Eagle Valley seniors are running in circles | VailDaily.com

Eagle Valley seniors are running in circles

Ryan Slabaugh

“I tried to quit sophomore year,” said senior Mike Ray, who will be running in the maximum four events. “They let me quit. I think I tried to get a job. But I came back when I was bored.”

Boredom, it seems, isn’t the only thing that brings them back. In a conversation between the seniors, track only comes up as a side conversation – a pleasant way to spend time. On Senior Day this season, they politely kept alive a tradition by making the freshman carry them around the track, among other things.

They do run, too. senior Chris Gamble strolled away from last year’s state meet with state championships in the 110-meter hurdles and the 300 hurdles. Gamble will be defending both of his gold medals this year, as well as anchoring the 800 relay and triple jumping.

“I feel more expectations. I put a lot of pressure on myself,” said Gamble, who’s twin freshman brothers, Alex (two events) and Brad (four), are following in some literal footsteps. “I know I can win. It’s just a matter of running the best race I can.”

Gamble’s partners in the 800 relay (Ray, Wes Griffith and Jay Miller) are all seniors, as well. Combined, the foursome will be running in 15 events this weekend and have shattered the 800 relay school record on four occasions.

“With the exception of Chris, this is the last time we’re going to do this,” Griffith said. “We’ve been the same team for three years now.”

Gamble, in fact, will be running for Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. next year. The rest are all college-bound and, as for senior Kyle Higgins, who qualified in both the discus and the 400-meter relay, he’ll be playing football at Western State in Gunnison.

“Last year I was at a meet as an alternate runner,” Higgins said. “All of a sudden, I’m in the meet. I throw whenever I want to, now. I jump in when the relays are running.”

Higgins is the only Devils senior not to run all four years (not counting Ray’s stint in the workforce). His excuse is fairly solid. He busted his legs in a motorcycle accident that sent him to the hospital for a couple weeks.

Senior Shelby Vernell heads a strong 800 medley team that was qualified for state in the first month of the season. Vernell and the rest of the upperclassmen have seen the program leap from their sophomore year, when Chris Gamble was the lone boy at state, to the last two years, which have seen 36 Devils qualify for state, win three championships (Smith added a gold medal in the 800 last season) and finish as high as second in regionals.

Vernell, as did the other five, raced at state before. They have, as the coaches say, set good examples.

In 1998, Vernell ran with just four other freshman. This year, six first-year runners qualified for state.

“We have good athletes in every class for the next four years,” coach Emily Large said. “We’ll be sad to watch these guys go, but the people that are following them are on the right track.”

The track, it seems, head straight to Pueblo. The Devils’ 20 state participants is the most in school history and the three alternates, Eddie Ruiz, Shaun Baldwin and Kenzie Shreeve, narrowly missed the state cut line. The collection of talented runners has Eagle Valley securing a bus – not a van – for the trip to state.

“You don’t see many busses at state,” Miller said. “Vans, suburbans. But not many busses.”

The big yellow vehicle, as coach Large put it, leaves today at 2 p.m. Once there, the seniors will try to repeat past successes, or redeem past failures. For Ray, he won’t be asleep like last season.

“I’m making it a point to cheer on my teammates,” he said.

For Vernell, the state meet will signify the last 100 meters of her high school career.

“About 13, seconds, I figured,” she said.

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