Facing state's standouts

Tracksters hope for the best, prepare for the worst

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— Reality sometimes does bite.

After qualifying for state at the recent regional meet, several members of the Steamboat Springs track team have the opportunity -- distinguished or disappointing -- to compete against standouts from the state and nation at Jeffco Stadium this weekend.

Exciting? Absolutely.

Frustrating? No doubt.

Take freshman Missy Chotvacs. Her leap of 33 feet, 1/2 inch at the regional meet was a personal best and got her a third-place finish in the triple jump.

This weekend, Chotvacs will be leaping into the same pit as Montbello's Toni Smith, the state-record holder in the event. Smith is capable of leaping more than 40 feet.

"It is exciting," Chotvacs said, on competing against an athlete such as Smith. "But it's like I'm never going to win. This year, I'm going to be watching all these girls and try to pick up their good habits."

For a majority of the seven Steamboat athletes who have qualified -- Chotvacs, Jessica Peters, Ryan Proffitt, Tyler Johnson, Hannah Gary, Jennifer Hooper and Tyler O'Leary -- the chance to represent the Sailors at this weekend's state meet was an unexpected surprise, so they aren't complaining.

To be in the Class 4A field is a compliment.

"We're past regionals, and now I have to prepare for state instead of worrying about making it," Gary said.

Not only will Gary's chief competition come from defending champion Amy Bladow of Lewis-Palmer, Peters also is in the running to possibly place in the high jump.

Peters did not jump at regionals but cleared 5'4" earlier this season to prequalify. Gary's top height is 5'2", which is promising for someone out for track after a three-year hiatus.

"I wanted to go to state, but I never thought I was going too," Gary said.

The same holds true for Hooper and O'Leary, both qualifiers in the 3200 meters.

Steamboat's distance runners, more a team than a group of individuals, collectively ran as well as they have all year at last weekend's regional meet in Grand Junction.

Hooper and O'Leary are the beneficiaries of hard training, strong runs and supportive teammates, distance coach John Smith said.

Lauren Lightfoot, who placed eighth in the 3200 meters (12:44.02) at regionals, went harder than normal for five laps to push Hooper to a state-qualifying run of 12:13.08 in the eight-lap race.

"(At regionals) they fully understood the peaking at the right moment philosophy," Smith said. "They ran out of their minds. They understand how to hurt. Even in pain and pushing there is another level. Tyler and Jennifer prepared themselves mentally for the hardest race of the year."

Steamboat's other three qualifiers: Proffitt in the 100 meters, Johnson in the 100 and 200 and Peters in the high jump, 100, 200 and 400 aren't huge surprises.

While Johnson said he didn't anticipate making state in the 200, he is one of Western Colorado's top sprinters in Class 4A, as is Proffitt, so their qualifying runs capped off successful prestate seasons.

But no one, perhaps, had more individual success for the Sailors this season than Peters. Though Reust couldn't find official records, he and former track coach Kelly Meek couldn't recall a Steamboat athlete qualifying for state in four individual events, Reust said.

Peters has a shot at placing in all four -- in her first season.

She has done research, however and knows it will be tough.

The headliner in the 100 and 200 field is undoubtedly Liberty's Ashley Owens. She is the fastest female athlete in Colorado, regardless of class. And following a 7.4 in the 60 meters, which Owens hoped would translate into as low as 11.2 in the 100, she is arguably the fastest female prep athlete in the nation.

"That makes me really excited," Peters said on racing Owens. "I may not beat her, but I can try and catch her."

Peters said the beating her body will take Friday -- preliminaries and finals of the high jump, followed by preliminaries in the 100, 400 and 200 -- could lead to disappointing results. Or, she said, it could keep her mind from focusing on one thing, simulating a regular meet as opposed to the biggest one of the track season.

If relaxed and confident, Peters may find herself as one of the hunted instead of the hunter. She is one of two girls that posted a sub-60 second 400 time in Class 4A this year, according to result sheets Reust possesses.

"The thing I've told the team is that you can't be in awe of some of these athletes. At this meet, in every event, you will have an elite-level athlete," he said. "In the 400, it may be Peters."

The Class 4A/5A State Track and Field Meet begins on 9:40 a.m. Friday at Jeffco Stadium in Denver.

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