogs combined with first-year competitors to ensure the program has a strong future.
For the record…
The very end of the three-day event for MoCo girls brought with it a bit of history in the making as the Lady Dogs quartet of Halle Hamilton, Stephenie Swindler, Emma Jones and Emaleigh Papierski proved they had one more surprise in store.
The group broke the MCHS record for the 4×400-meter relay at a time of four minutes, 1.27 seconds, a day after the same set of runners clinched a state title in the 4×200.
Though they were hoping to grab the gold for a second time, top team Alamosa and runner-up The Classical Academy had just enough energy left at the end of the day to stay in front of Moffat County, despite an early lead for the Bulldogs.
Much like Friday’s preliminaries, Lilly Lavier of the Mean Moose broke away as the Alamosa anchor, remaining uncatchable in the final lap.
“I knew she was gonna be fast,” Papierski said, adding that her plan was to stay in step with TCA. “I was close, but it was tough.”
With the bronze honors for the day, the names Hamilton, Swindler, Jones and Papierski will live on in a bigger way on the track and field record board at MCHS, just over one second faster than the previous one-mile relay best (4:02.3) set during 2016’s banner season.
However, Swindler doesn’t expect the new record to stand long, with the group already looking to outdo themselves next year.
“We’ll see how long that lasts,” she said.
The MoCo junior has been to state track each spring, though serving as a mentor to younger athletes — sophomore Papierski and freshmen Hamilton and Jones — brings back fond memories of running alongside teammates who have since graduated and made a big impact on how she viewed the sport.
“Those girls back then taught me at a young age how to deal with the competition of running as a freshman, getting my nerves up and helping me with all of it,” Swindler said. “Super-thankful we’ve got a young team like this, so we’ll still have more opportunities next year.”
Even well after the final race of the school year, Jones said she is still amazed with the first year of high school she and Hamilton shared, which included competing at state cross country in the fall as a prelude to the track season to come.
“It’s crazy that it’s already over, but I’ve had a really helpful team that’s helped me push myself harder. This being my first year, they helped me think I can take this. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my team,” she said.
The place to be
Altogether, MCHS track and field visited the podium for eight events across three days.
Thursday saw Swindler, Hamilton, Kelsey McDiffett and Lydia Berkoff in eighth place for the 4×800 to kick things off for the Bulldog momentum.
As a senior in her first time at state, Berkoff said she was pleased with being part of a group effort to succeed at the highest level.
“It’s something I’ve been working on all year,” she said. “Last year I only ran the 800 once and hated it, but they told me relays would be my best bet to go to state. I barely made it, by like a second.”
With discus thrower Jesse Earle placing seventh Friday and the girls 4×2 winning the whole shebang, more placements were yet to come Saturday, one of which came with a wild wager.
A bet between discus competitors Tiffany Hildebrandt and Caylah Million served as extra motivation to throw with all their might in the opening rounds. The two agreed that if either of them didn’t qualify for finals, they’d be forced to swallow a goldfish.
The honor went to Hildy, who placed 15th overall and followed through on the stunt — with a gag — just before Million moved on to the next tier.
With a final mark of 100 feet, nine inches, Hildebrandt said she was at peace with not ending her high school career with a medal, rather focusing on the good times.
“I think the thing I’ll miss the most is how close our throwing team was and all the memories we made,” she said.
As Million stepped into the ring, her goal was twofold: beat her previous best this season — a throw of 116 feet, nine inches that won her a 3A Western Slope League title — and to rank higher than the ninth place she earned at 2018’s state meet.
The greater distance wasn’t to be, though her final throw of the season amounted to 109′ 2″, pushing her past the nearest competitor by a mere two inches to place eighth.
She noted her aim in the middle of the sector was the sun within the red “C” from the state flag, painted atop the word Colorado in fancy script.
“I was pretty surprised that I made it. It’s been so competitive this year,” she said.
The view from the opposite end of the podium wasn’t drastically different from a year earlier, though Million noted it’s one step closer to the possibility of a state title in her upcoming senior season.
MCHS throwing coach Lance Scranton said the state event doesn’t always bring with it peak performances, though he was pleased with Million’s results.
“Focus isn’t always what you want it to be in this last week, especially for upperclassmen, but all of them did well this season,” he said.
Jared Atkin climbed the podium steps not once but twice Saturday, cruising through prelims in both the 110 and 300 hurdles, ready for his last chance in each for the final day.
Atkin leapt to fourth place in the shorter race, matching exactly his personal record in the 110, 15.19 seconds, which he admitted was a minor frustration with his goal to break 15 flat.
The afternoon saw him run his best race ever in the 300, placing fifth and trimming .04 seconds from his PR for 40.55.
