Palmer Ridge track and field team seeks redemption

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Photo - Palmer Ridge's Caleb Ojennes, center, sprints to a victory in the 4A 200 meter dash with a time of 21.53 seconds Saturday, May 21, 2016, during the final day of the Colorado State Track and Field meet at Jefferson County Stadium in Lakewood, Colo.   (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Palmer Ridge's Caleb Ojennes, center, sprints to a victory in the 4A 200 meter dash with a time of 21.53 seconds Saturday, May 21, 2016, during the final day of the Colorado State Track and Field meet at Jefferson County Stadium in Lakewood, Colo. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Palmer Ridge's distance team hopes silver will become the gold standard in redemption.

A dominating victory at the state cross country meet in October brought things full circle for the Bears' boys team. They emerged as a nationally-ranked force just one year after finishing a step below Durango on the Class 4A podium.

And this spring, with an achingly painful runner-up plaque from the year before, the long milers believe they can pace the track and field team to glory as well.

"The depth of our program is really what is going to make the difference this year just because we have a ton of fantastic distance runners that can contribute points," said senior Drew Lester, who took sixth at state cross country (despite dislocating his shoulder in the final 300 meters). "But we want points from wherever we can get them. We're not real picky."

The Bears - even with their selfish amount of distance talent - will need others to step up, too.

Last year, Palmer Ridge was loaded with athletes across the board and still missed out on a third consecutive state title. Instead, the Bears finished second to Mountain View in what was widely considered the deepest 4A field Colorado had ever seen.

And now they must make up ground despite losing top-end guys in sprints and field events, including sprinter/pole vaulter Kyle Rex, thrower George Silvanic and Caleb Ojennes, who was named the Colorado boys' track athlete of the year by Gatorade in 2016.

Asked if filling those voids was realistic, new coach Rob Collins remained confident.

"Our whole goal this year is like a redemption year," Collins said, "same thing like it was in cross country."

Of the Bears' returning state qualifiers not from the championship cross country team, none may be more important than Brandon Pappas.

The senior has shown he can run among the state's best in sprinting and middle distance events. Just last spring he finished fifth in the state 800, and he was also the lead leg in the 1,600 relay that took gold.

Pappas believes others will step up, too.

"We have a really young team on the sprinting side but that doesn't mean we don't have guys that aren't able to compete at that level," Pappas said. "Being Palmer Ridge, we might have some tricks up our sleeves and we might surprise some people in the end."

The championship conversation doesn't stop in Monument, though.

TCA’s Kendra Frieden hands off to Chantae Steele in the 4A 800 Sprint medley Friday, May 20, 2016, during the second day of the Colorado State Track and Field meet at Jefferson County Stadium in Lakewood, Colo. TCA finished second behind Discovery Canyon. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
TCA’s Kendra Frieden hands off to Chantae Steele in the 4A 800 Sprint medley Friday, May 20, 2016, during the second day of the Colorado State Track and Field meet at Jefferson County Stadium in Lakewood, Colo. TCA finished second behind Discovery Canyon. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

The Classical Academy girls' team is among those eyeing gold.

The Titans, who won the 4A title in their second year in the classification last spring, are back in 3A with hopes of seizing their 10th team victory in the last 12 seasons.

And at first glance, it looks promising. TCA coach Tim Daggett says the Titans have lost some depth in their sprints, which includes the entire 1,600 relay that took first. But they do bring back the likes of jumper/hurdler RaeAnn Queener, pole vaulter Erika Willis, sprinters Chantae Steele and Claudia Valenzuela, and a distance team that took second at last fall's state cross country meet.

"We definitely have some returners we're excited about," Daggett said.

Spring practices began Feb. 27. The state track and field meet will be May 18-20 at Jefferson County Stadium.