State crowns decided this weekend

Phil Sandoval

Who’s the best?

Instead of guesses, the answer will be settled on the track or in the throwing ring when area athletes vie for state medals at the Class 4A State Track and Field Championships this weekend at Lakewood’s Jeffco Stadium.

Rifle High, the girls’ regional team champion and boys’ runner-up, has qualified 23 athletes – 12 boys and 11 girls – in various events to the two-day championship meet.

The large number, head coach Justin Price said, gives both Bear teams a chance of finishing high in the team standings.

“I’ve looked at all our times from regionals and they are in the top three in the state,” said Price. “I don’t know if we can win a state title, but if we compete to the best of our ability, we can finish in the top five.”

“State is a big meet. But I think we have one of the stronger regions in the state, and the kids understand they belong there and can compete,” Price added.

Glenwood Springs will have a contingent of seven boys and four girls on hand when action gets under way at 9:30 a.m., Friday morning.

“I’m real excited about having 14 athletes go to state,” said Glenwood head coach Blake Risner. “Getting the opportunity to experience the state meet is what high school track is all about. I think it’s unmatched in high school athletics.”

Heading into this weekend’s meet, both area teams have athletes who are favored for high finishes.

In the individual events, the area is especially strong in the hurdles.

Rifle’s Justin Steffen won regional titles in both events. His 15.04-second time in the 110-meter high hurdles is among the top five of 4A boys statewide.

In the 2002 meet, Steffen finished ninth in the 300 hurdles and failed to advance from the preliminary heats.

While winning a medal is on his mind, Steffen looks at his return to the state meet as a fun experience.

“It’s my last high school meet, so I want to go and enjoy myself,” he said.

Likewise, Glenwood’s Megan McKinnie, the intermediate girls’ regional champ, has the fastest 300 hurdle time in Colorado this season.

The senior ran a 46.42 time at regionals last week, bettering her previous state-best by .13 seconds.

“I see Megan as the top returning hurdler in 4A, and I see Megan as the favorite,” Risner said.

Among other favorites, Glenwood’s Marco Salmen is high on the list in both the boys 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.

Salmen’s 4:23.95 1,600 tops the state among 4A boys. His closest competitor, Alex Clayton from Colorado Springs’ Liberty is right behind at 4:24.06.

In the 3,200, Salmen is one of only two 4A runners, according to the Rocky Mountain News to break the 10-minute barrier. The Demon senior has recorded a 9:50.11 this year.

The Demons’ Jeri Polowchena, coming off regional wins in the girls 100 high hurdles and triple jump, will be strong contender in both events at state.

Switching to the field events, Glenwood’s Amber Sutherland could be the state 4A champ in the girls’ shot put and discus. The Demon junior served notice on the rest of the state by winning both events in Grand Junction last week.

On the boys side, the area will be represented by regional shot put champ Andrew Stone of Rifle and runner-up Chase Warner of Glenwood.

A pair of Rifle throwers could also make some noise in the pit.

Senior Amanda Bingman, according to the Rocky Mountain News, has one of the better shot put marks in Class 4A at 37 feet, 8 inches. And, after a two-foot improvement from his previous best, Bear Andrew Stone, who captured the regional title last week with a 44-4 1/2 toss, could be in the medal hunt.

Rifle’s Jennifer Schneider has qualified in the girls’ long and triple jumps. Kristina Dahlin and Krista Wagstrom will compete in the high jump and long jump, respectively.

The area has big numbers in the relays.

A total of nine relay teams will line up for the prelims in various events.

Rifle has qualified teams in all four boys relays and in the girls 4×200 and 4×800. The Glenwood boys advanced teams to the 4×100 and 4×200 relays along with the girls 4×100.

The other running events are an all-Bear affair, as far as area athletes are concerned.

Terena Leuallen will look to improve her fourth-place finish in the girls’ 100 meters at last year’s state meet. The senior clocked a season-best 12.47 mark in winning last week’s regional championship.

Savanna Beecraft will participate in the girls’ 800, Ali Little is set in the 400 and Jessica Warwick will run in the 3,200. Along with relay action, David Suminski is scheduled to run in the boys’ 100 meters.

The 4A meet opens at 9:30 a.m. on Friday with the boys’ discus and girls’ triple and high jump. The first running event – the girls’ sprint relay – is scheduled for 9:40 a.m.

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