While he had hoped to move to the high 39’s, the journey isn’t over for him, as he plans to run hurdles and relays this fall at Gunnison’s Western Colorado University.
“It’s bittersweet that it’s over, but it’s nice being able to come out and get two medals after the false start I had last year,” he said. “It’ll be good to be around the top kids in Colorado and other states all in one school at Western.”
Between hurdle events, Papierski and Hamilton were side by side in the 400 dash, seeded seventh and ninth, respectively. After hitting a PR 58.79 in prelims to qualify for finals, Papierski stayed in seventh at 59.5 in the race won by Alamosa’s Lavier, whereas Hamilton made it to eighth with 1:00.09, squeaking past Lavier’s teammate, Allyssa Romero.
Though Papierski and Abbe Adams were the only Bulldog jumpers listed when the state heat sheets first came out May 12 — Papierski eventually finishing 13th in long jump Friday — another member of the girls team learned later in the week she’d made the cut as well.
MoCo coaches were already planning to bring Alayna Behrman as a possible substitute for relays, though she was confirmed as a triple jump competitor after a shake-up in the attendee list.
Behrman didn’t take the qualification for granted. Entering the event ranked 18th, she reached a PR of 33′ 8″ to make it to the top 10 who would move to finals. Her next three attempts wouldn’t quite reach her new best, leaving her a heartbeat away from the podium, but she was thrilled with the experience.
“I’m really happy,” she said. “I didn’t expect to even be here, much less get a PR here with such other good triple jumpers. I guess what I learned is don’t really doubt yourself. A lot of things can happen at state.”
For MCHS senior AJ Barber, the three days of state came with a mixed bag of emotions. A disqualifying handoff attempt in Thursday’s 4×200 prelims hit him hard though not hard enough to break his spirit.
Barber led off both the 4×100 and 4×400 relays Friday with a sense of purpose, the former proving especially successful as the Dogs, including Victor Silva, Cale Scranton and Kevin Hernandez, moved from last place in the rankings to 14th with their season best 45.15.
“It was my first year at state, so I’m glad it was a good one,” Barber said. “I’ll miss a lot about this, like the competitiveness of it.”
While teammates had events spread out during multiple days, high jumper Adams wrapped her time at state early Thursday afternoon. Though she didn’t record a height during her attempts, the minimum 4′ 10″ was a bit much to start.
“I’m still pretty proud of myself and everyone else for making it this far,” she said.
While there were some improvements she would have liked to make in hindsight, Hamilton had no complaints about the culmination of her freshman year.
“I just loved every part of it. It was such a good weekend,” she said.
MCHS head coach Todd Trapp said while he wasn’t necessarily expecting a championship and broken record to round out the spring, he wasn’t surprised either.
“At the beginning of the season, you can never really predict those things, but we thought we had a chance of breaking that record,” he said.
He added that with senior Quinn Pinnt — the last member of a 4×100 state champ team from 2016 who has yet to graduate — out of commission after surgery from a basketball injury, that changed the dynamic of the girls team, to which athletes responded well.
“We knew someone would have to develop, and we had multiple kids that stepped up. On both teams,” he said.”Every day they worked hard to get the results they had. It’s not immediate, but the goal is always to get stronger each week.”
Athlete(s) — Final time/distance, place
Victor Silva — 11.67, 14
Jared Atkin — 15.19, 4
Jared Atkin — 40.55, 5
AJ Barber/Victor Silva/Cale Scranton/Kevin Hernandez — 45.15, 14
AJ Barber/Jared Atkin/Victor Silva/Logan Hafey — No time, 18
AJ Barber/Wilson Eike/Victor Silva/Jared Atkin — 3:40.26, 17
Jesse Earle — 135′ 7″, 7
Jesse Earle — 42′ 4″, 17
— The team tied for 22nd among 3A teams.
Stephenie Swindler — 13.34, 17
Emaleigh Papierski — 58.79, 7
Halle Hamilton — 1:00.08, 8
Stephenie Swindler/Halle Hamilton/Emma Jones/Emaleigh Papierski — 1:45.83, 1
Halle Hamilton/Stephenie Swindler/Emma Jones/Emaleigh Papierski — 4:01.27, 3
Halle Hamilton/Kelsey McDiffett/Lydia Berkoff/Stephenie Swindler — 9:56.55, 8
Abbe Adams — No height, 16 (tie)
Emaleigh Papierski — 16′ 3″, 13
Alayna Behrman — 33′ 8″, 10
Caylah Million — 109′ 2″, 8
Tiffany Hildebrandt — 100′ 9″, 15
— The team tied for 11th among 3A teams.
With an above-average snowpack following a snowy winter, local firefighters and wildlife experts are expecting a mild fire season this year, especially at higher elevations.