Hayden Hayden track and field coach Kevin Kleckler knows the state meet in Pueblo will field one of the deepest and best groups of 400- and 800-meter relay teams in years.
With 17 teams competing in the 400-meter relay and 16 teams competing in the 800-meter relay - and less than 1 1/2 seconds separating the best qualifying times from the worst ones, to call the field competitive would be an understatement.
Fortunately for Hayden and Kleckler, the Tigers' regional championship relay team of Zathan Bark, Coy Letlow, Sam Kopsa and Jake Walker is as hot as any team in the field. They're cutting time and, most importantly, peaking at the right time.
"We expect them to be very competitive," Kleckler said about his team, which competes today during the preliminary events. The top teams make it to Saturday's final. "It's a competitive field, but at regionals, the boys' time wasn't their fastest. It wasn't their fastest, and they had a bobble."
Along with the two relay teams, Hayden fields athletes in the 100-meter dash (Walker and Bark), 110-meter hurdles (Billy Zehner) and shot put (Emily Whiteman and Holli Salazar).
The 100-meter dash should provide the same intrigue relays do. With a fully loaded field, including last year's state champion Sam McKinley, Kleckler said the finals on Saturday will be entertaining.
"Jake, Zathan and Coy have been battling all year," Kleckler said. "Jake is the cream of the crop and has risen to the top, but all three should be competitive."
Zehner, who narrowly qualified for state during last weekend's regionals, will look to get out of prelims on Friday and into the hurdles finals Saturday.
Whiteman and Salazar will throw in the first flight today, and both have a legitimate shot at placing.
Their throws are a mere 3 feet short of that of the top qualifier, and Kleckler said both should be able to throw personal bests.
"The ring is slick in Pueblo. It's the best," Kleckler said. "If they're on their game and in it, they'll throw very well. There's no reason not to throw their personal best. They're both striving for the school shot put record."
Regardless of whether Hayden brings home any state titles, Kleckler said he just wants to see his athletes improve on their times.
Anything else, he said, is a bonus.
"Obviously we want to be successful," he said. "But we want them to get the experience of what they've gone through. The emotions. The ups and downs. Mostly we want them to enjoy it."
- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229
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