Paonia’s Trevor looks down the track in anticipation as Ben Justman hands the baton to him in the 3200m relay. The Eagles placed second.
Ben Linnell can jump. The first-year sophomore high jumper for Paonia can dunk a basketball with ease, but the high jump requires a slightly different set of skills, which Linnell is working on.
He has steadily upped the bar with each week, clearing 5-9 in preliminaries to place ninth at Cedaredge. Just two weeks ago, he cleared 5-6 at Delta. A jump of six feet would put him in the top 10 in state 2A competition.
He's still learning, said head coach Brian Mitchem. "He can get to six feet and it's going to be experience that gets him there, so he'll need some time."
Linnell also set a personal best distance of 17-8.75 inches Saturday to place 10th in a field of 43 long jumpers.
Linnell is one of 22 athletes and nine sophomores on the boys team.
After graduating five top sprinters in the state in 2011, the Eagles are in a sprint re-building year, said Mitchem. There are some good prospects, but they're still sorting it out, added Mitchem, who hopes to put together some sprint relay teams in the coming weeks.
William Austin is also honing his skills. Austin, a sophomore, shaved more than three seconds off of his best time in the 300-meter hurdles to finish sixth at Cedaredge. His time of 44.25 topped all other 2A competitors.
Austin started running hurdles about half-way through his freshman year. He also competes in the 110 hurdles and is on his way to qualifying for state, said Mitchem.
The Eagles are also strong in mid- and long-distance runners. "The team has more of a base than last year" in the distance category, said senior Trevor Walters, one of three seniors. Walters is focusing this season on relay teams and the 800- and 1600-meter runs and is a lead runner on the highly competitive 3200 relay team. And while competition is tough, the team's biggest competition may come from within. "There are six kids gunning for four spots on that team," said Mitchem. And they're all good.
Walters, Jason Sturgis and Ben Justman were on the team that placed fourth at state in 2011. The three, along with Jacob Helleckson, won at Hotchkiss, and at Cedaredge, the team of Walters, Justman, Sturgis and Jesse Reed cut 18 seconds off of their overall time to finish second behind Telluride. The time puts them in third in state 2A competition.
"I feel pretty good about it," said Walters, who typically runs the first leg of the race. All six athletes have speed and endurance and they're working to get their splits to within two or three seconds of each other.
Paonia's throwers also fared well at Cedaredge. Tony Darling, who threw a personal best 45 feet one-half inch in the shot put to place second at Hotchkiss, placed third at Cedaredge with a distance of 44-09.00. He is currently one of the top three throwers in state 2A competition.
With Darling dominating the shot, senior Myles Cumpston is focusing solely on discus. He threw a personal best of 119-8 to place sixth at Cedaredge. Cumpston had to quit throwing his junior year due to a torn pectoral muscle suffered in wrestling. He was in the top 18 in the state at the time. He could have kept throwing, he said, but decided he needed to heal in order to attend summer football camps. Cumpston is back in the top 18 and is working hard on his form. "A little tweak can make a big difference," said Cumpston.
All four members of last year's state qualifying 3200-meter relay team return this year, and they've already recorded one of the fastest times in the state.
Chelsy Reed, Braiden Clement, Carson Pipher and Taylor Polson won the Hotchkiss meet, and the team of Reed, Pipher, Clement and Vela Bair placed third at Cedaredge behind 4A Delta and Montrose.
"They have big goals," said Mitchem.
Photo by Wayne Crick
Lady Eagles’ long jumper Mandy Bushta sails through the air on her way to a fourth-place jump of 15-9 at last weekend’s Cedaredge Invitational. Bushta’s fourth-place points helped Paonia earn 56 points and a sixth-place finish in a field of 14.
Reed placed second in the 400m at Cedaredge and is also ranked in the top five in state after winning the 800m run at Hotchkiss. Mitchem called her one of the most versatile runners on the team. "She is always a solid runner. She can go anywhere she's needed."
Polson also runs in the 1600 relay, and is gaining speed in the hurdles. On Saturday, she placed fourth in the 100 hurdles and was third in the 300 hurdles. She's ranked in the top 10 in the triple jump. She can compete in just about any event, but athletes are only allowed in four events. "For Taylor, it's hard to know where to put her," said Mitchem.
There are 23 girls out for the girls team. With only three seniors, they are young, said Mitchem. But the freshman class is showing some great potential. Morgan Hartigan placed third Saturday in the shot put, and Easton Hartigan cleared 28-11.5 to place ninth Saturday in the triple jump.
Brooklynd Erickson is already ranked in the top 18 in the 100 and long jump events.
This year's team has a lot of depth. Junior Mandy Bushta placed fourth in Saturday's long jump. Bushta placed seventh at state in 2011 and is ranked in the top 10 in the event.
With seven meets remaining between now and the Western Slope League meet, there is a lot of room for improvement, said Mitchem.
Paonia will compete this Saturday at the Frank Woodburn Invitational at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction.