For the span of a half an hour on Saturday, Jennifer Celis was simply untouchable. Photo by Alan Versaw.
2A's state meet promised an exhilirating showdown between Delta County rivals Hotchkiss and Paonia. And, both programs obliged, bringing the full show over the mountains to Jeffco Stadium. Only Lyons gave even the slightest indication of a willingness to try to keep pace with Hotchkiss and Paonia.
Points traded all day long between Hotchkiss and Paonia, but the general drift of things tilted hard in Paonia's direction.
There was, however, a span of about an hour on Saturday where Hotchkiss had their way. At 11:10 AM, the gun went off for the girls 1600. The field quickly narrowed down to Miriam Roberts of Lyons, Tabor Scholl of West Grand, and Jennifer Celis. Two laps in, it became clear that Roberts' legs weren't going to keep her in the hunt. The field of contenders withered to two.
Knowing that a finishing kick against Celis was likely a losing proposition, Scholl pressed the pace on lap three. Celis didn't so much as flinch, choosing instead to stay in Scholl's hip pocket.
Finally, on lap four, Celis made the pass and dropped Scholl with not so much of a hint of mercy in view. Celis built her lead over Scholl with every stride, ending in a 2A state meet record of 4:58.55. Scholl would also finish under the former record time with a 5:01.01.
Hotchkiss picked up five more points in the 1600 with Natalie Anderson finishing in sixth and Mae Anderson in ninth. Paonia, shut out in the 1600, had seen their margin dwindle by 15 points in less than six minutes. But, hope lay ahead--the next event on the track, the 400, figured to be one of Paonia's strongest.
The 2A 400, however, has lately been more or less the private domain of Jennifer Celis. But, Celis had run state meet record 1600 a scant 25 minutes before the scheduled start of the 400. If ever there was an opportunity for Paonia to exceed their seeds and gain a few points back, the 400 promised to be that opportunity.
Somebody, however, forgot to let Jennifer Celis in on the plan. At 57.84, Celis was a long way behind her PR in the event, but also a long way ahead of Wiggins' Faythe Harris in second. Paonia's Brianna Van Vleet claimed fourth in 59.40, and Ashley Van Vleet took eighth in 1:00.75.
And so Hotchkiss inched closer, reviving hopes that they might be able to catch the Paonia Express before the end of the meet.
Those hopes, however, were short-lived. Regrouping from the 1600 and 400, Paonia owned the remainder of the meet.
Morgan Hartigan locked down first in the shot put with a 39-10. Hartigan came back in the 300 hurdles for ninth, but teammate Taylor Polson kept the points machine churning with a third. Marisa Edmondson and Brianna Van Vleet went 3/5 in the 200. As if all that weren't enough, Paonia added a 50.37 winner in the 4x100, leaving the 4x400 as the lone remaining event of the day.
Hotchkiss is noted for a very strong 4x400, but by the time they got to the line for their opportunity to shine, Paonia already had the meet title in the bag. At the start of the 4x400, the team tally registered Paonia with 94 points and Hotchkiss with 76. Short of inventing a time machine, Hotchkiss had run out of options to win the meet.
So, all that really mattered about the 4x400 was pride. And apparently that was motivation enough for Hotchkiss. The Bulldogs, anchored by Jennifer Celis, ripped 2A's second-ever sub-4 girls 4x400 to edge Paonia, 3:59.78 to 4:01.83. The rivalry, however, is apparently all in the best spirit of athletic competition as anchors Jennifer Celis and Taylor Polson took a moment to squeeze each other's hand seconds before the batons were passed their way.
You had to look hard to find an event from the 2A girls state meet that wasn't touched by either Hotchkiss or Paonia in a big way. Every relay was won by either Paonia (3) or Hotchkiss (2). The only events where both Paonia and Hotchkiss didn't score were the 100 hurdles, triple jump, and the pole vault. And neither Hotchkiss or Paonia even has a pole vaulter. I believe that is a matter of district policy.
Breaking through the rule of Delta County domination were Marissa Storey of Sangre de Cristo, winning both the 100 and 200, Miriam Roberts, winning the 3200, Miranda Mathiason and Kacey Buttrick, winning the hurdles, Monica Drury, winning the pole vault, Logan Hixon, winning the long jump, Sophia Anderson, winning the triple jump, and Brooke Lenox, winning the discus.
On another weekend, Hotchkiss might have prevailed over Paonia, but not with any faults in their overall performance. Paonia simply didn't get caught up in the mistakes this year that made last year's team title a nail-biting kind of affair.
Next year, Hotchkiss has some rebuilding of a serious order to get done. Paonia, however, gets off relatively easy at commencement exercises. Of Paonia's leading figures at state, only Taylor Polson marches to Pomp and Circumstance.