Rifle track gunning for title at Regionals

Staff Report

It’s officially called the Regional Track meet, but it might better be termed the “Last Chance Meet.”

Prep tracksters have a final opportunity to qualify for the state meet when the Regional Track Meet for Classes 2A, 3A and 4A kick off this morning at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction.

And, along with individual qualifications, the Rifle boys team will try to reclaim the 4A Regional team title.

The Rifle boys enter the meet as one of the favorites to claim the team title. The Bears won the crown two years ago, but finished second in 2002.

“I think it will come down to the wire between Montrose and us,” Rifle coach Justin Price said. “We’re going to have to have performances we haven’t seen yet.

“We’ve got to have first-place finishes with the kids we’re expecting it from, and a couple of dark horses too.”

The Rifle boys come into the meet with one athlete prequalified for state in hurdler Justin Steffen. Steffen earned a ticket to state in the 110-meter hurdles and will shoot for a spot in the 300 hurdles as well.

Athletes and relay teams can qualify for state by bettering the designated prequalifying mark or finishing in the top three at the regional meet.

Two notable Rifle athletes who have not prequalified are sprinters Mike Birdsley and David Suminski. The two will be key point-getters for Rifle and need strong showings in order to extend their seasons.

Birdsley runs the 200, 400 and relays, while Suminski is in the 100, 200 and relays. Price expects both to place in the top three in their events.

“I’d like to see Birdsley knock (Montrose) down a couple of notches in the 400,” Price said. “We hope to place three of our boys in the 200.”

Brian Hileman rounds out the sprinters corps that will be key in offsetting Montrose’s dominance in the distance events. Montrose, led by standout Ben Tobler, could rack up points in the 1,600 and 3,200, particularly without Glenwood Springs’ Chad Salmen participating and taking a high finish.

“Without Salmen, that’s going to allow them to go 1-2-3,” Price said. “It would be nice if somebody stepped in there.”

Along with Birdsley and Suminski, Marcus Carrion should earn some points for Rifle and possibly a trip to state in the discus. The Bears also have a good chance to qualify almost all their relay teams.

“We’re a good team, but Montrose is also a good team,” Price said. “And they are gunning for us. We haven’t seen them at full strength yet, but I’m sure we will at Regionals.”

Salmen is the only Glenwood’s prequalifier off the boys team, earning a trip to state in the 1,600 and 3,200, but he won’t be competing this weekend. Instead he has opted to compete in the National Mock Trial Tournament in New Orleans.

Head coach Blake Risner believes that some other athletes off the Demons boys team could join him at state with strong Regional outings.

“The boys 4×200 and 4×400 can’t be ruled out as a possibility if things fall into place for them,” Risner said. “With the way Matt Wilson and Ryan Erickson threw last week in the discus, they have an excellent opportunity to take top three.”

On the girls’ side, both Glenwood and Rifle have three athletes prequalified.

Glenwood’s Amber Sutherland is in for both shot put and discus, while Megan McKinnie and Jeri Polowchena have qualified in the 300 hurdles and triple jump, respectively.

Polowchena will also be shooting for a qualification in the 100 hurdles and the 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams have a chance to earn a trip as well.

Abbey Walters, who qualified for state in the 800 and 1,600 last season, has a “decent shot” in the 800, according to Risner.

“Just the fact that this is the final meet of the season and a state qualifying meet, I’m hoping that the intensity level picks up a notch or two in all our athletes,” Risner said.

Rifle’s prequalifiers on the girls side are Kristina Dahlin (high jump), Jessica Warwick (3,200) and Amanda Bingman (shot put).

“(Warwick) has really come around and become a great two-miler this year,” Price said. “She’s a kid who I think will do well even at the state level.”

The Bears girls have a shot at the team title, but will have to overcome favorites Palisade and Moffat County. Like the boys, the Rifle girls will need some unexpected high finishes, only more of them.

Terena Leuallen and Ali Little anchor the sprinting corps and Rifle’s strongest area may be in the jumps. Jennifer Schneider could fare well in both the long and triple jumps, and Krista Wagstrom is a threat in the triple as well.

“Both the boys and girls teams, they are going to have to do well and be on their game to win, but I think they do have a shot,” Price said. “They’ve shown over the year how tough they are and what high-quality competitors they are. We just need to be sure to let that competitiveness come out.”

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