16 minutes to remember: Sailors score state title, third-place finish in furious span at state track
May 17, 2018
LAKEWOOD — Track's not a seasonal thing for the Steamboat Springs stars of Thursday's state track and field meet. It's a year-round thing, with conditioning and cross country and workouts and nutrition and indoor meets. It's countless hours, infinite minutes, and still, for those five athletes — pole vaulter Eric Casey and 800-meter runners Winter Boese, Maggi Congdon, Isabelle Boniface and Marcada Baker — it all came down to 16 minutes, a bewildering coming together of skill and work.
In one 16-minute span, one of the best 16 minutes of the spans in a long, long time for the program, the Sailors won two medals, including the team's first individual state championship in more than a decade.
For Casey, the path to the top started a year ago, with a fifth-place finish at state.
He glanced at the results sheet after that event and realized every athlete who beat him was set to graduate. He'd finished the season having gained 2 feet, 4 inches on his best from his freshman season, and he was suddenly Class 3A's top returning pole vaulter.
"That's when I realized," he said Thursday. "That’s when I realized I could be pretty good."
He was good, too, at least in the indoor season. He topped out in 2017 at the state meet at 11-10, but soared more than 14 feet indoors, and he began planning to compete in college. He's just a junior but is already set on going to compete at California Polytechnic State University.
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He was at his best in the winter, in the still air of an indoor meet. When spring hit, he couldn't quite shift those accomplishments outdoors, however.
He entered the state meet just as he'd expected, with the No. 1 jump in the state, but it was only 13-2, 10 inches short of what he knew he could do, and midway through the 3A boys pole vault competition for the state championship at JeffCo Stadium, he was stalled out after 13-0, having missed on his first attempt at 13-3.
One hundred yards away, the four members of Steamboat girls 3,200-meter relay team worked through their final warmups, ready to take on what's become one of the track team’s signature events.
The idea the Steamboat girls 3,200 relay team arrived at only made sense in the mind of someone who woke up early to catch the bus, then rumbled along with it all the way from the high school to the state track meet.
They decided if everything went right, if every athlete shaved a few seconds off her personal best, they could run their race in 9 minutes, 30 seconds.
A run of strong distance runners has turned the race into one of Steamboat's best. That group is mostly on its second generation now. Four state meets ago, in 2015, a group of four Sailors challenged, but ultimately fell just short of, the school record in the race.
A year later, they accomplished it with the help of then-freshman Winter Boese, timing in at 9:47.79, the fastest a group of Sailor girls had ever run back to back to back to back 800s.
"My team was three seniors, and I thought, 'That’s cool. That will be up there for awhile,'" Boese said. "I thought there would be no way I'd see that record broken again."
Their bus-ride goal of 9:30 seemed preposterous, especially considering the team's best time before Thursday was 10:08.97.
They'd made a change, subbing in Baker, a freshman who'd wowed her teammates (and made the cut for the individual 800 at state), with a sub-2:30 time, 2:24.96.
The foursome never ran as a group before state, but it had big plans, and that's where the focus was — not on the south end of the stadium, where Casey ran again to try to clear 13-3.
He made it.
He'd brushed the bar at 12-6, hitting it so hard he expected it to fall down to the mat with him, but when he looked back up, it was still hanging.
"It was as far out on the pegs as I’ve ever seen a bar," he said.
He cruised over 13-0, then got 13-3 on his second attempt, and suddenly, he was one of only four competitors left.
Suddenly the championship was within reach.
The problem this season has been the timing, Casey decided.
That's what’s kept him reaching the marks he's wanted to. Every little thing can make a difference in a sport as precise as pole vault, and it was the little things that were off.
"My timing wasn’t quite right," he said. “I wasn't riding the pole all the way up."
Finally, after clearing 13-3, his timing came together.
He was up again quickly, now, with so few vaults remaining, but he took a moment, closing his eyes, folding his hands and leaning his head back so his long hair fell away from his face — a moment to find his focus.
Then he was up, and soon, he was over, flying over the bar at 13-6.
He climbed out of the pit and clapped his hands loudly.
It was 4:13, and Winter Boese was sprinting from the starting line on the first leg of the 3,200 relay.
Boese tore down the track, fast, maybe too fast, she wondered, but nevertheless, she tried in the first lap to keep pace with the race favorites, from Peak to Peak Charter School.
By 4:16, she was back around on her second lap, handing off to Boniface.
The 800 isn't Isabelle Boniface's race.
She doesn’t have the foot speed for something so swift, and though her mom reminds her foot speed can be learned, and even though she's tried by competing in sprinting events, it’s never quite taken.
She wanted to be at state in the 3,200, something much more her speed.
She made it in the event last year, one of the very last athletes into the field of 18.
She was again on the bubble this year, heading into the final meet of the season needing to lower her time. She didn't, but she did shift her focus to the relay, and she was in fourth place when she took the baton.
The other three runners have other events on the schedule, but this was it for Boniface. This was her trip to state, and she hammered it.
"I felt so good through the whole thing," she said.
She set a personal best of her own, 2:29, and she handed off to Baker just as Casey was preparing to shoot for yet another ceiling.
The Steamboat girls were on their third leg, and he was jumping for 13-9 at 4:18.
He made it again, flew right over as if the bar was at 6-9, not 13-9.
The field was down to just two now, Casey and Bayfield senior Chad Winkler, who was perfect on 13-3, 13-6 and 13-9.
They prepared for 14-0.
You know you made it over almost before you've actually made it over, Casey said, so on his first attempt at 14-0, it seemed like an eternity as he fell to the mat.
"I know right as my head's passing the bar, and I haven't felt anything," he said.
He knew right away. He'd cleared the height, a new outdoor personal best and, he was sure, a height worthy of a state championship.
Winkler missed on his three attempts.
For the second time in as many years, he'd bettered his personal best by more than 2 feet, and he started celebrating before he even landed. He clenched his fists as he fell and threw his arms up as he sank into the foam.
He popped up quickly, arms still raised, and clapped loudly again, a wide grin breaking across his face.
He leapt off the mat and grabbed his pole and ran to the fence, where friends, family and coaches awaited, and he began dishing out high fives.
He has more things to accomplish. He wants to add two feet to his height by next year.
For the day, however, he was thrilled simply to be the state champion.
"Amazing," he said.
It was 4:21 as Congdon started her two-lap run.
The 800 is Congdon's race.
She'll enter Friday's individual 800 with the fastest time in Class 3A, the favorite to win. She was fifth in the event last year at state and, in racing it six times this spring, finished anything other than first only twice.
She took over in third and began stalking the runners in front of her.
She had a chance to catch them, too.
The chance to win the race had come and had gone. Peak to Peak, stacked with its own stable of splendid distance runners, didn't wilt and cruised to the victory in 9:20.84.
Congdon dug deep as she chased D'Evelyn, however.
And she almost caught up. She finished 1.29 seconds back, and she stumbled off the track.
"If the race were 10 meters longer …" she said afterward.
She didn't linger long beside the track. She was soon on her feet and looking for her teammates, who she found with wide hugs and loud shrieks.
They'd seen their time.
Nine minutes, 30 seconds had been a silly aspiration in the morning, something not really possible.
As it turns out, it was, as the Steamboat girls celebrated loudly on the infield of JeffCo Stadium, only about 10 minutes after it had all started.
They’d set a new school record by 17 seconds.
They'd finished third, the best any of they had ever finished in any high school state championship race.
They'd finished in 9:30.99, at 4:23 p.m.