Taylor Polson takes her turn in pushing the Paonia 4x400 below the magical four-minute barrier. Photo by Alan Versaw.
Sometimes, it's tough being the favorite. Living up to the expectations of being the favorite can take its toll.
And it seemed that was what was happening to Paonia much of Friday and most of Saturday. The team that had successfully done battle with Demons, Pirates, and Bulldogs on the western slope was struggling with their state meet, leaking points at a dangerous clip.
Coming into the 4x400, it seemed as if Akron, a team with deep roots in the history of 2A track and field. would prevail. The team score stood at 86 points for Akron to 77 for Paonia. Akron, however, had no entry in the 4x400. They had missed qualifying for finals in the event by a single place late on Friday afternoon. And so, the Rams were relegated to watching this one out. Those who knew the point tally nibbled a little on their fingernails in anticipation.
It seemed only a matter of waiting for Akron. Paonia had the look of a team running on fumes, and anything less that a first-place finish for Paonia would keep the team scoring weighted in Akron's favor. Moreover, Paonia's cross-county rival, Hotchkiss, had Jenni Celis anchoring their 4x400. Hotchkiss didn't figure to go down easily.
In short, there were a thousand reasons Paonia shouldn't have won. But, four girls summoned the courage to keep that from happening. Not only did they summon the courage, they blasted away the old 2A 4x400 record, running the first-ever sub-four 4x400 by a 2A team. When Ashley Van Vleet took the baton for the anchor leg, there wasn't much question about what the end of the story was going to be.
And so it was that Paonia managed to add a track and field trophy to the existing baseball and wrestling state championship trophies in the school's case.
Make no mistake, though Paonia had leaked some points they were projected to earn, it was still an outstanding weekend for the Eagles. Paonia placed on all five relays, including state meet records in the 4x400 and 4x800. There were second-place finishes in the 4x100 and SMR8. They had a huge showing in the shot put with a second from Morgan Hartigan and a fifth from freshman Taylor Carsten. Hartigan and Taylor Polson went 5-7 in the 300 hurdles. Ashley Van Vleet grabbed a seventh in the 400 and a fourth in the 800, but saved her best lap for the anchor leg of the 4x400.
Akron stood tall on the shoulders of Sidney Merrill and Allyson Vasquez. There will be a lot of reloading to do on the Rams' roster for next year with these two graduating. On individual events alone, these two contributed 39 points to the cause for Akron. In a year of lesser talent in 2A, that total might easily have threatened 50.
Hotchkiss rode some admirable performances from Jennifer Celis, Natalie and Mae Anderson (who, by the way, look and run almost enough alike to be potentially confusing), and a very competitive set of relays to become much more of a team title threat than I gave them credit for being prior to the meet.
Lyons got big performances from jumper Nola Basey and distance runner Miriam Roberts, but couldn't cobble together quite enough points from other sources to overcome this year's big three of Paonia, Akron, and Hotchkiss. As individuals, Basey and Roberts accounted for 49 of Lyons' points.
It was, by any measuring stick, the most competitive 2A girls state meet we've witnessed in a long time.