The Paonia girls medaled in 10 events and scored 41 points to place sixth at the Colorado High School Activities Association State Track and Field Meet.
After placing 16th as a freshman, third as a sophomore, and second as a junior, Mckenna Palmer won the triple jump. Palmer was ranked first in state in the event throughout the season. On her third preliminary attempt she hit a career-best mark of 36 feet, 3.75 inches, a full foot over her previous best mark, for the win.
Palmer was also ranked eighth in the long jump. She advanced to finals on a mark of 15-9, where she scratched on her first attempt. "That made me really nervous," she said. She'd hit 15 feet or better all day and needed more to maintain second place. After jumping 15-11.75, she said she sought advice from coach Scott Rienks. "Rienks told me to just go for it," she said.
She did, and she landed the best jump of her four-year career, setting a mark of 16 feet, 7 inches to place second.
In her third state qualification in the 100-meter hurdles, Palmer ran a personal-best time of 16.48 seconds in preliminaries and was ranked fifth going into finals. Palmer finished eighth with a time of 17.19 seconds.
The 3200-meter relay team of Poppy Lightfoot, Tawny Roberts, Randi Rapke and Brooke Hillman won gold with a time of 9 minutes, 57.24 seconds, a full seven seconds ahead of second place. Paonia exchanged leads with St. Mary's numerous times throughout the race. On the second leg, Roberts, a freshman, was running second when she handed the baton to Rapke. On her second lap, Rapke overtook St. Mary's in the final 200 meters, and Hillman was able to hold on to the lead, pulling away from St. Mary's on the final corner to win.
All except Roberts ran on the team that placed third last season. Roberts also plays soccer for Delta. "She was doing a couple of workouts with us during the week and the rest of the time was working on soccer," said Mitchem.
The team ran its best time of the year, and it ran the smartest race, said Mitchem. "They didn't panic when other kids were ahead of them."
The team of Roberts, Lightfoot, Rapke and Hillman also placed fifth in the 1600m relay with a season-best time of 4:14.57.
Hillman is a four-year state qualifier and multi-state placer in relays. She medaled in the 800-meter run all four years and placed in the 1600 her freshman year. Hillman is also a four-year state qualifier in cross country.
Paonia qualified two girls for the 300m hurdles. In her first state appearance, junior Alexandra Eaton was ranked 13th and placed eighth with a time of 50.04 seconds.
In her first year of running hurdles, Randi Rapke ran a season-best time of 48.48 seconds in preliminaries and finished ninth in finals with a time of 50.92. In both preliminaries and finals, Rapke and Eaton ran side by side.
Eaton also placed 11th in the 100m dash (13.14). In high jump, Lyla Hayutin-Baril cleared 4-10 to place 10th, Lightfoot cleared 31-2.5 to place 16th in the triple jump, and junior Sabrina Leighton finished 11th in shot put with a throw of 32-9.
The Paonia girls also competed in the 400m and 800m relays, but dropped the baton in the preliminary heat. "It was bound to happen sometime," said Mitchem, who marked the end of his 11th season as head coach. It happens all the time, even at the state level, said Mitchem. For the Paonia girls, "It just happened two days in a row."
All in all, said Mitchem, "It was a solid year."
Paonia will lose five seniors -- Hillman, Randi Rapke, Kassidy Rapke, Palmer and McKenna Johnson. "The seniors have just been fantastic," said Mitchem, whose girls won the last five state titles. "They've been a huge part of this program for the last four years."