2 laps, 2 championships and 5 medals for Steamboat, Soroco, Hayden 800-meter stars
LAKEWOOD — It’s not something in the water, Soroco High School track coach David Bruner insisted.
It’s something in the air.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years now, and I tell ya, when kids come down from high elevation to run the 800 meter, it’s different,” he said. “It’s three, maybe four seconds.
“I’m sure there are studies,” he said.
Friday at the state track meet certainly offered plenty of evidence that whether it’s the air, the water or just a great crop of hard-nosed athletes, Routt County is in the midst of a dominating swing of 800-meter running.
Between them, Steamboat Springs, Soroco and Hayden high schools have at least one state championship in the event for each of the last three years, they’ve accounted for five total state titles and Friday, they added five more state medals.
Steamboat’s Maggi Congdan answered a late challenge to win a state championship in the 3A girls race. Winter Boese wasn’t far behind, placing eighth. Soroco senior Ben Kelley capped a brilliant high school career in the event by winning it for the third consecutive season and by lowering his state meet record even a little further. Then Hayden’s Hannah Wilkie was second and Soroco’s Chloe Veilleux third, piling up more medals in the 2A girls race.
“It’s just mountain kid toughness,” Kelley said.
All in on the 800
This year’s title was one Kelley earned not just by what he did do, but by what he didn’t.
He won three state championships a year ago in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. He never got caught up trying to repeat that accomplishment.
“That’s not something I viewed as a challenge anymore,” he said.
He also didn’t ever get invested enough in one-upping himself, winning four events, that he lost sight of that 800, his first and favorite race.
Tweaking a hamstring earlier this month made it unlikely he’d pursue the quartet and a shift in the state schedule, moving the grueling 2A 3,200 to just two hours before the start of the 800, made it even more unlikely he’d tackle that challenge.
Maybe if they were reversed, maybe, but as is, the 3,200 would surely drain his energy for the 800, and if there’s one event that’s a priority for Kelley, one that’s a must, one that he most wants to improve his time in, it’s the 800. That’s the race that helped punch his ticket to the track team at Columbia University next season, and he wasn’t going to let someone else’s idea of what he should do as a senior interfere with putting on the kind of 800 finale he wanted.
Friday, Kelley led from the start, through the first lap and into the second. Then, to his bewilderment, someone passed him.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen, at least not since my sophomore year,” Kelley said. “That sparked me a little. I definitely didn’t want that to happen. Then I could still hear some guys on my heels, so I felt really strong in that stretch.”
He thundered down the final 100 meters. He was out by himself at that point and running with all he had, not from anyone as much as toward an improved state record.
“You just have to will yourself every single stride to go forward,” he said.
It’s the hardest part of the race, “the death walk,” he calls it, but he didn’t express pain when it was finally over. Instead, he looked intently at the timing board, and when it showed what he wanted, 1:52.77, he threw up his arms, then pumped a fist and shouted into the crowd.
Soroco’s 800 artist had done it again.
“It’s the 800. It hurts,” he said. “I kind of like it because it hurts. It’s a testing of your guts.”
Kelley returns to the track Saturday for the 2A boys 1,600, where he’s also the defending state champ.
One for the team
Kelley’s decision to focus on the 800 stands out even more because his teammate Chloe Veilleux made the opposite decision.
She did choose to compete in the 800-meter sprint medley relay, taking on the anchor leg 400-meter dash with a team that had Charlee Veilleux and Bailee Boles running 100s and Kourtney Bruner running a 200.
They set a season-best time and finished third.
It was a result that thrilled them all, perhaps none more than Boles, a senior out for track the first time in her last season at the school. Despite being new to the program, she slid naturally into the relay team and helped it to one of the school’s best results.
“I’ve never been a ‘run for fun’ person,’” Boles said, “but I definitely am now!”
The one disadvantage is it left Chloe Veilleux’s legs listless for the 800. She found out just how much in the first few strides of the race.
“Within the first 50 meters I could tell my legs were dead,” she said.
She’d hoped to be a challenge for Hayden’s Wilkie, a runner she described as both a fierce competitor, a friend and a lighthearted rival.
Wilkie wasn’t short of things to worry about, however. She led through much of the first lap, but slipped behind Peyton junior Kaylee Kearse, the No. 4 seed entering the race.
Kearse pushed the pace through the second lap and all the way down the stretch, preventing Wilkie from making a move.
Wilkie was unable to defend the state title she won as a freshman, finishing second in 2:19.24, behind Kearse’s time of 2:18.20.
“I’m really proud of Ben, and Chloe ran a great race,” she said afterward asked of her emotions. “I ran the best I could for today. It is what it is.”
Veilleux was third, making up more than a second in the second lap but unable to challenge in the end with a time of 2:21.02.
“It’s just so fun to be a part of that relay, and those girls worked so hard,” Choe Veilleux said. “It was worth it.”
No, I can’t, yes, I will
Congdon got out to the same type of start as both Kelley and Wilkie, out front, leading the way, and as with both of them, there was a moment she was challenged.
There was even a moment she decided second place wasn’t too shabby, on the far north end of the track as Alamosa sophomore Lilly Lavier burst around her and quickly opened up a short lead.
But, as the finish line grew closer, Congdon’s will grew greater and finally overpowering.
She pulled alongside Lavier with 50 meters to go and the two engaged in a head-to-head sprint, step for step until Congdon finally gained the edge in the final 10 meters, crossing the finish line with a glowing smile and clenched fists.
“When she passed me on the curve, I was in shock,” she said. “I was so surprised and I thought, ‘I’m good with second. I can’t go any faster’ But we came around and kept getting closer and closer and I knew I had more left. I knew I could get her.”
Boese quickly crossed as well, placing eighth and soon she and Congdon were embraced in a long hug.
“You won, you really won,” Boese kept repeating.
“I just wanted to make sure I was in a good spot for the top nine,” Boese said. “I’m so happy for Maggi, but I’m not surprised. I was so confident she could do it.”
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