All together now: Saints beat Soroco for 4-by-4 crown |

All together now: Saints beat Soroco for 4-by-4 crown

Clockwise from top left, Vail Christian's Mariana Engleby, Kiana Brausch, Catherine Donoho and Kendelle Smith show off their first-place medals for winning the 2A 1,600-meter relay at state on Saturday, May 19, at Lakewood's Jeffco Satdium.
Jim Harding | Special to the Daily

LAKEWOOD — Vail Christian track and field has introduced a new event to the state meet — the hug-a-thon.

After the Saints girls’ 1,600-meter relay won state on Saturday, May 19, at Jeffco Stadium, the scene was one of bedlam, happy bedlam.

“Omigosh, all four of us were crying,” sophomore Mariana Engleby said. “(Coach) Jen (Sticksel) was crying. Our families were so proud. Everyone wanted to hug everyone. It was kind of funny.”

Catherine Donoho, Kiana Brausch, Engleby and Kendelle Smith — three sophomores and the anchor a freshman — are the best 4-by-4 squad in 2A. They laid down a time of 4 minutes, 9.84 seconds.

They are Vail Christian’s first state champions since Cooper Daniels and Taylor Alexander swept the pole vault back in 2016.

“I wasn’t surprised,” coach Sticksel said, given that the girls were third in the 1,600 relay last spring. “I knew we could win. What concerned me was that the girls had been running so much for three days. You never know on race day what kind of fatigue they might have. When I talked to them, they seemed like they could take care of business.”

Peyton and Soroco

Vail Christian entered state as the No. 3-seeded team in the state with a time of 4:13. The thing was that No. 1-ranked Peyton qualified with a seemingly unbeatable 4:07. However the Panthers put up that time, they didn’t come close to it at Jeffco Stadium. Peyton finished seventh.

Meanwhile, the Saints won their preliminary heat on Friday, May 18, and then the game plan was set for Saturday.

“I told them it was their last race at the state championship and don’t leave anything on the track, no regrets,” Sticksel said. “They took it to heart.”

And that was pretty darn impressive since this same foursome had already run the 400 and 800 relays this weekend along with Engleby and Smith both competing in the open 400.

Donoho took it out and kept the Saints in the hunt. In any speed relay, the really scary moment is the exchange. Many state dreams have died in exchange zone.

“We practice handoffs every day,” Donoho said. “Just lots and lots of practice. Every time we run through, we’re counting our steps.”

The exchanges were clean on Saturday and the Saints were starting make a move.

With the baton in Brausch’s hands, the Saints had a Skimeister winner running for them. The state’s best all-around Nordic and alpine racer took her 400 quickly, passing her team into fifth place.

“(Coach) told us, if someone was going to beat you, they had to work for it,” Donoho said. “We worked harder and ran as fast as we could.”

It was off to Engleby, who brought the Saints into second place, not behind Payton, but an old foe — Soroco. While the state-title quartet is not as familiar with the Rams, everyone associated with Vail Christian basketball has a longstanding to-do with their Oak Creek neighbors.

And on the track, Donoho, Brausch, Engleby and Smith were facing Charlee Veilleux, Chloe Veilleux, Courtney Bruner and Mattie Rossi, a who’s who of Soroco families who have tortured the Saints on the hardwood.

And so it was with great satisfaction that Engleby handed off to Smith with the Saints trailing the Rams.

“I knew she was going to catch up with the other girl and seal the deal,” Engleby said.

Smith is a freshman who simply doesn’t act her age, and she was money in the anchor.

“I ran the open 400 before this, so I was a little tired,” she said. “But the adrenaline gets to you and you don’t notice too much.”

And when she crossed the line, the hug-a-thon began.

Oh, yes, more

It wasn’t just the girls’ 4-by-4 for Vail Christian on Saturday. There was a lot for the Saints to celebrate.

The boys’ 400 team of P.G. Nkalang’ango, Quinn Mitchell, Hayden Sticksel and Harry Jaffe took second in 45.25 seconds, just 0.13 off the pace by Cedaredge.

“That was the surprise of the meet for us,” Jen Sticksel said. “We were very happy for them.”

Everyone knows that senior Harry Jaffe can run for 80 minutes. He’s a pretty good soccer player for Battle Mountain. He can run in bursts, too, Jaffe finished third in the open 2A 200.

Hayden Sticksel landed in fifth in the open 400. He entered state as the 13th seed and qualified for the finals in eighth. If he runs next week, does he win state?

And Smith was also in the points in ninth in the girls’ 400.

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