Battle Mountain’s Will Brunner wins 3200-meter state title
The Battle Mountain junior is the first boys 4A individual state champion in school history
The Battle Mountain boys track and field team — despite its dazzling record book and rich history — has never crowned an individual 4A state champion.
After six laps of pedestrian pacing, Will Brunner made a lethal move with 650-meters remaining, dropping a decisive 59-second final revolution to claim Thursday’s 4A 3200-meter championship at Jeffco Stadium in a time of 9 minutes, 26.76 seconds. The junior has proven his all-out speed before — his resume contains sub-15-minute 5000 and sub-9-minute 3200-meter efforts. This masterpiece would be about demonstrating strategical acumen.
“One of the main ways they’ve grown this year is in adapting tactics,” head coach Rob Parish said of Brunner and his teammate Porter Middaugh, who was in contention for the win until the final homestretch and wound up fourth (9:30.63). The coach discussed several scenarios beforehand with his athletes, and wasn’t shocked when the group, led by Jacob Sushinsky and top-seeded Kaden Levings, elected to jog through the 800 in 2:30 and the halfway in 4:58.
“I think those races do go tactical when there’s no clear cut favorite,” Parish said.
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“We were hoping it would go out fast so we could solidify our position and then outlast the field,” added Middaugh.
Because his star pupils “have endurance for days,” Parish knows fast, even splits provide the best game plan.
“But I felt comfortable knowing they have a lot of speed, too,” he continued. Brunner, who recently registered a low-51-second 4×400-relay leg, said he confidently recalibrated when he realized it wasn’t going to be a barn-burner.
“Three laps in, I’m like, ‘you know, you have the 800 on any of these guys, so if it does come down to a kick, you can pull out that speed,'” he said.
“I could tell when I got into the race, my head was in it.”
With both Husky harriers, plus 4A state cross-country champion Nolan Hoffman, Sushinsky, Levings and Eagle Valley’s Jake Drever up front, the three-lane-wide herd contained the complete top-six from state cross-country. No one wanted to be the sacrificial lamb leading, but everyone simultaneously desired a position at the table for when the inevitable insertion of velocity up front came.
“It was like the field was just cycling through from the lead to the back and around,” described Drever, who also hoped for a fast, consistent pace from the gun. “I think I kind of thrive off that.”
With three laps remaining, Drever, who recently committed to running at the NCAA DI level at Boise State University, was side-by-side with Brunner in third as Middaugh bided his time in sixth. As 75-second laps ratcheted down to 71s, Middaugh remained poised on the inside, running the shortest distance as others panicked and jostled to move up, even if it meant running in lane three.
“I feel like I’ve had a ton of races that have gone out similarly,” Middaugh explained when asked how he kept his cool. “I just wanted to stay on the rail as much as possible and be up towards the front in case anybody went. I thought about leading a couple times, but just decided to hang back.”
Palmer Ridge’s Jacob Bach led six others — including the three locals — across the line at 7:21 with two laps left. Then, Brunner, who later compared the first three-fourths of the race to a casual tempo-effort, blasted into the lead.
“The whole way I’m like, ‘ok, you’re going to start moving. Once you have 800 left, you’re going to rip — you’re just gone,'” he said.
“That was the plan.”
Sushinsky responded, retaking the lead around the curve before Brunner immediately squelched that dream with another surge. At the bell, the Mullen junior found himself in a Husky sandwich with Brunner in first and Middaugh in third. Along the final backstretch, Brunner’s 15-meter lead started diminishing as Sushinsky secretly mounted a comeback.
“He was on my tail,” said Brunner, who said he wasn’t aware of his opponent in the moment. It didn’t matter.
“I was like, just keep pushing and go as fast possible,” the champion continued. As he pulled safely away, he finally glanced back at the damage, turned towards the finish-line cameras, and celebrated, pinching either side of “Huskies” on his jersey.
“It was kind of a fun win,” he said.
After falling off in the final sprint, Middaugh remained happy for his teammate, but wanting more.
“I was feeling pretty good,” he said of the decisive final two laps.
“With 500 to go, I started to lock up a little bit, which, I don’t really know where that came from, but it made the last lap super tough,” he said. “I was just kind of fighting to stay on instead of kicking for the win, which was pretty disappointing.”
Middaugh is looking ahead to Saturday’s 1600, where he’s seeded fourth. “It will be some good motivation for sure,” he said. “Hopefully it goes a little bit differently.”
Drever admitted the slow start and constant fighting for positioning sapped his legs when it mattered. “It wasn’t my day as far as placing,” he said. The face of Eagle Valley distance for the last four years remained in great spirits as he prepared to watch his teammates take on the 4×800. While Drever helped them qualify, his schedule is already at the four-race limit.
“I’m proud of how I was present the whole time,” he mentioned when asked of the positives he’ll take into Friday’s 800 and Saturday’s 1600 and 4×400. “Tomorrow is going to be a little faster (from the start).”
Brunner, who also celebrated his birthday on Thursday — as if the day wasn’t already special enough — is the top seed in the 1600 and third in Friday’s wide-open 800. He softly smiled when asked about the potential for a distance triple.
“It’s in the back of my mind,” he said.
“The mentality is that you just got to win the next one.”