Catch them if you can

Soroco runners aim for 1-2 finish in 400 meters

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State champions aren't granted the privilege of anonymity, despite Andy deGanahl's wishes. If his only state title had come in the 400 meters, perhaps fewer people would have started asking questions. But the moment the fresh-faced, somewhat lanky sprinter broke the tape in the 200 meters last season, it didn't take long for those inquiring to discover the one thing deGanahl wanted to keep quiet: He was only a sophomore.

This year, the state champion tag follows deGanahl to every meet. So do the expectations. So do the stares. The junior from Oak Creek knew this season would be more difficult. He is aiming to defend his Class 2A 200- and 400-meter titles, while a teammate is trying to take one.

Senior Kory Babcock started track last season, quickly becoming Soroco's second-best sprinter, particularly at 400 meters. Along with current seniors Trevor Ellis and C.J. Remick, Babcock and deGanahl quietly led the Rams' 1,600-meter relay team to a third-place state finish in 2003.

The impressive times Babcock turned in on his 400-meter leg of the relay last season prompted coach Gary Heide to give the three-sport athlete a shot at running the open 400 this

spring. While deGanahl won the first timed 400 between the two in practice nearly two months ago, it wasn't by much.

"He was right there," deGanahl said, pointing to the air immediately behind his right shoulder.

Second stinks ... sort of

Junior Karli Babcock once beat her older brother in a Labor Day race. It didn't go over well. He is one of the most competitive people she knows, which is why, she said, finishing second to deGanahl is disappointing for her brother.

"It's not as bad as usual because he knows Andy is the state champion," Karli Babcock said. "But he wants to win."

A runner from Montrose, a larger 4A school, is the only sprinter to beat deGanahl in the 400 this season, and that came in the first meet of the season at Hotchkiss with deGanahl stuck in Lane 1. But there is one person out there who thinks Babcock has as good a shot as any to be the second.

"Personally, I think Kory could take me if he thought he could," deGanahl said.

Babcock paused to process that statement.

"I don't even think of beating Andy right now," Babcock conceded. "It kind of phases me, but it's not as bad because he's a teammate. We have that respect. I mean, we're best friends. But if it were anyone else I'd be having a grudge."

The 400 meters is a strategic sprint. In his third season of running the event, deGanahl said it has become instinctual. When the gun goes off, he thinks through the start and tells his body to stay strong through the end. Other than that, he's on autopilot.

Babcock, on the other hand, is learning but said he had his breakthrough Tuesday in Kremmling.

"You look at how to really push yourself, what to think during it and how to use your lanes," Babcock said. "Andy was telling me all this stuff. I was like, whatever, you just run, but you use your backstretch and corner. (Tuesday) it felt like that. It felt right."

Babcock and deGanahl pre-qualified for state in the 400 meters April 15. Babcock turned in a time of 52.24 seconds, while deGanahl ran a 51.53. The standard this year is 52.55.

At the same meet, deGanahl also pre-qualified in the 200 with a 22.73, which was more than half a second below the standard. Babcock is jumping at the pre-qualifying distance in the triple jump, as well.

Pushing teammates

The 1,600-meter relay -- four participants each run a 400-meter leg -- is the climactic finale of every track meet. For hours, the adrenaline and anticipation builds toward the event, which is arguably the most exciting race in track and field.

Last season, deGanahl delivered some jaw-dropping performances, catching people from seemingly impossible distances to give the Rams quality finishes.

This season, when Soroco shows up at the start line, everyone else is racing for second -- and they know it.

Freshman Carl Remick and Ellis keep the Rams close in the first two legs. Babcock passes people on his leg. And if the Rams don't have the lead by the time deGanahl takes the baton for the anchor leg, they do by the finish line.

"At the Glenwood meet, people were like, 'Do we have to run against Soroco?'" Babcock said. "It's awesome. ... In the 4 by 4, I don't want to say it, but it's almost like a given. But we still find ways to push ourselves."

According to the Colorado High School Activities Association, the quartet is one of three teams to pre-qualify for state in the 1,600-meter relay, but Soroco's time of 3:35.67 is nowhere near where it wants to run at state. Last year, the Rams ran a 3:30.34 and took third.

Living a dream

If any coach or team thought last season was a fluke for Soroco track, they don't anymore. The boys have pre-qualified five events for state, while the girls are running at or close to pre-qualifying times in several events, as well.

When the Rams enter a race they don't expect to be the fastest 2A team in the field; they expect to be the fastest -- period.

That attitude begins with deGanahl and Babcock.

Babcock challenges deGanahl to run faster, which forces Babcock to go harder to stay close. Each is doing whatever it takes to win every race in practice or in competition, but both agree neither would be in the position they are in this season without the other.

"Coaches are amazed that such a small school can have a 400 runner like Andy," Heide said. "It's a dream to have one, but to have two. ... They are making a name for themselves, and it's going around."

The dreams, too, have begun for Babcock, and they are becoming more frequent. The background is often blurry, and it's just him competing in the triple jump and 400.

The state flashbacks have started for deGanahl. While sitting in class, he zones out. He isn't reliving one experience. It's everything from warming up to crossing the finish line. When he comes to, he said, his heart is pounding.

The state meet at Dutch Clark Stadium in Pueblo is less than a month away. Saturday at the Vail Christian Invitational, Babcock and deGanahl finished first and second yet again in the 400. Babcock ran a personal-best 51.88, while deGanahl won with a 50.83.

"Coach told us at the beginning of the year we could go one-two (at state)," Babcock said. "That's the goal. We can do it."

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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