Solana Quistorff pulls away in the rain on the final lap of the Twilight Girls Elite 3200. Photo by Alan Versaw.
The only real obstacle to the meet schedule going as planned was a brief lightning delay in the early afternoon. The daytime set wrapped up around 6:30 giving the air some time to cool, the wind some time to die, and the out-of-town spectators opportunity to sample the Dutch Clark cheese goo.
As the sun set and the lights went on at Dutch Clark, anticipation began to build toward the elite heats of the 1600 and the 3200. For those who have never experienced a distance carnival, it is quite the exciting spectacle. Alternating heats of boys' and girls' distance events build up to a crescendo of elite seeded athletes going blow-for-blow to see who can push their own limits the hardest.
For many an elite distance athlete, it is not uncommon to find yourself as the number one seed by a wide margin at some invitationals. This was not the case in the elite 1600s. There were six girls seeded under 5:20 and a whopping 11 boys under 4:30.
With a dead flag stick and a brilliant crispness to the air, the girls' elite 1600 race went off first. In what looked like quite the battle of attrition, the lead pack held on to sub-five-minute pace through 800 before it started to thin out just a little bit. By the end of 1200, the only two left standing as title contenders were the current meet record holder, Kaleigh Kroeker from Pine Creek, and Delaney Fitzsimmons from Mountain Vista. As the race wound down, Kroeker began to pull away ever-so-slightly and eventually took home the meet title at 5:05, just shy of her meet record 5:03 from her sophomore year.
The Cheyenne Mountain duo of Veronica Brtek and Madison Lambros crossed the line next in 5:09 and 5:13. Savanna Dalton from Castle View and Ava Barrier from Pueblo West rounded out the crew of girls running better than 5:15. For those paying attention to the world of small school track and field, Cassie Unruh from Skyview Academy laid down a very nice 5:30.
To say that the boys' 1600 field was loaded would be quite the understatement. Any time Marcelo Laguera, the defending 5A state cross country champion enters a distance race as the #5 seed, there are bound to be some fireworks. Also toeing the line were fellow state champions Eric Hamer from Palmer Ridge and Ben Butler from Skyview Academy. Oh and just in case you had not heard, William Mayhew of recent 4:11 prowess at sea level was standing on the inside lane as the 1 seed.
There were a considerable number of spectators who had to be told to get off the fence leading up to and during the race; such was the excitement for this battle. The lead pack of boys went out hard at just over sixty-two seconds. A different boy took the lead on every lap.
There is something different about elite level distance runners. There is a willingness to accept the difficulty of a situation and bear the moment with a certain amount of courage. The only way to get faster is to push past previous limits and find new ones. As six boys crossed the 800m mark under 2:10, this race developed in to exactly that sort of moment.
Jostling around in the thinning pack of elite boys, William Mayhew surged into the lead with about 550 meters to go in the race. Nobody was backing down from the torrent of the pace, but Mayhew just seemed to have more gas left in the tank at what appeared to be the critical moment.
The script read that Mayhew, he of the fastest seed time in the state, should do what he has been doing all spring and kick himself away from the crowd for the win. Someone forgot to read the script to Fountain Valley's Dominic Carrese. With 250 meters to go, Caresse began a furious kick, putting aside Laguera, Hamer and Butler. With 175 meters to go Caresse locked strides with Mayhew and the duel was on.
With faces drawn and neither willing to back down the two exploded down the final straightaway. Caresse managed to explode just a little more and pulled away for the win 4:14.50 to 4:15.28. It was easily the fastest 1600 run by a high school athlete on Colorado soil this spring.
Behind the lead pack was an exceptionally interesting battle between the 3A, 4A and 5A state champions. Ben Butler found his kick to have the most momentum on the evening locking down third place 4:18.62. Hamer was next at 4:18.63 followed by Marcelo Laguera at 4:19.30.
Five boys ran faster than the old meet record set by Mayhew in 2014 at 4:21. This 1600 went down as one of the most competitive in recent memory and well worth the price of admission and whatever distance covered in big yellow bus to arrive.
Up next were the 4x400s. After the battle for the ages that was the boys 1600m, the 4x400s were not nearly as spellbinding. Mountain Vista ran away with the girl's crown at 4:09.83 over Pueblo West's 4:11.57. The boys' team from The Classical Academy also demolished the field with their new meet record of 3:26.80. Manitou Springs did not cross the line until a respectable 3:34.13. Jefferson Academy, fighting for their State lives, won heat two and third place at 3:37.86.
A gentle off and on rain greeted the 3200m fields. The American flag mounted to the pole in the south end zone lay dormant and the temp hovered in the mid-60s keeping the racing conditions pretty ideal. Well, at least the flag lay dormant through the early heats of the 3200. By the time the girls elite heat left the start line, however, a steady breeze was blowing tiny raindrops into the competitors' faces all up and down the finish straight.
Cami Kennedy came in to the 3200 with the top seed in the race, but as the drizzle descended on the Dutch Oven, it was Solana Quistorff who stole the show. Quistorff kept the crowd at bay and won 11:39 to Kennedy's hard fought 11:43. Not far behind in third was Hannah Capek from Palmer Ridge at 11:44. Maddie Mullen from The Classical Academy (11:47) and Caroline Smetanka from Mountain Vista (11:53) rounded out the top five with new season-best marks.
With much of the firepower entered in the 1600, performances in the boys 3200 were slightly more subdued, but certainly nothing to turn up a nose at. The heat sheet featured eight boys seeded under ten minutes with the duo from Mountain Vista, Paxton Smith and Tyler Matzke at the front.
The field ran fairly packed together for the first three laps. At one point there were still people running in lane three on lap two.
The pack eventually thinned down to Forrest Barton from Castle View, Smith, Tanner Norman from The Classical Academy and Corey Lewenkamp of Custer County. Barton started subtly accelerating away from the lead pack and eventually broke the field and went on to win 9:41 to Smith's 9:44. Norman went stride for stride with Barton for most of the last stretch of the race and hung on for third, just missing second place, but also nabbing 9:44 and a new personal record. Alamosa's Isaiah DeLaCerda then outkicked Lewenkamp, 9:48 to 9:50, for fourth place.
In all, Lewenkamp may have had one of the more impressive nights in Pueblo. Lewenkamp was one of the few athletes to attempt two events on the evening, also running the 1600 in 4:27. Perhaps equally impressive was the fact that 16 boys came out of the 3200 with marks under 10:00. Certainly a strong argument for attending a distance festival near you.
Advertising itself as “Sprints in the Sun, Distance in the Dark" has paid huge dividends for the Pueblo Twilight. It will be interesting as time goes on and some perhaps grow weary of all-day invitationals with events run under less than ideal event conditions if other meet directors adopt similar schedules.