Palmer Ridge was dealt a blow when sprinter Brandon Pappas pulled up lame with a hamstring injury in the 200 preliminaries Saturday at the Doherty Spartan Invitational.
The talented and experienced sprinter - and more so, his health - will be one of the keys in the Bears' quest for a state title later this month.
"In the prelim (of the 200) I just aggravated it," Pappas said. "Then in the four-by-two I hurt it a little more and then this (200) final I just kind of just (teed) it off a little bit.
"It was a nice jog through the finish line," the senior half-heartedly cracked.
The senior, with the ability to compete in everything from the 100-800, hoped he could help fill the void left by Caleb Ojennes, a multiple state champion who now runs at Indiana.
First, he said, he wants to take a few more pointers from the former runner. Ojennes had hamstring issues heading into the state meet last year, but recovered in time to win three golds.
"I call him often," Pappas said. "I just have one issue. It's a pretty big one."
The Bears finished third with 80 points, finishing behind 5A teams from Fountain-Fort Carson and Grandview at Garry Berry Stadium.
Stephen Vaughn won the pole vault (12 feet, 8 inches) and the team, led by its nationally ranked distance squad, finished in the top five in seven events.
Soon, they will look to avenge their second-place finish in 2016.
"I think we're very much in the running," distance senior Drew Lester said. "I think we're the favorite right now. At least that's how we see it."
Many athletes on Saturday also ran at the Pueblo Twilight Invitational on Friday.
With less than two weeks to go before the three-day state meet, Palmer Ridge coach Rob Collins said right now it's all about preparation.
"It's training, we're trying to get ready with the state meet with back-to-back days," Bears coach Rob Collins said. "We're trying to build that confidence in them."
In the boys' meet, Doherty's Hayden Martinez won the 1,600 (4:32.12) and Cian Quiroga took the discus (152-3) for Cheyenne Mountain.
Grandview, meanwhile, won the girls' meet.
Palmer Ridge was third behind wins in the 400 relay (49.78) and sprint medley (1:51.23).
Cheyenne Mountain was fourth as Michaela Moore won the 100 (12.27) and Mary McCowen took the 100 hurdles (15.49), and Fountain-Fort Carson was sixth with wins from Kiana Jackson in triple jump (36-9) and Gina Coleman in the shot put (38-6.5).
Liberty was seventh, and Air Academy was ninth with a victory in the 3,200 relay (9:49.55).