2022 Colorado state track and field preview: Eagle Valley
Shreeve, Pennington, Blair and Turner lead Devils
The Vail Valley will be well represented when the 4A Colorado High School state track and field meet gets underway at Jeffco Stadium on Thursday morning. Eagle Valley will send five individuals and both 4×400-meter relay teams, while Battle Mountain has 11 individuals and four relay squads heading to Lakewood.
“There’s probably more events that we’re really excited about than we’ve ever had before,” Battle Mountain coach Rob Parish said.
“I think we’re well represented from over here and its been fun to compete against each other,” stated Eagle Valley coach Jeff Shroll in reference to the bevy of qualified Western Slope League athletes.
“And of course when we go to the state meet, we’re all sort of rooting for each other, so yeah it should be good.”
Both the Devils and Huskies will bring a few usual suspects as well as some breakout stars. For the Devils — the focus of today’s preview — justified excitement surrounds freshman Zakia Shreeve, who will contest the 300 hurdles and anchor the 4×400.
“She’s just had a really good year,” Shroll said of the all-around sprint and jump prodigy whose crown jewel event is still to be determined.
“We don’t know!” Shroll laughed when asked what the precocious underclassman’s strongest event was.
“She’s one of those kids where I’m sad they’re only allowed to do four events at one meet.”
Shreeve’s recent 16 foot, 11 inch long jump was ruled a wind-aided mark, and her 16-5 season-best fell just out of the top-18 qualifying spots. Her coach knows a 17-foot jump exists — one may have even happened on a scratch at the Battle Mountain Invitational in April — and before long, the 31-year-old school record (17-1)will be wiped clean. A threat in both hurdles and a capable anchor of any relay team, Shroll has let Shreeve dictate, for the most part, what events she gets to do.
“As a freshmen, I like to find out what they’re passions are, what are their favorite events and let them — kids always perform better when they’re really doing something they like mixed in with something the coach wants them to do,” he explained of his philosophy.
The freshman’s consistent jaw-dropping efforts are often paired with a refreshing unadulterated naivety.
“From a coach’s perspective, our eyes will be really big and like ‘oh my gosh did you just see what she did?’ and she’ll come up innocently and ask questions like, ‘was that good?’” Shroll described.
“It’s actually kind of refreshing to have that little bit of bewilderment but mixed with innocence and yet just raw talent, too.”
Eagle Valley’s 4×400 team will feature the figurative ‘passing of the baton’ as much as its literal presentation, with Sam Blair joining Shreeve, Haley Bates and Jordan Neifert. Blair, the Northern Arizona University recruit whose legendary cross-country and track and field accolades have been well documented, struggled to recover from an early season illness, and was unable to capture a quick time in her usual mid-distance and distance specialties in the extreme winds that plagued several regular season meets.
“And we’re not the only ones,” Shroll said of the horrendous winds “sucking the life out typical times.”
“I’ve talked to other coaches about it, too. It can just rock your confidence when you’re not running what you’re normally running.”
Despite the frustrations, Shroll said Blair, whom he called “a great leader and kind of a rock of our team,” will be ready to go in the relay.
“I’m not worried about her,” he said.
“She’s going to do a great job with the 4×400 team and I think she has a super bright future ahead of her running down at NAU, so I’m excited for her.”
Field of dreams
Eagle Valley has four athletes contesting field events, with Yanitza Carbajal as the lone female representative. Following in the path of her sister, Michelle, the senior triple jumper is looking to return to the magic of her freshman year, when she posted a 36-1 mark, just 14 inches off Michelle’s school record.
“Her and her sister have been amazing triple jumpers,” Shroll said.
This year, her best is 34-5.
“Triple jump has such a progression to it that you want to be able to compete strongly for four years and just having a two-year giant interruption in triple jump does not help,” Shroll explained, noting that COVID caused almost a two-year gap from important consistent competition. He believes Carbajal, however, is waiting to pop a big one.
“I’ve seen more in her, too. I think she’s responded really well her senior year to come back and be so productive. I’d love to see her get into finals.”
On the boys side, Eagle Valley boasts two pole vaulters in seniors Ian Pennington and Isaac San Diego. Both are ranked in the top-10 and have a good chance at a podium (top nine) finish.
“Happy to see those guys, after four years of hours and hours on the vault, to see them get in. They’ve worked hard,” Shroll said.
Pennington posted a 13-2 at the league meet two weeks ago despite the gale-force winds, and the coach said “he’s vaulting confidently,” while he believes San Diego has “another two feet in him.” Shroll credits coach Jerry Phillips, who has been coaching since his daughters came through the program, with cultivating consistency in the event.
“He’s done such an amazing job with those kids,” Shroll said. “He vaults with them all summer, in the winter — we always joke they’ve got secret indoor places that no one knows about and they vault. I think it’s only that the sun goes down and it gets really dark that they stop vaulting every day.”
Roman Turner snuck in as the final qualifier in the long jump, an event he picked up for the first time this season. The 200/400 specialist asked to try it out one day at practice and flew 19 feet on his first jump.
“Well, OK – did not know that was in there,” Shroll remembered thinking.
“There’s some hops in the family.”
Roman’s brother Matt was a high jumper for the Devils and his sister long jumped last year. Their aunt also jumped for Shroll, who laughed at the anecdote, saying, “I’m starting to coach kids of the kids that I coached.”
Even though Shroll knows the Devils had a few athletes just miss out, he is proud of his athletes’ improvements and resiliency and knows several will use it as motivation to get better in the summer, including distance star Jake Drever, whom, despite notching a sub-10 3200-meter time, is on the outside looking in.
“He’s not a kid that will hang his head. I think this will drive him,” Shroll said of the junior, who will compete on the 4×400 team this weekend.
“Proud of this team and our coaching staff. Like I said, it’s been challenging,” he summarized.
“Proud our kids were able to hang in there. We’ve really had some really good improvements week by week even through adversities.”
(name, event, seeding)
300-meter hurdles (47.36) 10th
Long Jump (21-2.25), 18th
Pole Vault (13-2), 6th
Isaac San Diego
Pole Vault (12-9), 10th
Triple Jump (34-05)