The Paonia girls track team has historically attracted a strong freshman class, said head coach Brian Mitchem. This year is no exception.
And while this year's incoming freshman competitors may be small in numbers — Brooklynd Erickson, Taylor Plymale, Morgan Hartigan and Easton Hartigan, all four have already qualified for state. And they all just keep getting better.
At Saturday's Montrose Invitational, the 400-meter relay team of Morgan and Easton Hartigan, Erickson and Gabrielle Moet placed first. Moet, an exchange student from Holland, is a senior, but is new at the sport, said Mitchem. Moet is also ranked in the top 10 in the long jump, as is Erickson, who won the event at Montrose.
Also placing first was the 1600 relay team of Lindsay Russell, Chelsy Reed, Taylor Polson and Plymale.
Of Paonia's five relay teams, all have a strong chance of qualifying for state, said Mitchem, and two remain in the top three after last weekend's competition.
In individual track events, Paonia has at least one runner ranked in each of the three sprints, and Braiden Clement is ranked in the 3200. In hurdles, Taylor Polson is in the top 10 in the 300 hurdles, and Carsten, who placed second in Saturday's high jump, will make a return trip to state in that event.
Carsten is also ranked in the long jump, as is Mandy Bushta. Both are repeat state qualifiers. With two meets remaining before state, it's possible that more jumpers could qualify, said Mitchem.
In field events, Kayla Lachney is in the top 18 in the shot put with a best distance of 32 feet, 2 inches, and Morgan Hartigan is ranked in the top five.
While the girls team has dominated the WSL for the past five years, "We've never been this deep before," said Mitchem.
The girls team also earned 119 points to win at Montrose, which Mitchem said he wasn't aware of until Saturday night when he saw the results. It was their first team win of the season. They've been within a few points at earlier meets, but there was always one or two key athletes missing due to injury or illness. "We finally have everybody back," just in time for league, said Mitchem.
Two Paonia high jumpers are working hard to qualify for the 2A state championships, and they've got nowhere to go but up.
Sophomore Ben Linnell and senior Anthony Roeber are ranked in the top 18 — Linnell after clearing 5 feet, 9 inches early in the season, and Roeber after clearing 5-10 to place fifth at Saturday's Montrose Invitational.
Roeber said he started high jumping in middle school. A long jumper and state-qualifying relay team member, he qualified for state in the high jump last season with a height of 6 feet. A starting player on the Eagles basketball team, Roeber injured his left ankle his junior year, and his left knee this season. The injuries weren't enough to keep him from competition, but they affected his speed, he said, and as a consequence, his ability to jump.
To remain competitive in the high jump, he had to learn to launch from his right leg. It was a difficult adjustment, he said. "One day, I just said let's try it. And it turns out I could do just as well from that leg."
But he also needed to adjust his form, and he needed more strength. "For some reason I didn't have as much spring," said Roeber. High jump coach Scott Rienks has been putting the jumpers through "box workouts" designed to increase upward mobility and strength.
The hard work paid off. Roeber's performance on Saturday was his best of the season and ensures him a return trip to state. Roeber said he's also working to qualify in the long jump, which he'll compete in this Friday at Cedaredge. He didn't have to adjust his long jump technique, he said, since he naturally relies on his right leg for his launch.
Linnell, a sophomore, started high jumping about mid-way through his freshman year. This season, he's getting a little extra coaching from family friend Greg Peterson, a former college high jumper.
During Peterson's career in the early 1970s, high jumping evolved from the Western Roll, a straddle method of clearing the bar face down, and the scissors method, to today's Fosbury Flop. Once considered unconventional, it was conceived in the 1960s by Richard Fosbury, an American Olympian who used his own method to set a new Olympic record in 1968. An American teammate placed second by using the flop. Prior to that year, most high jumpers scoffed at Fosbury's odd way of jumping.
Since the method was new and not widely adopted during Peterson's athletic career of the early 1970s, few practiced it and few coaches taught it. Today, the flop is the standard and has yet to be improved upon.
It's a matter of converting forward momentum into upward momentum, Peterson explained while watching Saturday's competition. Nine-tenths of jumping is in the approach and take-off, which should be done at as fast and as controlled a run as possible. "Once you've left the ground your jump is already pretty much pre-determined." After the launch, there are things a jumper can do, such as keeping the center of gravity in as high of an arch as possible, and kicking the legs up so the calves and heels don't snag as they cross the bar. The shoulders should be the first parts of the body to hit the mat.
"It takes a lot of practice," he said, and Linnell is catching on. A basketball player, Linnell can also dunk a basketball, and the two jumps are closely related, said Peterson. "He has great pops, great jumping ability. He's going to improve if he stays with it."