Senior Spotlight: Battle Mountain track and field
Can the Huskies run the 4-by-8?
We’ve got it, folks. Battle Mountain alumnus John O’Neill started the coronavirus.
Yes, O’Neill, Class of 2008 with the Huskies, didn’t want his school record — 4 minutes, 24 seconds — in the 1,600 meters to fall to Nico Piliero this spring, so well, it’s all on John.
While we’re kidding about O’Neill causing a global pandemic, we do not kid about what could have been for Huskies track and field in 2020.
Piliero ended 2019 at 4:29 in the mile and was likely the first Battle Mountain athlete to go below 4:20 in the mile by this spring.
That’s only one of many likely stellar performances in which the Huskies would be engaged by the time that the state meet rolled around in a few weeks.
“For me personally, it’s embarrassing how much I miss track and field,” said Huskies coach Rob Parish.
Not only is Parish the school’s coach in cross-country and track, but he’s the principal. After saying the above quote, he said all the right things about the so-called importance of sports in relation to COVID-19. He gets it.
But allowing for our passion for sports, it’s easy to sit back and wonder what could have been.
Battle Mountain’s ladies have made an art form of the 3,200-meter relay the last three years. The Huskies are the three-time 4A Colorado state champions.
• 2017: Sofia Piliero, Alex Raichart, Lizzy Harding, and Naomi Harding.
• 2018: Gabby Trueblood, Raichart, and the Hardings.
• 2019: Grace Johnson, Elliott Pribramsky and, wait for it, the Hardings.
“We would have loved to have had the chance,” Parish said. “All you want is the chance to defend it. I realize we’re well-fed and can’t play the poor-me card. We’re very fortunate to win it three times in a row. I don’t think we would have been the favorite, but we’d put a good team together.”
When the coach said, “I don’t think we would have been the favorite,” that is what we call bull-hooey, a technical sporting term. Nothing was guaranteed, but the three-time champions being underdogs?
Yes, of course, with the Hardings at the University of North Carolina it would have been hard, but here are three factors for your consideration.
One, when Johnson and Pribramsky are the “third” and/or “fourth” runners on a relay team, holy cow, are you deep. That duo is Nos. 1 and 1a at every other school in the state except for Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley (Joslin and Samantha Blair) and Niwot, which is the U.S. Track and Field Team disguised as a Front Range high school.
Two, while Parish would have tinkered, it’s not hard to see fresh-people Lily Whelan and Milaina Almonte joining Johnson and Pribramsky for this relay. Yeah, they’re first years, but they’re the fastest froshes in school history. In a program whose history ain’t exactly chopped liver, that’s saying something.
Third, Parish knows how to build a 4-by-8.
All this 3,200 relay madness started with Tony Crisofulli, Connor Tedstrom, Jonny Stevens and, yes, O’Neill running the relay in 7 minutes, 52 seconds for a school record and a state title in 2008. (Please no COVID-21, John.)
We bring this up because Jake Allen, Davis Krueger, Deagan Fahrney and Piliero finished eighth in the state last spring with an 8:09. They were all juniors and returning.
Yes, that would have been cool to watch.
Hook ’em Horns
Also cool to watch would have been Johnson’s senior year on the oval. Johnson first caught everyone’s attention at the 2016 state cross-country meet when Lizzy Harding (ear infection) went down in a heap.
Then a frosh-person, Johnson stepped up to help the Huskies to the first of two consecutive state titles. Johnson’s been at it ever since.
She’s been on four regional title teams in cross-country and three league champions in track and field. Johnson holds the 5K school record in the fall and the 3,200-meter record in the spring. Johnson and the Hardings took up Nordic skiing in the winter of 2019, and the Huskies won a state title on the snow.
That’s three state titles team-wise and a fourth as part of last year’s 4-by-8.
She is in the regal line of Huskies running legends of the Amelia and Mandy Ortiz, Val and Liz Constien, Raichart, and, yes, ye olde Hardings.
“Ashley (Johnson) said to me when Patrick was still running for us, ‘You’re going to love Grace,’” Parish said of Grace’s mother and older brother. “Boy, was Ashley right. Grace is so tough. At the same time, she’s really about the team. She doesn’t seek the spotlight. She’d rather be a part of the group.”
Johnson’s next stop will be Austin and the University of Texas.
The Battle Mountain track and field Class of 2020 includes Maddy Couch, Johnson, Jo Trueblood, Arath Mendoza, Piliero, Krueger, Fahrney, Jake Allen, Tom Allen, Andrew Shoun and T.J. Guercio.