Junction’s Ryken to run track at UNC

Stephanie Ryken wasn’t worried about what she’d do after graduation.

The Grand Junction High School graduate knew in her heart her future would work out.

After visiting the University of Northern Colorado, Ryken chose to sign a letter of intent to compete in track and field at the NCAA Division I institution. Grand Junction High School announced her decision to the media Thursday at GJHS.

“It’s kind of nerve racking not knowing, but I knew everything would fall into place and everything happens for a reason,” Ryken said. “I chose UNC because I like what they have to offer with their business school and I really got along with their track coach well. I think they were the best fit for me.”

UNC wasn’t even in the picture until the Colorado State Championships in late May.

Prior to that, Ryken was planning on going to Mesa State College, soon to be Colorado Mesa University.

“When I talk to kids their junior year, I encourage them to email coaches,” Grand Junction coach Darrell Simonton said. “The only place she wanted to go was Mesa. At the state track meet, the UNC coach caught me and followed me around for about three hours and wanted to meet her. It progressed from there.”

Ryken, who took a recruiting trip to Colorado State University before the state meet, didn’t take a recruiting trip to UNC until after state.

“This UNC thing came through,” Simonton said. “She went over there on a recruiting trip. She came back and said that’s where I’m going Coach.”

It wasn’t until Ryken was in high school when she realized how much she enjoyed track.

“I ran the Hershey’s track meets in elementary school,” Ryken said. “In middle school, I competed and didn’t really like to run, but I was gifted in it. The better you become at something the more you like it. I fell in love with it.”

Ryken developed into a potential Division I athlete under the tutelage of Simonton, who resigned after the season to take an assistant coach position with the Mesa football program.

“With the track program, my coach Darrell Simonton, helped me perform and made me excel,” Ryken said. “I had my personal best this year for my senior year. That brought me into wanting to compete at the college level. I didn’t think I had the option at Division I, so it’s pretty exciting.”

The sprinter is one of three Grand Junction track athletes to place at state all four years under Simonton. Ryken is on the girls school record 400- and 800-meter relay teams and she came close to setting the 100 and 200 records.

“She was easy to coach,” Simonton said. “You told her once (and she did it). Her junior year we probably got her too strong. This year, we backed off quite a bit. She still lifted hard, but she backed off the amount of weight on the bar and that helped her improve and get her best times her senior year.”

Ryken plans to study business management.


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