Ashley VanVleet's speed at 400 and 800 meters has helped make Paonia the new Goliath on the 2A girls block. Photo by David Pressgrove.
For the rest of this week suspend your knowledge of the fact that most 2A schools have less than 10% of the enrollment of most 5A schools. 2A girls may have the most intriguing team state title race of them all. If you love drama, buy a bucket of popcorn, sit down, and enjoy this one.
There are four teams in the title hunt in the most serious sort of way. From Delta County on the western slope come Hotchkiss and Paonia. From north of Boulder comes Lyons, And from somewhere out where the Lark Buntings sing from the sky above comes Akron. Four proud programs. Four powerful programs. All with a common, but mutually exclusive, purpose.
And it's very tough to pick a favorite.
Paonia doesn't have a state track and field title in the history of their school, so they will come in as the sentimental favorites of many. A freshman class that included Ashley VanVleet (400, 800) and Taylor Carsten (SP, DT) has been a huge game-changer for the Eagles. Paonia has always been among the better 2A track and field programs, but they've found a new level this year. Brooklynd Erickson, Morgan Hartigan, Taylor Polson and a killer set of relays make it difficult to run and hide from this team.
Lyons wears the title of defending state champions and they won't be going down without a serious battle. Miriam Roberts has stepped up her distance game in a serious way this school year. Her distance points this year will not be coming in nickel and dime kind of quantities. Nola Basey is a solid presence in the jumps. Amber Boyington should be among the top-scoring pole vaulters. Like Paonia, Lyons keeps coming after you with relays, but this year Lyons' upper hand in relays does seem to have passed to Paonia.
Hotchkiss, just down from 3A this year, has a whole stable of middle distance and distance talent in Jennifer Celis, Natalie Anderson, and Mae Anderson. Kelli Buhrdorf and Kyle Hodges add some sprint and throws scoring punch. Relays once again are solid in Kelly Cowan's camp. Hotchkiss probably has less margin of error than either Paonia or Lyons, but they are definitely a team in the hunt. The biggest decision here had to have been coming down to a count of four events for Jennifer Celis.
Akron, the traditional queens of relays, have de-emphasized the baton this year and put top-tier athletes Sydney Merrill and Allyson Vasquez almost exclusively in individual events. The relays are still good, maybe just not as dominant as the last several years. Akron will need a big day at the pole vault pits to stay in contention with teams with a greater breadth of weapons.
Dolores, Lutheran, and Sangre de Cristo will collect their points, but simply do not seem to have the requisite depth to overhaul any of the top four.
Events not to be missed:
400 Meters - Sure, Jennifer Celis is the favorite here, but the race could get very interesting with Kathryn New, Kendall Horan, Ashley VanVleet, and Rachel Hough in the field. A lot of this race could come down to who has the best set of legs left on Saturday morning. Celis has survived nicely into Saturday on two previous 3A meets, so she is probably not going to appear on the suspect list.
3200 Meters - Give Rachel Hampton a preliminary nod for bringing in the best seed time. But nobody is going to simply run away from Tabor Scholl and Miriam Roberts. Figure there will be at least of few laps of testing of the wills before this lead pack breaks up.
4x400 - I candidly admit that the quality of this relay will depend heavily on how the legs are loaded, but this one could come down to a cross-county showdown between Hotchkiss and Paonia. If so, it should be a dandy to watch at the end of the meet--all the more so if Paonia and Hotchkiss are both still alive for the state title.
4x800 - The 4x400 may end it all, but the 4x800 pretty much kicks off the scoring. Figure this one to be very tight between Hotckiss, Paonia, and Lyons. Points earned here will almost certainly become critical as the meet progresses.
Long Jump - Nola Basey of Lyons versus Brooklynd Erickson of Paonia. This is another event where the final outcome of the state meet figures to do a little turning.
Shot Put - Eboni Nash of Eads versus Morgan Hartigan of Paonia. A win here would be big for Paonia, but Nash doesn't figure to fall to second on anything but the most exceptional kind of throwing by Hartigan. The 2A shot put is vastly improved over last year.