Steamboat Springs senior Tyler O'Leary had no plans to graduate this spring. He earned enough credits to leave school after the first semester, but he changed his mind because the coaches at Western State College, where O'Leary is running cross country next fall, had different plans for their recruit.
"They wanted me to run," O'Leary said.
The decision worked out. O'Leary enters the Class 4A regional track and field meet today as one of the top distance runners in the Western half of Colorado. He is qualified for the state field in the 3,200-meter run after finishing in 10 minutes, 9 seconds at the Tiger Track Invitational last weekend. The pre-qualification standard time is 10:11.30.
Junior Jen Hooper will join her teammate at state after she pre-qualified in the 3,200 meters with a 12:04 at the same meet. The Class 4A standard time for girls in the 3,200 is 12:06 this season.
O'Leary and Hooper, along with junior Katie Conrath, hope their results today will qualify them for the state championships in the 1,600 meters, as well. All three are among the top seeds in their events, and the top three finishers in each event earn an invitation to the state meet.
"It's been different this year," Conrath said. "We're becoming more serious about running, but that's a good thing."
The two-day regional meet opens at 9 a.m. today at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction with the 3,200-meter relay, as well as various field events, including the girls' high jump in Class 4A.
Only one relay -- the 3,200-meter relay -- will be contested today in Class 2A and 4A. The remaining relays will be run in heats Saturday. But the 3,200-meter relay is where the Steamboat girls and boys have hopes of finishing among the top three.
Behind Bjorn Utu, Austin Ross, Matt Legrice and Matt Hill, Steamboat has a shot at third. Montrose and Moffat County are two of the state's top 3,200-meter relay teams, so the Sailors have to hold off Cortez.
On the girls' side, the Sailors will compete without two regular members of the 3,200 relay team. The loss of Kelli Parnell to a season-ending injury and the possible absence of anchor Tara King because of state tennis creates some uncertainty for the girls, but Erin Gleason and Lindsay Stanford have filled in before and have run well with regular relay members Hooper and Conrath.
Missy Chotvacs and Kayla Kostur, two of the better triple jumpers in the region, will vie for state spots at 1:30 p.m.
The regional meet held in Grand Junction is one of the top meets in Colorado. Regardless of class, some of the best teams and individual track and field athletes in Colorado are in this region, including members of the Soroco and Hayden teams.
While some of the suspense has been taken out of the regional competition because the Rams and Tigers have pre-qualified in most of their best events, there is plenty on the line this weekend other than a championship.
"How we perform at state is how we perform at regionals," Soroco coach Gary Heide said. "This is serious business. We are going for seeding, too. We need another strong race week before state and need to have that confidence level high."
Several Soroco sprinters must make it through today's preliminaries to run in Saturday's finals, but the only state bids on the line today in Class 2A -- other than the 1,600 -- are in the field events.
Tigers coach Kevin Kleckler said Tyson Sweetser has a chance at finishing in the top three in the discus, which begins at 9 a.m. Additionally, female throwers on Hayden's team will take their best shots at making the state meet when the Class 2A discus begins at 1:30 p.m.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail email@example.com