Area tracksters shoot for early invite to state meet

Phil Sandoval

Throughout the 2003 prep track season, Rifle has come forward as a dominant team on the Western Slope.

On Saturday, the Bears get to display their talents on their home turf.

Winner of the boys’ team championship at last week’s Demon Invitational, and a top-five finisher in the girls’ meet, the Bears will be gunning for a double-crown at the Rifle Invitational.

But, there’s going to be more at stake for area runners than a team title at Bears Stadium.

With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Rifle meet is one of the few remaining opportunities for athletes to prequalify for May’s state track championships.

Eighteen Western Slope teams including area schools Rifle, Glenwood Springs, Roaring Fork, and Grand Valley, are scheduled to participate at the Rifle Invitational.

Five area athletes – three from Glenwood and two from Rifle – have already earned their way to the Class 4A state meet in Lakewood.

Rifle’s Jessica Warwick will be among the favorites in the girls’ 3,200 meters.

Warwick posted a season-best time of 12 minutes, 12.18 seconds at the Wildcat Invitational meet last week, and became the first Bear girl to qualify for state in a distance event in eight years, according to coach Justin Price.

Rifle senior Kristina Dahlin, whose 5-3 prequalifying high jump mark is among the best on the Western Slope, is also slated to compete on Saturday.

Glenwood’s Marco Salmen is the only area athlete to have prequalified in two events. The Demon senior has earned his way to the Class 4A state prelims in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.

Both marks were set at the Palisade Invitational two weeks ago.

Salmen’s time of 4:23.95 is the among the fastest 1,600 times for 4A boys, according to the Rocky Mountain News. His second-place time of 9:50.11 at the Palisade meet also ranks among the top statewide.

And, the boys’ 1,600 should be one of the highlights of Saturday’s meet.

The event shapes up as the rubber match of a three-week battle between Salmen and Rob Thayer from Hotchkiss.

Thayer won the first encounter this season over Salmen by sixth-tenths of a second at Palisade.

Last week Salmen returned the favor.

On his home track at the Demon Invitational, Salmen outsprinted Thayer to the finish line. In the process, the Demon raced to a 4:28.27 time, breaking the meet record set by his older brother Chas by six seconds.

Later, Salmen and Thayer will face-off in the 3,200 against Glenn Randall of Plateau Valley, who holds the state’s best time (9:51.07) in the event in Class 2A.

Another season-long skirmish will take place at the shot put ring where Glenwood’s Amber Sutherland challenges Palisade’s sister throwers Brandi and Bobbie Slone.

Sutherland finished second to Bobbie Slone by a foot last week.

The week before at Palisade, Sutherland had a lifetime best throw of 37-feet, 6 inches – far enough to qualify for the state meet, but well back of Brandi Slone’s 38-1 winning mark.

Jeri Polowchena, Glenwood’s other state-qualifier, has a return confrontation on tap with Katie Lloyd of Fruita Monument in the girls’ Triple Jump.

Polowchena qualified with a second-place best jump of 35-2 1/2 at Palisade competing against Lloyd, who won with an event-best 35-6 3/4 leap.

Other area athletes who could post state-qualifying marks at Rifle include Rifle David Suminski, Brian Hileman and Mike Birdsley in the boys’ sprints.

Suminski’s 10.87 100-meter time is among the best in 4A. Birdsley is in the state’s top-five in both the 200 and 400 dashes, with respective marks of 22.70 and 51.50.

On the girls’ side, Rifle’s Terena Leuallen has established herself as a top runner in the 100 meters.

She achieved her best time of 12.01 at the Palisade meet in a wire-to-wire dash with Brandi Babin of Moffat County.

In the Hurdles, the area has an abundance of talent.

Glenwood’s Megan McKinnie has Class 4A’s best girls’ 300 hurdle time with a 47.83 mark. Polowchena’s 16.29 time in the 100 hurdles ranks among the top five. Rifle’s Justin Steffen has marks of 15.58 in the 110 high hurdles and 43.23 in the 300 hurdles, which places him among the boys’ 4A leaders in both events.

Among smaller school runners, Chris Johnson of Grand Valley has times of 2:25.12 in the 800 and 5:28.46 in the 1,600 which rank in the upper echelons of Class 2A boys.

The first running event of the meet – the girls’ sprint relay – is scheduled for 8 a.m. The first field event begins at 8:30 a.m.

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