LAKEWOOD — Track athletes from the Grand Valley threw a brick through the glass ceiling of speed at the state track and field championships on Saturday.
Invading podium territory historically occupied by the Class 5A Front Range power schools, Grand Junction, Fruita Monument and Central all won medals in the sprints and hurdles at Jeffco Stadium, turning heads from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins.
The Grand Junction High School boys 4x100 relay team, in a showcase of the fastest of the fast in Colorado, finished fourth in the 5A finals to join the traditional speedsters on the state podium.
"People kind of overlooked us because we're a small school from Grand Junction," said Austin Hille of the Tigers, who ran the third leg of the 4x100. "So it's nice to finish top-5 at the 5A state meet. It feels good knowing that people are noticing us."
Grand Junction freshman Ky Oday Jr. led off the 4x100 before handing the baton to Kade Christensen.
Christensen, who crashed through the glass ceiling Saturday with fifth-place individual finishes in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, sprinted down the backstretch.
Hille took over on the final curve, handing to Grand Junction's Colin Morrison — the same Morrison who won three other medals at the 2019 state championships.
"This is special … because a team thing feels so much better (than an individual finish). It's everyone working for one goal," Hille said after the Tigers posted a relay time of 42.77 seconds. They were only .02 behind Fountain-Fort Carson. Doherty was second (42.67). Valor Christian won in 42.46.
Christensen had the crowd at Jeffco Stadium buzzing earlier when he broke 11 seconds and finished fifth in the 100 meters (10.91) in the talented 5A field.
"Finally," Christensen said of his podium 100-meter time. "I always felt I could (run under 11 seconds). I needed everything to go right for me … and it did (Saturday)."
He said the mental preparation was demanding at the state championships, during the preliminary rounds as well as the finals.
But, he said, the Tigers were well prepared by their coach.
"Our coach has been awesome this whole year," Christensen said of Dustin Geisenhagen. "He's pushed us all to be here."
And to make the podium.
"It shows hard work pays off," said Christensen, who finished fifth in the 5A 200 meters in 22.16 seconds Saturday. He was only .01 seconds out of third place.
Elijah Williams of Gateway won the 200 in 21.67.
Morrison, the Grand Junction senior who anchored the 4x100 and the 4x200 state relay teams, used a dramatic closing sprint to finish third in the 300-meter hurdles in 38.04.
"That's a new personal record," said Morrison, who medaled with a ninth-place finish in the high jump Thursday. "I kind of wanted to dive (at the finish line); it was tempting."
Joining Morrison with four 5A state medals was Christensen.
Oday Jr., in addition to medals in the two relays, finished fifth in the 400 meters.
Oday Jr. posted a 49.42 for his first individual state medal.
"It was fast, but I tightened up at the end," he said. "But it was a great experience; it was fun."
He said he was very pleased with his preliminary round, which qualified him for the finals as a freshman.
"I was kind of dissatisfied (with the final)," Oday Jr. said before emphatically adding: "I'm going to be back here next year."
Oday joined Morrison, Christensen and Hille on the medal-winning 4x200 team as well.
Another freshman sprinter from Fruita Monument also scored a pair of podium finishes in the girls 100 and 200.
Kristen Cook finished eighth in the 200 and ninth in the 100, running against perhaps the best female sprinter ever in Colorado — Arria Minor of Denver East.
Minor, considered by many as the top prep sprinter in the country, won both sprints at the state meet to complete her four-year sweep of the two events.
"As soon as I heard her footsteps, I knew I had to take off," Cook said after chasing Minor through the sprints. "This was so crazy. I am so happy right now. I was just trying to be here."
She said that she approached the final in the 200 meters with one goal.
"I'm not going to place ninth," Cook said.
She was eighth for her second state medal before her sophomore year.
Another Grand Valley-area athlete rushed back onto the state podium Saturday with Central's David Cardenas executing another dramatic come-from-behind effort to finish second in the 1,600 meters.
Cardenas won the 800 meters one day earlier at Jeffco Stadium.
He nearly repeated with his spellbinding final lap when he moved up from ninth place to second place.
Cole Sprout of Valor Christian, a nationally ranked distance runner, won the 1,600 in 4:13.78.
Cardenas was second in 4:16.71.
"That's sick man. I'm really proud of you," Sprout said to Cardenas after the Central senior had sprinted to second place in the 1,600.
"A 4:16, I never thought I'd get there," Cardenas said. "My junior year, I ran 4:23 at St. Vrain. I said that's the hardest race I've ever run. I didn't think I could run any faster. But sure enough, I did."
In the Class 4A state meet, Palisade had several athletes earn medals.
The Bulldogs posted podium finishes from hurdlers Gabby Horton, Cassidy Bittner and Jacob Mattingly.
Mattingly actually reached the podium twice Saturday. He finished sixth in the 4A triple jump and ninth in the 110-meter hurdles.
"It was pretty close to my PR in the 110s," Mattingly said. "So I was happy (with the hurdles). A shot to run in finals was a good experience."
He said he also was pleased with the triple jump.
"I got into the final. And I placed higher than I did last year," he said. "I feel like I could have done better, but I'm happy to be here."
Horton placed sixth in the girls 4A 300-hurdles and Bittner, a junior, finished seventh in the 100-meter hurdles.
"I was so excited to be here as a freshman," said Horton, who had to overcome a bit of a sleepless night before Saturday's finals. "This makes me want to rank higher (next year)."
Bittner said her 100-meter hurdles final was her best race of the season.
"I PR'd there. I am so happy," Bittner said. "I'm so excited to be here. There are some crazy-fast girls here."
In other local podium finishes, Central's Corben Miller finished ninth in the Class 5A boys discus (148-1).