Cross-valley ‘rivalry’ fuels two junior track stars |

Cross-valley ‘rivalry’ fuels two junior track stars

With an 800 league title on the line, Mikayla Cheney and Katelyn Maley take to the starting line — each hold one arm outstretched in front of their bodies, poised, ready to beat the other, and everyone else, to the finish.

From the start, the two runners remain shoulder to shoulder, allowing only a step or two to separate them. As the athletes turn onto the homestretch, Cheney pushes ahead for a brief moment before Maley regains it.

In the last few strides of the race, the runners grit their teeth, lower their heads, continue to pump their arms, close their eyes and hope when they open them that they have come across the finish line first.

This is just one snapshot of a little-known rivalry taking place in our own Roaring Fork and Colorado river valleys between two rising track athletes. Contrary to most sports rivalries, these two go beyond giving the post race handshake or pat on the back — instead, they overflow with praise for the other competitor.

Mikayla Cheney of Coal Ridge High School and Katelyn Maley from Basalt High School both specialize in distance events ranging from the 800 meter run to the 3200 meters. For the majority of the track season they have been battling against one another in these events, trying to cement their reign as the top runner — not only in the Western Slope League but ultimately as the best in the 3A state classification.

At the Multi-League Championship meet in Grand Junction June 10-11, the two girls faced off in all three of the main distance events. In the 800 detailed above, the two crossed the line separated by a little over a tenth of a second, with Maley edging out Cheney in a time of 2:16.27.

“It was truly one of the most competitive and exciting 800s I’ve ever seen. There was no more than maybe 5 feet of separation between them in half a mile of running.” Cheney’s coach Ben Kirk said after the race. “The exciting thing is that we get a rematch in a week.”

Katelyn Maley sprints to the finish line in the 1600 meter final at the Multi-League Championship Meet on June 11.

The same narrative played out in the 1600 meter and 3200 meter races, with both finishing within seconds of one another, with Maley narrowly beating Cheney. As both darted across the finish line in the 1600 meter race at the Multi-League Championships, both runners put their friendly rivalry on display by both cordially embracing while leaning on each other for support after their intense effort.

“Mikayla will always be the first person to give you a hug after a race. She is so sweet and an awesome person to be able to race against as often as I do,” Maley said.

Maley also said that even though she and Cheney may be from two schools that are battling against one another in the league and 3A classification Cheney ultimately “pushes me to fight for fast times alongside her.”

“She’s a fantastic runner,” Cheney said of Maley. “She’s been training a lot more than I, so to be able to line up next to her and for her to push me like no one else has been able to before has been great.

“(June 10th) in the 3200 meter run, she helped me get a 40-second personal best in only my second time running the event, which is more than I could ever ask for,” she added. “And in the 800 she helped us both post times that are one and two in the state for the 800. I think it’s really amazing for two Western Slope public school girls to post times that high in the state track rankings. I am super grateful to have her [Maley] to compete against.”

Both also share the strong desire to place high at state and someday run at the collegiate level, a goal within reach if they both continue to motivate one another to fast times.

“Top-end athletes like that can become complacent when they are so far ahead of the rest of their competition. Knowing that there is a girl just down or up the road who is getting ready for the next match-up just ratchets up the training intensity for both girls.” Coal Ridge head coach Ben Kirk spoke of what he thinks drives Maley and Cheney in their friendly rivalry.

Both Maley and Cheney will continue to put their friendly rivalry on display at the Colorado State Championship meet June 24-26 in Lakewood. It won’t come as a shock to anyone who knows about the rivalry to see both runners congratulate one another with a warm hug moments after their fervorous duel.


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