Coal Ridge seniors looking for one last hurrah
Fresh off sweeping the multi-league 3A Western Slope League championships at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction, the Coal Ridge Titans’ track and field program under the direction of Head Coach Ben Kirk will send an impressive 21 athletes to the 3A state track and field meet at Jefferson County Stadium from today to Saturday.
For many of those 21 athletes, this will be the last go-round for them in a Titan track uniform, which includes key seniors Jonathan Espinoza, James Nalley, Jonathan Graf, Dana Kotz and Faith Wood.
Emotions are high for the seniors heading into the state meet, but the strong group of state qualifiers is looking to go out with a bang one last time.
“I’m really looking forward to the competition at the state meet because of all the schools that dropped down to 3A this year,” said senior Jonathan Espinoza, who qualified in the 4×100 and 4×200 relays. “All year long we compete against the same teams like Delta, so we’re looking to test ourselves against some of the best in the state and see what we’re made of. Getting to face new people will be fun, but this will be very special since it’s the last time for me.”
With just 21 athletes heading to the state meet this weekend, Coal Ridge doesn’t have expectations of winning a team state title for the boys or girls, according to Kirk, but there is the outside chance that the Titans could win the 3A title on the girls side, thanks to strong relay teams in the 4×100, 4×200, 4×400 and 4×800.
In the relays, Coal Ridge will lean heavily on Wood and Kotz.
Should the Titans’ girl’s relay teams finish in the top 3-5 of each relay event, they could see themselves rise up the team standings. That doesn’t seem to be the big picture goal, though, especially for Kirk and Wood.
“I’m excited to see what we can do,” Wood said. “Right now we’re looking solid in all four relays. We’re going to show up and try to do the best that we can on that given day and see where that leaves us.”
“Our goal heading into the state meet is to reach the finals of everything we compete in,” Kirk said. “That’s our primary goal. Once we accomplish that or not, we’ll set out secondary goal at the meet. Realistically, I think our four sprint relays can finish in the top 5 and our medley relay can finish in the top 9. I think our boys relays can reach the finals and finish high, as well. As a team, that’s kind of our team goal. We’re not expecting a state title or anything like that, but this year has really been a growth year for us. If our girls place high in five relays, you never know where we could finish as team. Now this is the fun part; line up head to head on the same day and see who on this day is the best one. That’s the type of competitions I love.”
For the Titans, they’ll have plenty of chances to test their best against the rest of what the state has to offer. Winning the league title five straight years for the boys and four straight years for the girls means a great deal to this group of seniors. Capping off that streak for their high school careers two weeks ago was a thrilling moment, but now the attention is turned to the state meet, which will sadly be the last time competing in the blue and black of Coal Ridge for the seniors.
“It’s hard to even think about,” Kotz said. “It’s been really nice knowing that we’ve won [the league] all four years, but I’m trying not to think that it will all be over in a week. Every once in awhile I think about it and get emotional, but I’ve been lucky. I’ve had the chance to compete at the state meet all four years. What I’ll take away from these last four years won’t be anything on the track; it’ll be about the role [Ben] Kirk has played in my development as a person and all the life lessons he’s given us to improve ourselves instead of us just being better athletes.”
A big reason the Titans have been so good the last five years or so is largely due to the type of kids that Kirk has come out for the program, as well as the type of work ethic that the group possesses year after year, regardless of who leaves due to graduation.
“We train hard and have a good progression here, but the kids truly believe that if they do what we ask, they’ll get where they want to get,” Kirk said. “There’s a trust there because they know that’s true. We have good kids that come out. It’s really simple … they want to come out, work hard and become better athletes. It’s all due to the kids’ hard work that we’ve had the success we’ve had.”
The Titans will start off the state meet this afternoon with Kotz running in the 100-meter heat just after 2 p.m. before the rest of the 3A preliminary races and field events get going later in the afternoon.
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