19 Devils send 19 to state track meet
By the end of the day, 19 Eagle Valley runners and throwers extended their season to the final week and secured state bids. The performances earned the boys a second-place finish – the best in school history – and the girls a fifth-place trophy.
“This is a big deal,” coach Jeff Shroll said. “Even the kids that aren’t going to state PRed (earned a personal record) today. Yesterday we had high winds and today we had good conditions. For me, it’s hats off to the 4-by-800. They got the whole team fired up.”
At regionals, placing in the top four will guarantee a state bid. The Devils eclipsed that mark time and again on a day where even when things went wrong, they went right.
Take the girls 800 medley. The foursome of Shelby Vernell, Kim Smith, Katie Wick and Laura Sandoval finished fifth, dropped a baton, but could still sigh in relief. They had pre-qualified for state a month ago.
“State just takes it up a whole notch,” Shroll said. “It’s intense. I like watching the events even if we’re not running in them. You’re seeing the best of the best.”
Seniors Chris Gamble and Smith, defending state champions, weren’t the only two Devils athletes with epic days. Gamble won three events (110 hurdles, 300 hurdles and triple jump) and his 800 relay team (Gamble, Mike Ray, Jay Miller and Wes Griffith), which also pre-qualified, finished second. Gamble is one of four Devils qualified in four events, the maximum allowed.
Smith, meanwhile, won the 800, finished second in the mile and added a third place in the 400 – just her third time running the one-lap race.
Another Gamble is stealing headlines from his brother. Freshman Brad Gamble, whose twin brother Alex qualified in the 1,600 relay team, won his state bid with a third place in the 110 hurdles, fourth in the 300 hurdles and fourth-place finishes in the high jump and low jump.
“Anytime you qualify in four events, that’s as good as you can do,” Shroll said. “It’s unheard of as a freshman.”
The freshman class made quite a name for itself in Grand Junction. Along with the two freshmen on the boys 3,200 relay and the Gamble twins, first-year runners Jessica Medsker and Jessica Stiles also qualified. Medsker finished fourth in the mile by taking nearly 20 seconds off her best time, while Stiles took silver in the 300 hurdles.
Heather Mann, another freshman, competed on the state-bound girls 1,600 relay with Wick, sophomore Ellie Comerford and junior Jean Romersheuser.
“Taking freshmen is great. That first year at state is a real eye-opener,” Shroll said. “Next year, they’ll return as leaders.”
Sandoval, a junior, was one of a pair of Devils to qualify in three events. The sprinter snuck in with fourth-place finishes in the long jump and 200. Ray, a member of Gamble’s 800 relay team, also will be running in the 200 and a 400 relay this weekend. The 400 relay, led by senior Kyle Higgins, ensured all six seniors on the team will be ending their seasons in style. Higgins also finished third in the discus.
“We got them all in,” coach Emily Large said. “I think it’s such a good mix of veterans and freshmen. They have each other to figure out how to prepare for the next meet. They feel exceptional to make it to state.”
State is scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Dutch Clark Stadium in Pueblo.