Coach Chuck Schwartz knew his Air Academy girls' track and field team had the potential to be something special.
He had experience on his roster in senior thrower Katelin Gallegos, senior distance runner Maria Mettler, and junior sprinter Olivia Whitaker, who were all poised to have successful seasons. But Schwartz knew he had to get contributions from his other runners too - not just for this season, but for when Gallegos, Mettler and Whitaker are gone.
He had prepared for this, though, implementing an atmosphere where the upperclassmen are expected to mentor the underclassmen. This approach helped Schwartz to be recognized as The Gazette's girls' track and field Coach of the Year.
His technique also paid off at the 4A state track and field meet.
Gallegos, Mettler and Whitaker combined for 64 points by themselves, and if you include the relay teams containing Mettler and Whitaker, that number jumped to 78, which would have been good enough to place the Air Academy second overall. But the Kadets needed more to overcome Niwot, the favorites to win the state meet.
Senior Kamerin Valdes came through, finishing fourth and sixth in the 200 and 400, respectively, for 10 points, while senior high jumper Allyson Stanley finished seventh in the high jump to earn three points. Add that to freshman distance-runner Tatum Miller's ninth-place finish in the 3200 and Air Academy had 92 points.
Niwot had 83. The Kadets had won and lived up to Schwartz's expectations from the beginning of the year.
"I had a good idea that we would have an outside shot at being one of the top teams in the state, it's just a lot of things had to come together," Schwartz said. "You had to avoid some injuries and make sure we get people on board, so yeah I had a sense it was there, and a lot of things fell together well."
Schwartz's job isn't done now, though. He may be losing Mettler, Gallegos and the rest of the senior class, but he's prepared his team to make up for their losses.
It starts with finding a way to replace Mettler's leadership.
"We spent this year preparing for that well," Schwartz said. "We invest a lot in our underclassmen. ... I think we had four freshmen at (the state meet). We had three freshmen sprinters and then Tatum (Miller) who's a freshman distance runner, and I think we had a few alternates who were freshmen. But, yeah, we put a pretty heavy emphasis on our underclassmen to try to . we started doing that so that we can not feel the loss so much, because it's impossible to replace a leader like Maria. Hopefully she passes it on and a kid picks up the torch."
The transition won't be all bad - Whitaker's return for her senior season will assure that. But Schwartz certainly has his work cut out for him. Yet, if his investment in the freshmen this spring pays off, perhaps the he will find himself with that same good feeling at the beginning of next season.