Paonia girls track team seeking fifth straight state team title
Brian Mitchem knows the ride he’s been on for the past five years might be coming to an end soon.
The track and field coach at Paonia High School has a chance to guide the Eagles to a fifth consecutive Class 2A team championship this week, a feat only two other girls teams in Colorado have accomplished. Paonia’s run includes both close and convincing margins while training at practice facilities many high school programs would turn their nose at.
This year might be the team’s last hurrah. Mitchem said the Eagles stand to lose 40 to 50 percent of their point scorers to graduation, meaning Paonia’s track program in 2018 could experience its first rebuilding season in quite a while.
“We’ve been extremely lucky, and we always try to put things like this in perspective,” Mitchem said. “You enjoy it while you have it, and you look back at it with great fondness because the memories you come away with, you’re fortunate to have them.
“Most coaches out there would be happy with one championship. For us to have four with a shot at five in a row, I told the girls and everyone around them that they’d better enjoy it now because it will never happen again.”
The state meet is Thursday through Saturday at Jefferson County Stadium in Lakewood. Though weather forecasts predict rain and snow in the meet’s first days, the Colorado High School Activities Association said Tuesday it plans to keep to its predetermined schedule. Any schedule changes, CHSAA said, will be made by on-site officials.
Paonia has qualified each of its five relays and seven individuals. Among them is senior Sophia Anderson, one of the 2A’s best sprinters who owns the top mark in the triple jump (37 feet), and senior Brianna Van Vleet, whose 2A-best leap of 18-3 3/4 in the long jump is six inches shorter than her personal best.
A fifth consecutive team title would make Paonia the third girls track team in Colorado with such a streak. Mullen, which has a state-best 11 team titles, won seven straight championships from 1997 to 2003. The Classical Academy has nine team titles, winning five in a row from 2006-10. Limon won four in a row from 2004-07, and Hotchkiss’ five state team titles include a run of three straight from 2002-04.
The Eagles have a potential conflict at the state meet, too. Should weather be severe enough to postpone meet events into Sunday, it would conflict with the Eagles’ graduation ceremony scheduled for 4 that afternoon. Then again, the Eagles are used to adjusting to adversity — they’ve won their state championships without a regular track facility at the school, or in town, to train on.
Paonia practices high jump in its gym but does have a decent long and triple-jump pit, Mitchem said. For relays and hurdles, Paonia makes a once-per-week trip to Delta for practice and, at times, have missed those practice windows because of weather.
“You make do with what you’ve got,” Mitchem said. “In a lot of ways it’s made us a better team and ... we’ve been doing it for so long, we don’t know any other way.”
OTHERS TO WATCH FOR
Hotchkiss and Cedaredge could also make a splash in the 2A meet. Hotchkiss sophomore Kaiya Firor has the top time in the 400 meters at 58.54. Katie Hyke of Cedaredge is ranked fifth in the discus (115-8) and third in the shot put (38-2 1/2).
In Class 4A, Montrose is sending six individuals and three relays, with Madisyn Minerich’s top time of 58.14 ranked ninth in the event.
Delta will send seven individuals and a pair of relays to the Class 3A girls meet. Senior Lily Lockhart is the second-seeded competitor in the shot put (43-2 1/4) and discus (132-9).
Caprock Academy will have its first state qualifier in Elsie Wilkins, who made it to the 1A 800, 1,600 and 3,200. De Beque sophomore Jentry Largent is one of the top qualifiers in the 100 and 200, and fellow sophomore Faith Novess made the final of the 300 hurdles.