The Taos Lady Tigers held their own at the state track meet Friday and Saturday (May 17-18), in Albuquerque, bringing home several medals, personal bests and a third-place trophy.
Faith Powell: To push farther and do better
Her own past performances are hard to beat, but Faith Powell said she wants to always "push farther and do better." She competed in five events at state, winning state titles in the long jump, triple jump and high jump and second place in the 200- and 400-meter dashes for a total of 31 team points - three more than last year - and, for the second year in a row, the 4A Female High Point Athlete Award.
The state record in the long jump is 18 feet 6.75 inches, set by Lanelle Scarbrough of Oñate in 1991. On Friday, Powell had her best jump of the season and came within half an inch of the record, winning the event with a distance of 18 feet 6.25 inches. Her effort was 1 foot 5.25 inches farther than Ashley Strader of Moriarty, who finished second.
The 4A and 5A girls triple jump flights started at 10 a.m. Saturday morning. While the final round of the 4A triple jump was just beginning, the 5A finals were finishing up and the announcers were calling for 4A girls to report to the high jump. Even top athletes can't be in more than one place at a time, and Powell was forced to go back and forth between the triple jump and the high jump.
The triple jump "does take a lot out of your legs," Powell said, so she had to be careful to monitor her energy.
Next year, other competitors will again have a shot in the triple jump, which Powell won again with a distance of 36 feet 7.5 inches - 1 foot 3 inches farther than Kyra Stafford of Hope Christian. While her performance was plenty to win, Powell had hoped to better the 38 feet 7 inches she jumped at the Marilyn Sepulveda meet.
Some of the obstacles Powell had to overcome to win the triple jump were the psychological and physical demands of overlapping events. Those challenges persisted through the high jump and track events.
Before she was able to attempt to break the record, Powell had to interrupt her jumping to run the 400-meters. She placed second in 58.49, beating Alicia Quintana of Pojoaque by 1/100th of a second.
For those who have never run one, the 400 is one of the most painful of all track races. It even has a signature form of crippling pain that athletes typically experience after a race called "butt lock," where the gluteal muscles seize and can't be recruited for activity like walking, running or jumping for some time.
Thanks to this unique pain caused by the 400, numerous athletes were in tears Saturday and, between the 400-meter dash and the 4 x 400-meter relay, around a dozen athletes had to be helped off the track by officials.
It was in such a state that Powell returned to the high jump.
She has years of experience facing difficulties and saying to herself, "No, I'm not going to quit."
She didn't. After returning to the high jump, she cleared 5 feet 4 inches. As the only one to do so, she won the 4A girls high jump championship title for the fifth consecutive year.
In the 200-meter dash she won second place with a time of 26.10, winning five points. In first place was Destiny Lawrence of Goddard, who swept the sprint distances of 100-, 200- and 400-meters and set a new state record in the 100 of 11.97, beating Peggy Fowler of Cobre's 1988 record of 12.10.
Abigail Gunther: The perfect way to end
At the state championship meet, Abby Gunther collected two first-place medals and one third place, winning the pole vault and the 300-meter hurdles and finishing third in the 100-meter hurdles.
Friday's events included the preliminaries for the 100- and 300-meter hurdles, a shockingly long wait for the delayed pole vault, and the pole vault itself. Gunther qualified for the finals in both hurdles with good lane positions, and then had to do the hard work of staying mentally focused while she waited for the pole vault.
The 4A girls pole vault was scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday (May 17). After hours of delay, the first pole vaulters took their initial passes as the last heats of the qualifiers were run on the track. Then the fans filed out of the stadium, leaving the girls, the volunteers running the pole vault, and a few coaches and fans.
"I'm usually so focused I don't notice what's going on around me," Gunther said. Still, even through her focus, Gunther was aware of the unusual quiet of the stadium.
During Friday's pole vault, all but one of the other athletes had already been knocked out by the time Gunther started vaulting at 10 feet. She cleared 10 feet and 10.5 and 11, at which point she was competing for the record; she'd won the event when Sowelu Lottimer of Moriarty was able to clear 10.5 feet but not 11.
The officials set the bar at 11 feet 7 inches, one inch above the existing state record of 11 feet 6 inches, and five inches below Gunther's personal best. It wasn't to be. Gunther won the championship, 7 team points, and the first-place medal with a height of 11 feet.
