In February, at the beginning of the track and field season, Steamboat Springs coach Andy Reust said he thought his girls team had the talent to win a regional championship.
Saturday, the girls did just that, leaving Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction with a championship plaque. The team race was close, but Steamboat clinched the title when junior Jennifer Hooper crossed the 3,200-meter finish line first with a season-best time of 12 minutes, 44 seconds to give her team an insurmountable 13-point lead with one event left.
It was Hooper's second regional title in as many days. She won the 1,600 meters Friday.
Saturday's regional championship was the first Steamboat has won since joining Class 4A in the mid-1990s. And it took a team effort to get it done.
Most girls teams at the regional meet had at least 20 members. The Sailors accomplished their ultimate team goal with 13, proving that talent trumps numbers.
Saturday's competition started strong for the Sailors with the quartet of Missy Chotvacs, Hannah Bowers, Patricia Henderson and Jessica Peters picking up an expected first-place finish in the 800-meter medley, or sprint medley, in 1:51.29. Other than Hooper's win, the sprint medley was the only other event Steamboat won Saturday, but it was the other results that separated the Sailors from the Bears.
A day after placing fifth at the state tennis tournament in Pueblo, Tara King arrived in Grand Junction one hour before the open 800 to warm up. Then she broke the school record and qualified for state, finishing second behind Moffat County's Angela Nelson in 2:21.70. The previous record was 2:22.20.
"That was fun," King said. "It was fun to have competition, and it was nice to have someone pushing you."
King hadn't run the event since last weekend when she showed up to compete after playing three tennis matches to advance to the state tennis tournament. She practiced Monday and then left for Pueblo on Wednesday, so she's excited to see what happens at state when she has a chance to train and focus exclusively on track.
Also headed to state is senior Hannah Gary who ran a 16.68 to finish third in the 100-meter hurdles. After the race, Gary was certain she had failed to place in the top three.
"I came to the tent and laid down," Gary said. "Sully (coach Chris Sullivan) was consoling me. It was a bad race."
But once the final results were announced, Sullivan and coach Denise Pearson returned to the tent to tell Gary she had qualified.
Mackenzie Frank placed eighth in the same event.
Gary also will be participating in
the 400-meter relay with teammates Chotvacs, Bowers and Henderson. The group ran a 52.33 to place second.
Henderson also is headed to state with Peters in the 400 after the pair finished second and third, respectively, in 58.85 and 59.50. Peters is the defending state champion in the event.
"I had no intentions of running this," said Henderson, who was primarily a short-distance sprinter in middle school. "(Jessica) was the one that told me how to run it."
In addition to the state qualifiers, Steamboat needed strong runs from its other team members if it had hopes of winning a championship.
Peters came in fourth in the 200 but already has pre-qualified in the event, so she is automatically in the state field. The top three regional finishers in each event advance to state.
Kayla Kostur, one day after winning the triple jump, jumped a personal best 15 feet, 3 1/2 inches to get fourth, missing out on state by less than two inches.
"I wasn't even ranked in the top 10," Kostur said. "I came into the finals in seventh. I think jumpers peak at a certain time. I'm lucky it was this weekend."
Katie Conrath picked up a seventh-place finish in the 800 in 2:33.81.
Frank was sixth in the 300-meter hurdles in 51.27.
Frank teamed with Bowers, Chotvacs and Henderson to place fourth in the 800-meter relay in 1:52.54. The quartet of King, Conrath, Bowers and Frank ran a 4:33.28 to place seventh in the 1,600-meter relay.
The 13 members who helped Steamboat win a regional championship were Bowers, Chotvacs, Conrath, Stephanie Engle, Frank, Gary, Erin Gleason, Henderson, Hooper, King, Kostur, Peters and Lindsay Stanford.
Saturday afternoon, 11 of them posed for photos with the plaque and a plastic pitcher otherwise known as the Victory Cup. Eight of them have one more week left.
The Class 4A state track meet is Friday and Saturday at Jeffco Stadium in Denver. The Class 5A meet will be held at the same site.