The Montezuma-Cortez High School track teams will kick of the 2017 season at the Piedra Vista Invitational in Farmington on Saturday.
Girls head coach Paul Koops, boys head coach Bob Archibeque, and assistants Kristi Christiansen, Matt Schuster and Jeremy Yarbrough will lead the Panthers into uncharted territory this year, as M-CHS moves from the Class 4A/5A Southwestern League to the Class 3A Intermountain League.
The Lady Panthers return state qualifiers from last year’s 4x100 and 4x200 meter relay teams in Anna Bullock and Morgan Short, and also bring back juniors Ashley Wood and Emma Thissen, who Koops expects to be major contributors.
“Morgan’s long jump prowess is promising and her sprint speed in the 200-400 are already well-establish forces,” he wrote in an email. “She has also talked about experimenting with the 800 where she could be quite successful. Emma is our distance beast, running the 800, 1600, and 3200 while also helping out with a couple of relays. Both of those girls also add leadership through their daily hard work and their positive attitudes.”
When mentioning leadership, Koops also pointed to upperclassmen Kaleen Boggs – whom he says has her sights on the 300-meter hurdles – and throwers Taylor Willbanks, Jazmin Rodriguez, Gabby Begay and Maddy Begay.
Rounding out a solid core of upperclassmen will be a strong group of freshmen and sophomores, led by Dolores transfer and state qualifier Aryelle Wright.
“We have a solid group of freshmen and sophomores, who we hope to see grow into prominent spots, particularly in the sprints and relays,” said Koops. “Sophomore Aryelle Wright has transferred down from Dolores and her times from last year in the 2A ranks are tantalizing, though she has to sit out the first 5 meets of the season due to CHSAA transfer rules. Wright’s 200 and 400 times should make her competitive and successful at the 3A level and in the IML.”
The M-CHS boys did not have any state qualifiers last season, but they’ve got nearly 50 athletes out and a senior-heavy team that is loaded with experience.
The Panthers will have the luxury of depth, bringing back sprinters, distance runners and jumpers like Coby Baer, Micah Hightower, Josh Ramos, Jesus Ruiz, Obed Simental, Elisha Vaquera, Austin Wagner and Skyler Yarbrough for their final go round, while adding a number of underclassmen.
“We’re really deep as a senior class and we have a lot of kids that have had experience,” said Archibeque. “We’re deep in our sprints, relays, hurdles and jumps – those are probably our strong areas. And we’re going to have a lot of underclassmen that are going to help us out.”
After having a handful of athletes close to qualifying for state last year, M-CHS hopes to gain from its experience and the change in class to punch tickets to Lakewood this season. However, Archibeque said that the drop to 3A doesn’t mean that their path will be easier; he still wants his team to focus on improving day-by-day and peaking at the end of the year.
“The level of competition in 3A is every bit as good as some of the 4A schools,” he said. “Simply because you drop down from 4A to 3A doesn’t mean you’re all going to qualify. That doesn’t work like that.”
“The whole key is how we progress from now to the end of the season,” he continued. “It’s all about commitment from the kids and the kids working hard and making the solid choice to become better little by little. It’s not going to happen in one week or two weeks, it’s a two or three month process.”