With a smile that expressed half excitement and half fatigue, Lauren Branstetter left the Stocker Stadium track as a regional champion.
The sophomore finished the grueling 400 meters in 1 minute, 2.21 seconds, posting the only sub-1:03 time in the girls Class 2A field at the two-day regional meet in Grand Junction.
Branstetter will be joined by a host of teammates at this weekend's state track meet in Pueblo, as the Tigers finished in the top three in eight individual or relay events.
Branstetter was the lone champion, but all Hayden's athletes that finished in the top three have the chance to run, throw or jump at the state track and field meet.
Sophomore Kayla Kostur finished third in the high jump Saturday after finishing second in the triple jump Friday.
Sophomore Evan Hilling ran a 23.49 to finish third in the 200-meter finals.
Senior Samantha Schoeberl ran a 13.19 to finish third in the 100 meters.
Senior Alan "Bubba" Stark, resplendent with newly dyed burgundy hair, threw the shot put 42 feet, 7 inches to finish third. Teammate Kelly Bruchez, sporting a new Tiger-orange hairstyle, narrowly missed qualifying for state by finishing fourth in the shot.
"Alan's just come on in this event really in the last couple meets," Tigers coach Kevin Kleckler said.
In addition to the individual events, three different relays qualified on the girls' side.
"This was absolutely a great two days," Kleckler added.
Hayden opened things off in the first event of Saturday's finals with a second-place showing in the 800-medley.
Andrea Deepe, Justine Bedell, Jaclyn Etzler and Schoeberl finished second in 2:01.67.
"That set the tone for the rest of the day," Kleckler said.
A third-place finish in the final event of Saturday, the 1,600-meter relay, ended the regional meet in positive fashion for the Tigers as well.
Dana Schlingman, Etzler, Schoeberl and Branstetter finished in a season-best time of 4:30.50 to qualify for the state meet.
Kleckler was impressed with his athletes' effort in the final race of the day.
Schlingman, running what Kleckler called her best 400 of the year, started off strong for Hayden. She handed the baton off to Etzler who ran smoothly for 300 meters before kicking in over the final 100 to pass several competitors.
Schoeberl ran an impressive third leg, putting Hayden in third-place. Branstetter, the region's top 400 runner, ran a solid anchor race, maintaining the Tigers' position.
Sandwiched between the opening and closing state-qualifying races was Hayden's state qualifying run in the 400-meter relay.
Schoeberl, Bedell, Branstetter and Etzler finished right behind Soroco in third in a time of 53.42.
The Class 2A State Track and Field Meet opens Friday in Pueblo.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail email@example.com