“I was floored by how much they rallied and how poised they were”
by Than Acuff
Coaches Laura Daniels and Ann Weise couldn’t have really asked for much more out of their athletes as the small and young crew rose to the challenge, posting a number of personal records and stepping up on the podium at the 2A track state championships last weekend.
The team had already exceeded their early season expectations as nearly half of the team, 12 total, made the trip to the big show despite not having a single senior on the squad. Furthermore, the Titans were spread throughout a number of track and field events carrying the Titan colors in sprints, distance events, and hurdles, as well as the long jump, high jump and triple jump.
“I am really proud of our small team. I’m really proud of the representation,” says Daniels.
With such a young team, though, nerves were the biggest concern for Daniels since only a couple of the Titans had been to the state championships before. And while the coaches had the team tapering and relaxing all week leading up to meet, they, and every other track team throughout the state, were hit with a huge curveball—snow.
Thursday’s events were postponed, then Friday’s events were postponed and organizers were forced to cancel all preliminaries and squeeze the championships into two frantic days.
“With all of the weather delays, I started to set my expectations lower,” admits Daniels. “The two-day delay had potential for the weekend to self-destruct.”
As a result, the coaches and Titan athletes were left to fill two days with random activities as they awaited the start of the meet. The coaches scrambled to get the kids some time at the mall, some time at a water park, a mandatory study hall and then hit a rec center for additional activities including a light track workout to keep things loose.
“There was a lot of restlessness, a lot of aimlessness,” says Daniels. “We didn’t do a lot on the track but it was really helpful for the kids to do something.”
Finally, Saturday morning hit and the team headed to Jeffco Stadium and while they had remained loose during the delay, once the team reached the stadium and got a glimpse of what the state championships really look like, Daniels saw some nerves start to take over.
“When we finally got there, I think it really hit some of them,” says Daniels.
Fortunately, junior Sydney Petersen was the first Titan to compete as she lined up for the first event of the weekend, the two-mile. Petersen is no stranger to the state championships and when the gun went off, she was off, latching on to the lead pack to remain within striking distance and hitting all of her splits as planned prior to the race. By the time Petersen was done, she had shaved 19 seconds off of her previous personal record (PR), breaking the 12-minute mark for the first time in her career with a time of 11:53.98 and finished seventh for a spot on the state podium.
“She ran a fantastic race, the race we’d been dreaming about for her,” says Daniels. “She ran really smart the whole way.”
Sophomore Josh Merck was next up, lining up for his first event ever at the state championships, the 200 meters. While new to the scene, Merck was anything but nervous setting a new PR by a second to finish in 13th.
“He is just so calm and collected and did everything right,” says Daniels.
Meanwhile sophomore Tate Young was all alone lining up for both his high jump and the triple jump events. And while he fell shy of his goals in both events, Young more than made up for it as the opening leg of the 4×800-meter relay.
Due to the delays and the number of schools at state, the relays were unbelievably chaotic with 18 teams all lining up together for relays.
“It’s awesome—it’s just so intense but it’s also madcap chaos,” says Daniels.
Young made the most of his opening leg for the Titans as he took off faster than ever before, actually taking the lead after the first 100 meters and remaining strong for all 800 meters, sending a message to his team.
“He did what you have to do at state and he set the tone for the race and for our team,” says Daniels.
Sophomore Joe Coburn took over after Young and held the team’s position with a PR split as did junior Sully Marshall. Junior Woody Martineau finished it off with the anchor leg and the Titans finished with another PR by 19 seconds to place seventh for the team’s second trip to the state podium.
“It was awesome,” says Daniels.
Freshman Keely Olson joined in the PR party in her first state event of her young but promising career. Olson lined up for the 300 hurdles as the 16th seed and ran one of the cleanest races of the day for hurdlers to set a new PR and place 10th, just one spot shy of the podium.
“She moved up in the rankings and dropped time and that’s all you can ask,” says Daniels. “She nailed it.”
That wrapped up day one of the state meet for the Titans on Saturday. Daniels was impressed with what transpired.
“They all PR’d, moved up in the rankings and had two podiums so we were all just over the moon,” says Daniels. “After two days of lollygagging we didn’t know what to expect and I was impressed they reengaged and reignited.”
Sunday morning, Daniels started to sense a lull in the team’s state excitement. After three days and three nights in hotels and eating out and a day of competing, the team looked a little haggard going into day two.
“We could see the wear and tear on the kids and they were either going to shake it off and have a great day or cave in,” says Daniels.
Petersen and junior Maria O’Neal opened the second day for the Titans and while their nerves started to creep in, they pushed past them to march the team into Sunday’s events.
O’Neal posted a PR by two seconds to place 10th and Petersen matched her best effort in the 800 meters to finish in ninth for her third trip to the podium in as many events.
“Both girls rallied and put down solid performances,” says Daniels.
Not long after the 800, O’Neal had to line up for the 400 and rose to the challenge once again, setting another PR time to finish in 10th.
Forty-five minutes later, O’Neal was toeing the line again for the mile alongside teammate Petersen. While back-to-back-to-back events can take their toll, O’Neal stayed strong with another solid run in the mile. Petersen carried the Titan colors up on the podium for a third time as she set a new PR in the mile with a time of 5:24.05 to place sixth.
“I was really, really proud of Maria, and Sydney just ran so smart and so fast,” says Daniels.
Merck and Olson were in the field at the long jump pit and while the energy of the meet got to the freshman, Olson, Merck made the most of his first trip to state, placing seventh in the long jump and stepping onto the state podium. Merck then followed that up with a PR in the 400 meters to round out his first state experience.
“It was a couple of good days for Josh,” points out Daniels.
The weekend came to a close with the boys and girls 4×400 meter relays. The girls team came into the state meet seeded fourth in the state, hoping for a spot in the top three. But with the tight meet schedule, three relay team members—Petersen, O’Neal and Olson—were both coming off several events. Meanwhile, junior Malia Olson was stepping into her first event of the weekend.
Furthermore, the weather started to kick up again as wind swept through the stadium during the Titans’ girls heat. Both Malia and Keely set PR times in their splits and O‘Neal and Petersen pushed through their fatigue to put down solid times as the Titans squeaked on to the podium once more with a ninth-place finish.
“They snuck on to the podium by the skin of their teeth,” says Daniels.
The boys 4×400 meter team of Tristan Davis, Young, Marshall and Merck capped the Titans’ state experience with one last PR to place 12th, a fitting close to the weekend for the team.
“They each ran as good as they’ve run all year, says Daniels.
The 12 Titans at state, 10 competing and two alternates, finished with several podium appearances and a slew of PR times, proving that when it mattered most, the Titans stepped up.
“I was floored by how much they rallied and how poised they were,” says Daniels. “They all show a real resilience and I am so proud of our little team.”