Steamboat Springs The sound of Sailors running in the Steamboat Springs High School hallways is a harbinger as certain as the groundhog's shadow that spring is on its way.
And while the 3 feet of snow dumped on Steamboat in the past week meant that the Sailors had at least one more week of winter training left, they are preparing just the same for their first meet March 30.
Snow piled on the track at mid-March is nothing new for the Sailors, but it does mean they have to wait to fully practice relay handoffs, the special jumps and the throwing events.
And it means more of running through the high school hallways, sprinting up the hills near Colorado Mountain College and jogging along roads.
And with little track time, Sailors coach Andy Reust is still gauging his team.
"At this point, I haven't set any goals. It will take a while, three or four meets, to find out where we are at," he said.
So far the team has 55 athletes, but Reust is waiting for winter sports like snowboarding, cross country skiing and hockey to finish up their seasons before the final count and talent is tallied. But the Sailors do have four of last year's 11 state qualifiers returning.
The graduation of Rachel Starr might have meant the loss of the Sailors' brightest track star, but the girls team has many other twinkling prospects for the spring season.
"I really like what I've seen. So far at this point, the outlook is very good," Reust said.
Topping the list are Lennae Jenkins and Jessica Flores, both of whom qualified for state in the 4x400-meter relay, and Jennifer Stanford, who qualified in the high jump.
But the Sailors lost Starr, who placed second in the 400-meter race at last year's state track and field meet when she broke the 60-second barrier. Starr also took 14th in the 800-meter run and was on the 1,600-meter relay team.
Jenkins is expected to be strong again in the 400 meters and Flores will contribute in the 100-meter hurdles along with a leg on the 4x4 relay team. At the state meet last year, the team of Jenkins, Flores, MacKenzie Little and Starr came just short of qualifying for the finals in the 1,600-meter relay.
On the boys' side, the Sailors lost three of the four members on its state qualifying relay teams. Junior Patrick McMahon is the only one returning from the 400-meter relay team that at the state meet placed 11th, just two spots and less than a second off the qualifying pace for the finals. The Sailors lost team members and top sprinters Kyle Svendsen, Derek Haverley and Ryan Wattles to graduation.
A two-time state qualifier in the relay events, McMahon just missed going to the state meet in the open 400 meters. McMahon will also be a key leg in the 100- and 200-meter relays.
Jeremy Hays is also expected to do well in the 400- and 800-meter races.
"We're strong in the 400 and 800s," Reust said. "But we lost a lot of sprinters."
Some newcomers in the long-distance events will add some fresh legs to the team. After strong finishes in the fall cross country season, Lauren Lightfoot and Jennifer Hooper are expected to bring in some points. As a freshman, Hooper took a sixth place at the regional cross country tournament and Lightfoot finished eighth.
One of the top hopes in the distance races for the boys is senior Ian Ramsay, who just missed qualifying for state in the 800 meters and one-mile events. With strong competition, Ramsay's regional mile time of 4:36 was just seconds short of the state qualifying time.
"I'm really expecting (Ramsay) to have a big year. He just missed competing at the higher level (last year)," distance coach John Smith said. "He should lead in the Western Slope in the mile. There are still some strong milers out there, but he should have a good year."
In the field events, the Sailors will miss Brienna Combs, who was injured for most of the season but was able to take a third in the discus at last year's state meet.
Graduate Luke Nykamp led the boys' throwers in the discus by placing 17th in the state tournament last year.
Taking 15th at the state track meet in the high jump, Stanford will return as the Sailors' top jumper, but the boys will miss Svendsen, who took 11th and just missed the finals in the triple jump at state.
But Reust is expecting the younger Sailors to become contenders in the jumping and throwing competitions.
"We've got about eight or 10 in the field events that I think can come around and help out," Reust said.
The Sailors' first meet will be March 30 at Brighton High School, where they will face some strong 5A schools.
Reust is expecting the traditional strong regional schools of Glenwood Springs and Rifle to be competitive this year as well as the state's powerhouse in cross country, the Moffat County girls team.