Though the girls were given their medals, there was no one left in the stadium to see them receive their awards, so they were asked to bring them back the next day so they could stand on the podium at 10:45 a.m. and be recognized.
In the finals of the 100-meter hurdles on Saturday, Gunther won third place with a time 15.63 seconds, almost half a second faster than her qualifying time of 16.03. Gunther's performance earned the team 4 points.
In the 300-meter hurdles, Gunther won another first-place medal, beating Preslie Coffey of Los Alamos by almost a second with a time of 45.91. The 7 team points she earned made a total of 18 for Gunther.
Alex Mastor: Talent, guts and smart racing help freshman to win 4.5 team points
Freshman Alex Mastor qualified in four individual events and the 4 x 400-meter relay, though she didn't run the 800-meter race.
A whopping 21 girls ran in the 1600, six of whom were from Albuquerque Academy and five from Los Alamos. Alex stuck close to the leaders' pack, which didn't include senior Jane Archibeck of Albuquerque Academy, who ran the later parts of the 1600 and the 3200 alone, forced to pace herself in both races as there was no one near her. Though she won both races (and the state 4A cross country title in 2018), she didn't come close to the records set by Amy Swier of Aztec in 1997 of 4:51.68 in the 1600 and 10:32.79 in the 3200.
Eventually three girls from Academy cut away, leaving seven more running within reach of each other. Mastor fought hard for the finish, coming in eighth overall.
Mastor ran a remarkable 3200. For the first couple of laps she was in the fourth position. Then Jayleen Guerrero of Santa Teresa and Grace Archibeck of Albuquerque Academy passed her on the backstretch. For a while it was Sophie Chadwick of Los Alamos right on Mastor's heels, but then Chadwick decided to take the sixth position. Mastor was unphased. She let Chadwick pass her but stuck right with her for most of the rest of the eight laps.
It might have seemed it would be a fight between Mastor and Chadwick for sixth place and the medal and team point that go with it, but Mastor had enough in reserve with 200 meters left in the race that her kick had her not only sailing past Chadwick, but, in the final 100-meter stretch, Mastor also passed Guerreo and Grace Archibeck. Mastor's smart race and her gutsy finish won her a time of 11:48.69, a fourth-place medal, and three much-need team points for the Taos Lady Tigers.
In the pole vault, Mastor had qualified for state by clearing a height of 8 feet 6 inches. Vaulting started at 7 feet at state. Not only did Mastor clear the 8.5 feet as she had earlier in the season, on her third attempt, she cleared 9 feet, a new personal best for her and enough to tie of sixth with Hope Bennett of Moriarty, winning them each a half of a point for their teams. Four girls had the same maximum height of 9 feet; fourth place went to Emily Christensen of Portales who cleared it on her first attempt and fifth place went to Carley Smith, who cleared 9 feet on her second attempt.
Mastor also ran on the 4 x 400-meter relay, which just missed a spot in the finals.
Mastor's 4.5 team points were key in the Taos Lady Tigers' third-place team win by 3.5 points over Artesia.
The girls' 4 x 200-relay team of Jackie Jagers, Enrica Vigil, Dahnyell Martinez and Grace Goler was seeded first with a season's best time of 1:47.12. There's plenty that can go wrong in a relay, and on Friday, for the Lady Tigers, it did. They finished last in their heat in the preliminaries with a time of 1:54.84 and did not run on Saturday.
The 4 x 400-team of three freshman Lilly Henderson, Alyx Mastor, Trine Karlberg and sophomore anchor Salome Marsh ran a 4:20.28, about 6.5 seconds off of Taos' 4:13.63 run at Rio Rancho with Faith Powell. They just missed the finals this year.
The girls' sprint medley had seniors Enrica Vigil and Jackie Jagers opening with the 200-meter legs, freshman Trine Karlberg running the 400 and junior Cassandra Ruiz running the 800-meter leg. They qualified for the finals with a 4:39.59 and ran a similar 4:39.85 on Saturday, finishing eighth.
Emily Cordova: Javelin
The field of javelin throwers was especially strong this year. Tiger senior Emily Cordova won 12th place in the javelin throw on Saturday with a throw of 94 feet nine inches. Her best throw of the season was 108 feet 6 inches at the Ralph Bowyer Relays in March.