Vail Christian speeds to 800-meter relay title
Saints boys win first 2A relay crown
Vail Christian’s 800-meter relay team came together quickly in more ways than one.
Meet the 2A state champs in the 4-by-2 — E.J. Koller, Kellen Kinsella, Luke Bowers, and Quinn Mitchell, who earned their title with a blistering time of 1 minute, 31.49 seconds on Friday afternoon.
And it was a sight to behold.
The Saints zipped by the Rocky Ford Meloneers (1:31.68) — one of the best mascots in Colorado high school sports — and Clear Creek (1:32.40).
Vail Christian’s girls won the 1,600 relay last spring, but this is the boys’ first relay championship since the school moved up to 2A.
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“It’s huge,” a jubilant Saints coach Jen Sticksel said. “Since I’ve been coaching, we’ve been talking about winning state. Last year, we were fast, but our handoffs were not as clean as we needed them. We knew we have the talent. We just needed the handoffs to be perfect which they were today.”
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The funny thing is that Vail Christian didn’t get this quartet together until last weekend at the St. Vrain Invitational. When one watches the replay of the race, it’s clear that Bower and Mitchell are the hammers.
But the Saints needed to find the magical combination to start the race, and that was Koller out of the blocks and Kinsella in the second leg. in one week, the Saints went from 1:33 in the 800 to 1:31, a major drop.
If you’ve watched him play basketball or run track, Koller has the speed and the hops.
“It was the last relay we had together,” Koller said. “Everyone knew they had to go all out. Starts really matter. I was just trying to get off well in the beginning and they finished it.”
Kinsella got the baton next and he’s having one heck of a week. He got named to the U.S. Ski Team earlier this week and now he’s got a state track title.
“it’s been a crazy week,” he said. “I’m not going to lie. It’s awesome.”
With nine lanes and a staggered start, it’s hard to tell the status of the race, but the new kids on the team had done their job.
“E.J. had one of the best starts we’ve had,” Bowers said. “Kellen held it and then picked it up during the last 100 (meters). They set us up in a really good spot.”
And that’s all the Saints needed. Bowers pulled the Saints into second and Mitchell powered Vail Christian home.
Most importantly, the exchanges were superb, the result of a lot of work during the season.
“We spend a lot of time in the exchange zone,” Sticksel said. “You can have the four fastest boys, but if exchanges aren’t right, they aren’t going to win.”
Mitchell knew he had the lead.
“I knew the kid behind me was more of a 100(-meter) guy,” he said. “I knew I had him and we had it.”
Mitchell extended both arms as he crossed the line.
The only problem was that Vail Christian really couldn’t celebrate the win. That’s because Koller, Hayden Sticksel, Bowers, and Mitchell still had the 1,600-meter relay preliminaries — they qualified.
Meanwhile, Kinsella has busy day today. He’s in the open 100, 200 and 400 finals.
“I’m going back to the hotel to stretch, ice down, eat and go to bed,” he said.
Around the oval
• Vail Christian’s girls 800 took fourth with Lolo Wilson, Kendelle Smith, Mariana Engleby and Kiana Brasch.
• The boys’ 400 relay punched its ticket to finals. That’s P.G. Nklang’ango, Dolan, Sticksel and Mitchell.
• Smith took fourth in the 800 and Engleby was seventh.
• Blake Layman finished seventh in the pole vault, flying 8 feet, 10 inches.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.