Joel Reichenberger: Steamboat track coaches get creative to power team

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Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

— Monday afternoon’s high school track practice didn't have the air of a defeated camp, even though in some ways that’s what it was.

The Steamboat Springs High School track has one regular season meet remaining, and nothing short of a miracle will push the season one week further — to the state championship meet — for any of the 24 Sailors out for this year’s squad.

There wasn’t any gloom to be found anywhere around the track, however. No resignation of a certain fate, no going through the motions for one last week, and certainly no defeat. Faced with the prospect of a team stricken by all of those melancholy maladies, coaches Andy Reust and Greg Long came up with a plan to head it off, and Monday that meant a lot of experimenting, a lot of wide eyes and a lot of hopeful grins.

Steamboat’s track program has long since finished hemorrhaging talented athletes to Johnny-come-lately spring sports like tennis, soccer and lacrosse. The program hit one of its lows a year ago when just one girl and about a dozen athletes total came out.

Things have improved greatly this season — the number of athletes has doubled — but competitively the program is still just a shadow of many other Class 4A teams in the state, and certainly of what it was in its powerhouse days late in the last century.

It’s bad enough that as the season wound down, it appeared only two athletes would earn varsity letters, awarded for scoring 20 or more points in a meet.

That can be easy for a top athlete. Meg O’Connell, in her first year on the team, accomplished as much two meets into the season. It doesn’t take long when a win in one event nets 10 points.

Other Sailors have struggled. Only distance guru Colton Lewer has joined O’Connell in “lettering,” and there wasn’t much prospect of anyone else making it unless the team-mandated rules changed.

So, the rules changed, and a week of bright smiles and mad scrambling is the result.

Now, every athlete must compete in the state maximum of four events, and each Sailor is awarded three points for being tops on the team in any given event.

It’s made for creative dreaming, some clever strategy and a lot of counting seconds and inches.

Take Ben Lingle. He’s a distance runner by trade, notching some of the team’s best times in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters. He’s small by stature, among the shortest boys on the team. And when the team heads off to the regional track meet this Friday and Saturday, he’ll try his hand at shot put.

Charles Tisch hopes to get the push he needs to sew up a letter in the 3,200 meters. That wouldn’t seem noteworthy except for the fact he’s run only one race longer than 400 meters this season.

Erik Rudolf is eyeing a team-best performance in the 110-meter high hurdles. He practiced the event for the first time Friday, first making sure he could actually clear the hurdles.

“It was harder than I thought it was, but I think I’ll manage,” he said

How could he not manage? So long as he finishes, he’ll have the fastest Steamboat time and be three points closer to lettering.

It’s the same story in the triple jump. Anyone who competes and manages to make it all the way to the sand is likely to rack up three points. Up and down the roster, Sailors are scouting out the season’s best times and distances, looking for places they may be able to steal some points.

In a perfect Steamboat, the Sailors would be dedicating this week to sharping their performances, checking and rechecking their marks and doing anything possible to cut that extra second or add that extra inch in preparation for combat with the state’s best.

Things aren’t perfect for the program, but faced with a field full of athletes working hard, striving to the last day of the season, it's clear things aren’t bad, either.

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