Soroco High School doesn’t have a real track, but with 3 state titles, it showed, Saturday, it has one of the state’s best track teams
May 19, 2018
LAKEWOOD — It was late April and Soroco High School senior Mattie Rossi helped carry the hurdles out of the gymnasium at Soroco High School, then partnered with teammate Charlee Veilleux to set them up in the parking lot behind the building.
Veilleux stood at one end of the line of three hurdles, set far apart to simulate the setup for a 300-meter hurdle race on a traditional track, and she waved to Rossi to get them lined up just right.
The only problem was the simulated straightaway didn't really fit. Only after some rearranging could the athletes run and jump all three hurdles in a straight line and do so without risk of colliding with one of the teachers' cars still lingering in the parking lot hours after the end of the school day.
That 100-meter stretch of hurdles seemed like a spacious luxury compared to what was happening inside the gym. High jump and pole vault pits were in use simultaneously on one end of the basketball court while sprinters worked from starting blocks at the other end. There was an actual dirt track several hundred yards away from the school, and sometimes, the team does practice there, coach David Bruner said. But, with the inconsistent spring weather in the mountains, the team long ago adapted to making do with whatever facilities it can find.
Saturday at the state track meet in Lakewood, the Soroco track and field team had all the room it needed to stretch, and it roared to unprecedented school success with three individual state championships and two second-place finishes — all in just one day.
It was enough to launch the girls team to its best finish in school history, and when the final team results were confirmed, they sent the Rams screaming and hugging, celebrating an overall third-place finish in Class 2A in the state.
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It seemed like a long ways from the gym in Oak Creek.
The super Saturday started with a long-awaited win for the Rams.
Rossi has been chasing a state championship in the 100-meter hurdles for her entire career, and she's stumbled at some of the worst possible moments. She fell over a hurdle as a freshman, finishing last in the finals, and no race was more painful than a false start when she entered the meet with the fastest time in the event as a sophomore.
She, once again, had the best time in the state last season only to finish second at state.
Something went wrong this year, too, where she entered state for a third consecutive year with the best time in the field. She injured her back two weeks ago. In an abundance of caution, she skipped the last two meets of the regular season, but it didn't heal fast enough, and as soon as she crossed the finish line in Thursday's 100 hurdle prelims, she grimaced and reached for her lower back, then walked off the track in pain.
She sat out the 1,600-meter relay prelims in an effort to recuperate, and as she folded her legs into the starting blocks for the hurdles finals Saturday morning, the injury was still an issue.
She didn't let it actually be a problem for another 15.74 seconds, however.
Rossi was nearly perfect, soaring down the track, hurdle after hurdle, and she easily won the race and her first state championship.
"When I race, I don't feel my back because I don't allow myself," she said. "It wasn't ideal timing for an injury, but I wasn't going to let one more thing stop me, whether it was falling or false starting or nerves or physical pain. I wasn't going to let anything else stop me."
Rossi raced again later, finishing third in the 300 hurdles, the second medal of her weekend.
She was trying to help the team add still one more in the last event of the day, the 1,600 relay, and she again tried to put the pain out of her mind.
Kelley in full
Soroco's next big break came from the most reliable of places, senior Ben Kelley, who's been so dominant in Class 2A races he hasn't lost a race for a state championship since he was second in the 1,600 as a sophomore.
He's started six championship races since, and after another dominating showing in the 2A 1,600, he's six for six, adding two state titles in this year's meet to the three he won last year and the one he captured in 2016.
"This was my last one in a Soroco jersey, and I'm a little emotional about it," he said. "State, it's pretty special. Coming here every year, I'm always thinking about this, every day. When we're doing a hard workout, this stadium, this track, this meet always slips into my mind."
He pulled away from the field early in Saturday's race, leading by more than one second after the first lap and by four seconds after three laps. His push to the line on his fourth lap represented his last two seasons: all by himself, alone well in front of the pack.
He finished in 4:23.18 — 11 seconds before anyone else. He couldn't help but note it wasn't a personal best, but it was another step on a journey that will take him into the fall where he’ll run for Columbia University in New York City.
Redmond reigns again
There are advantages to working late into the spring in a gymnasium, Bruner said.
"There are a lot of things you can do where you don't have to be on a track, technique-wise, and that's a lost art for people," Bruner said. "Some people can take it for granted and not do what they should do."
Soroco high jumper Grant Redmond said he sees plenty of pluses, as well. The time indoors forces him to refine his in-air form. But, it's not easy. Wearing tennis shoes and jumping from a hardwood floor is a decidedly different experience than working out every day in spikes on a rubbery track.
Saturday, the good outweighed the bad, and he, once again, established himself as the best in 2A, soaring over the bar at 6 feet, 5 inches high on his third attempt to win his second state title in as many years.
With the title already in the ba,g he attempted 6-8 three times but couldn't clear it. He said it was tough to achieve that height on what was a cold, rainy day in Lakewood. It didn't stop him from winning, however.
"We're from the mountains," he said. "We're used to dealing with stuff like that."
For the Rams, so much came together on Saturday, the last day of the three-day meet. Kelley, the best distance runner the school's known, had a fitting send off. Redmond, the high jump record holder, flew again.
The final event of the day, the girls 1,600-meter relay, capped it all off.
Rossi, aching back and all, led off. She'd skipped the prelims in the event as classmate Bailee Boles subbed in and helped the team qualify for finals, but, with nothing left to stay healthy for, Rossi went all in on the final event.
She handed off to senior Charlee Veilleux, one of a pair of multi-sport sisters who have achieved big things in their time at Soroco. Charlee just missed in qualifying for the 100 hurdles but scored a medal Saturday with a fifth-place finish in the 300 hurdles.
She also ran on the school's third-place sprint medley relay team on Friday.
She winched and reached with the baton as she finished her leg, utterly out of gas after pulling the team into second place as she handed off to sophomore Kourtney Bruner.
Bruner made finals in triple jump earlier in the day but couldn't quite bring home a point, finishing 10th with a leap of 32 feet flat.
She handed off to junior Chloe Veilleux.
Soroco's prided itself under David Bruner in having strong relay teams, and especially strong handoffs, though that's another thing the team has to turn to the school parking lot to handle. Even when it's dry, the dirt track doesn't have lanes or handoff zones marked.
Chloe Veilleux didn't race in a relay in either of her first two years at state, however. She made a point to do so this time, wanting to run with good friend Rossi and her sister, 18 months older, Charlee.
"We've always been really competitive since we were really little, and we've always had the skill to run. Being able to do it together, it's just been great," Chloe said. "Now, we can share it."
She'd already scored big points for the team on the day when she hammered her final lap to place second in the 2A girls 1,600.
She trailed through the early and middle parts of the race but ran the fastest final 400 in the field, nearly three seconds faster than anyone else and more than five seconds faster than her top competition for second place.
That vaulted her into silver-medal position as she sprinted down the homestretch.
She did it again, almost exactly in the 1,600 relay. She was in fourth early on her lap and far enough back the stadium announcer discounted her chance of figuring into the top three.
She closed fast, however, surging by runners from Del Norte and Lyons to push her team into second place.
Every step counted. Soroco finished the meet with 52 points, well behind Highland, the state champs at 75.5, and second-place Lyons, at 64, but just in front of Meeker, fourth and just one point back at 51.
"It couldn't have ended better," Chloe Veilleux said.