With six meets down and six more to go, the Mingus Union track and field squad divided and conquered two parts of Arizona with the distance runners going to the Scottsdale Distance Classic at Chaparral High School and the rest venturing to Sedona Red Rock for an invitational.
"I'm very pleased with [the team]," said head coach Yancey DeVore. "We're seeing a lot of PR's, personal bests, and the kids are coming and working hard in practice. We just need to keep going in that direction. We're seeing a lot of PR's. We saw a lot of PR's at the Distance Classic, or season bests and also the Sedona meet."
The Scottsdale Distance Classic was just that, a meet that focused on the longer track races. There were only four races run for boys and girls (800, 1,600, 3,200 and the 4X800-meter relay), a departure from the typical all-day affair, but with 31 teams, the competition was stout.
Running in the 800-meter for the second time in 2014, senior Justine Taylor blazed through the two laps to run a 2:20.39, a far cry from her 2:42.58 800 she ran at Buckeye. Not only was the time a season's best, but it landed her the No. 3 time in Division-III, edging teammate Megan Goettl by two seconds. The top-10 mark also gives Taylor her seventh top mark in D-III (including relays), something that few other athletes can claim.
Goettl, who has been under the weather, which has adversely affected her races, cut tenths of a second off her 1,600 time when she ran to a 5:24.14 finish, keeping her at third in D-III.
"I was happy that it was a season best but I wasn't happy with [the time] at all, overall," Goettl said. "I'm actually really unhappy with the ranking, but I've got to start working harder."
Freshman Rachel Valentine has seemingly exploded onto the track and field scene as an immediate impact runner for the Marauders. But with her wealth of knowledge from being on Aftershock Distance Club, the first year Marauder is already ranked in two races and punched her ticket to the state meet at Chaparral. Valentine ran in the 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter races with times of 5:32.26 (No. 7 in D-III) and 12:18.74 (No. 8) respectively.
"I was really excited [when I saw my times]," Valentine said. "I was clapping my hands and running around ... I've worked really hard and those were two of my biggest goals this season, getting to state in those events and I'm really excited."
Senior Monica Soliz, running in just her third meet this season, Soliz had mixed results in the Valley. She dropped her 1,600 time by 12 seconds, 5:36.48, but her 3,200 time increased by eight seconds, 12:15.57.
On the boys' side, junior Jordan Bramblett took a break from the 3,200 and ran the 800 for the first time in 2014 and his usual 1,600. Bramblett PRed by nearly six seconds in the 800, running to a 2:07.68 finish. The time is still six seconds off cracking the top-10 of D-III, but his PR of 4:33.31 in the 1,600 rocketed him to the No. 5 time in the division.
Gustavo Banks, making his 3,200 season debut, ran a 10:17.67. The time is about 20 seconds off his PR, but the Distance Classic was only his third meet of the season and the senior is nursing an injury. Another Marauder making his debut in the 3,200, albeit his career debut, was sophomore Joseph Sandoval. The first-year runner ran a 10:41.33. While the time is not impressive against the top times in the division, it is impressive when compared against Banks and Bramblett's 3,200 debuts. Banks was not able to crack 11 minutes the first time he ran the 2-mile race and Bramblett debuted at 10:59.
Back in the Verde Valley, the remainder of the Mingus track team participated in the second of three track meets at Sedona Red Rock High School. Four Marauders in seven events (two relay teams) either entered the top-10 or improved their standing in the D-III.
Ryan Talbot, Taylor, Brianna Epperson, Kylie Streck and the boys' 4X100 (Jordan Prouty, Dakota Hanks, Javin Helsel and Talbot) and 4X400-meter (Talbot, Helsel, Hanks and Mikey Gilboy) relay teams all sport top-10 times (or heights) after the Red Rock Invitational. A day after PRing in the 800, Taylor PRed in her 100 (13.09, No. 10) and 200-meter (27.09, No. 8) races. Streck tied teammate Allison Whitworth in the pole vault when she vaulted 8 feet 6 inches.
Like her teammate Valentine, freshman Brianna Epperson has burst onto the scene in dominant fashion. Epperson PRed in both the 100 and 300-meter hurdles, and returned to the No. 5 spot in the 300 hurdles with a time of 50.98, which she said she was "pretty happy" with. In her 100 hurdles, Epperson scampered to an 18.90 finish, still over a second and a half off the No. 10 spot.
"I was kind of shocked because I didn't think that I was going to PR at all," Epperson said.
Talbot ran his 400-meter sprint in 49.82, marking the second time in 2014 the senior has run his 400 under 50 seconds. The time kept the senior Marauder in the No. 2 spot in D-III, .40 seconds away from No. 1 Simon Whitfield from St. Mary's Catholic High School.
Before Sedona, the boys' 4X100 relay team had the No. 5 time in D-III, 44.65, and the 4X400 team had the seventh best time at 3:37.00. After Sedona, the 4X100 team chopped .33, 44.33, off their time to stay in the No. 5 spot and the 4X400 team took a machete to their previous time to leap frog into the top spot with a time of 3:30.06.
"Considering that a 3:30 4X4 was a time we did at our last meet last year, now that we're doing it right here," Hanks said, then Helsel jumped in and finished his sentence, "its pretty cool. It's a cool thing. But at state last year we ran a 3:24, so we still have a ways."
With all of the top marks in D-III, automatic and provisional qualifiers, DeVore is happy with where his team is at and the progression through the season. His coaches have helped get the team to where they are, but DeVore said that at the end of the day it comes down to the work ethic of the student-athletes.
"I think it comes back to the kids' work ethics," DeVore said. "They come to practice, they're committed and they get better and they look at improving themselves everyday. The only way to do that is to work hard and to show up at the meet and run your best and we're seeing kids do that. But also I have a great coaching staff that comes out here and they're committed. They put in the time, energy and effort into getting these kids better as well. Its certainly the athletic abilities of the kids as to why they're at where they're at."
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