For the fourth year in a row, the Paonia girls' track team dominated the 2A competition at the state meet at Jefferson County Stadium in Lakewood and brought home another team title.
The competition was never really in doubt as the Eagles girls led after the first event and had the title locked up after the second day of the meet. Paonia posted a whopping 139 team points to beat Wray (76) and third-place finisher Cedaredge (62).
Paonia coach Brian Mitchem was quick to identify the factors that led the Eagles girls to four consecutive 2A team titles.
"They're so competitive," Mitchem said. "It's just a great group of girls, and we've had great senior leadership. Our senior girls have been stepping up for four years now and I've got the best coaching staff in the state right here."
Paonia showed depth in every event at state, especially the relays. The Eagles won four relays over the weekend and finished third in the fifth relay.
"We had a lot more depth this year than we've had in the past, so we were able to do some things we weren't able to do before," Mitchem said. "They work hard, and they come to compete. We never loaded any one relay with our best girls for that type of an event, and we still came away with four firsts and a third."
The Eagles got things started off with an exciting win in the 4x800 relay Thursday evening. Chelsea Meilner teamed with freshman Poppy Lightfoot, Randi Rapke and Brooke Hillman to post a 4:05.20 and just edge out Hotchkiss and Telluride.
The most thrilling Eagles relay win came in the 800 sprint medley on Friday. Kassidy Rapke started and handed the baton to Emily Pieper, who took it to Marisa Edmondson. Sophia Anderson blazed the final leg and beat the Wray anchor by maybe two steps to post a 1:51.29 and win the event.
Edmondson started the 4x200 relay for Paonia, handing off to Shira Woods. Pieper took the baton for the third leg and Brianna Van Vleet anchored the win with a time of 1:46.51.
Then the foursome of Brianna Van Vleet, Randi Rapke, Woods and Ashley Van Vleet won the 4x400 relay for Paonia with their time of 4:05.20.
"That just says so much to the depth and the coaches that we have and the girls' willingness to prepare," Mitchem said about the Eagles' dominant relay teams.
Also piling up points for the Eagles were some impressive individual efforts in the field, highlighted by Brianna Van Vleet's state record long jump of 18 feet, 9.5 inches.
The junior landed the record-setting jump on her last effort of the event Friday afternoon.
"I knew I only had one shot and one jump and everything just kind of led up to that moment," Van Vleet said. "I've been working my butt off and I just knew that I had one jump to prove to everyone the jumper I am, and that I know I am. My family believed in me, my coaches and friends, I knew everyone believed in me and I knew I could do it."
Ashley Van Vleet capped her outstanding senior season with a title in the high jump when she cleared the bar at 5 feet, 4 inches.
"They are awesome," Mitchem said about the talented Van Vleet sisters. "They kind of drive each other, and they get driven by the competition. They hate to lose."
After not losing for four consecutive years, there was no hate, only love on Saturday as the jubilant Eagles took a victory lap around the track.
As for the Paonia boys, senior Cameron Van Vleet posted a second-place finish in the triple jump and senior Jeramiah Hillman finished second in the 200-meter dash.
The Eagles posted 35 team points and finished in eighth place at the state meet.