Valencia Jags compete at Kirby Tailwind Collegiate, RR invite, at UNM

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The Valencia High Jaguars track coaches took their teams to the Don Kirby Tailwind Collegiate and Rio Rancho High School Invitational at the University of New Mexico this weekend for a number of reasons.

"I liked this meet because it is a bigger meet and the kids get to see what really good competition is all about," said girls coach Aaron Padilla. "Also, this is where state will be, so it's good for them to get a feel for the track they'll be competing on in a few weeks.

"There was also a collegiate meet going on at the same time, so I think they enjoyed watching athletes at the next level and seeing what they're capable of."

Boys coach Wesley Rogers agreed that seeing college-level athletes is important, giving the teams something to shoot for.

"Plus there are a lot of schools that come to this meet and that puts us up against the fastest kids in the state. We go looking for the best competition," Rogers said. "There were 21 boys teams there, 13 of which were 5A schools. The team set out to find good competition and they found what they were looking for."

Both coaches said they were very pleased with the progress their athletes have made in just the first two months of the season.

Padilla said he had several standout performances at the invitational.

Jensen Hatch, in the pole vault, had a fourth-place finish, while Carisma Lovato finished fourth in the 3200 meter.

The team took three sixth places — Grace Vickers in the 1600 meter, Brenda Baeza in the javelin and Peyton Linthicum in the discus.

Hatch also jumped well in the pole vault, coming away with a state qualifying jump, her coach said.

"She has such a great work ethic and focus. I know she will continue to improve and possibly be a contender once state comes around," Padilla said.

In her first ever attempt at the event, Carisma Lovato qualified the 3200 meter.

"She wanted to see what she was capable of and I think she realized she can be pretty competitive in just about any event we put her in," Padilla said. "She fought really hard and I'm so happy for her. She is on a roll right now, qualifying an event a week the last three meets."

In the 1600 meter, Vickers was .21 of a second away from a state qualifying time, Padilla said.

"She was so close, but I think that made her even more motivated because she knows she can do it now. Grace has been performing great every week and has been such a great role model for the younger kids on the team," he said.

Padilla said Linthicum, a freshman, is really coming along and has been competing very well for the team. She scored in the discus and also set a personal record in the javelin, throwing 97 feet, 2 inches.

"We were really trying to qualify the 4 by 400 meter this weekend, but fell short by three seconds," Padilla said. "They ran really hard, it was by far our best four-by-four of the year, so I was happy with the outcome even though we didn't get it. Our focus will be to qualify a relay the next couple meets before district."

For the boys team, Rogers said he is watching them do nothing but improve as the season goes forward.

"We've really broken the team out into mid, distance and sprints and that has made a lot of difference," he said.

The sprint medley of Martine Aragon, Tyler McClaran, Nate Nash and Cody Robinson dropped a whopping 20 seconds off their time to finish at 3:50 seconds.

"In track, to shave 20 seconds is the equivalent of a lifetime. And to be able to say they dropped 20 seconds in a week is phenomenal," Rogers said. "The kids are really starting to come together. This week is going to be tough to improve in; the weather has been horrible and we haven't been able to train like we want."

The 4-by-4 team of McClaran, Nash, Steven Rel and Cody Robinson dropped eight seconds off their time, and in the 4-by-1, Rel, Nash, Aragon and Robinson dropped a half second in time and are now less that four-tenths of a second away from the state qualifying time of 44.2 seconds.

Rel, McClaran, Aragon and Josh Burbank placed fifth in the 4-by-2, and Robinson cut his 400 meter run time to 51.9 seconds, a mere half a second from a state qualifying time.

The Jag coach said the best finish of the meet came from the ever-improving Burbank, a sophomore.

"Last year, his fastest time was a 23," Rogers said. "He finished the fast heat of the 200 in a time of 21.84 — a time second in state history only to the state record holder Curtis Beach, who ran a 21.82. And Beach did that as a senior. Most people take a season to get that kind of improvement."

That small of a difference might not mean much to some, but to put things in context, Rogers said in the annals of 4A track history, Beach was probably the best track athlete to come out of Albuquerque in the last 20 years.

"He just missed an Olympic decathlon qualification by one place," he said. "He still holds the state records in the 200 meter and 400 meter dash, the 110 meter high hurdles and pole vault."

Rogers said Robinson is continuing to show a lot of improvement, considering he just began running high school track this year.

"He has shaved a second off his time every meet," he said. "In the 800, he had a 55 second first lap, which is really fast. He was dying a little on the back end, but once he learns to run that race right, I think he will have a state qualifying time."

Robinson is the anchor leg for the 4 by 4, Rogers said, and as a junior, is "on the cusp of doing some really special things."

And McClaran has taken his time for the 200 from last season down by almost two seconds, Rogers said.

Freshman Arturio Trujillo has shaved about 30 seconds off his mile time in the last two months.

"He took over for Lee Soto, who was a really gifted runner for us," he said. "And he beat Soto in the mile and he just picked up track a few months ago. I really think he is going to be a special kid. He doesn't even know how to run right yet; he's just all guts and glory."

Another runner who has shown improvement since the beginning of the season is junior Magwa Harstionel. He cut his quarter mile time from 1 minute, 40 seconds to 1 minute, 8 seconds in the last month, Rogers said.

"This young man, he doesn't have all the abilities everyone else does, but I am so proud of him for his work ethic. He is the motivation for the whole team, the heart and soul of team," the Jag coach said.

"His fastest time ever in the 200 is 28. And you know what? He runs 28s consistently in practice. He's running 100 percent all the time."


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.