LAKEWOOD - A season of track and field hasn't shaken Vista Ridge senior Hunter Maldonado's belief that he belongs on the basketball court.
"No, not at all," the Wyoming-bound forward said. "I know I'm not gifted in track and field. I'm here to help them out."
Gifted or not, Maldonado took third in the 4A boys' high jump (6-foot, 71/2 inches) and an unexpected ninth in the long jump (21-51/4) at the state track and field meet at Jeffco Stadium on Saturday morning. His basketball teammates Raymon Harper and Tristan Pratt, both a year younger, were on the podium with him after each event.
Maldonado said he was approached by coaches and friends on the track team before the season. It wasn't a hard sell.
"I know I'm leaving soon." Maldonado said. "Just having my basketball friends along for the ride, it's very special. I'm spending the most time with them that I can."
There was another incentive.
"They said they have a chance to win a state championship, and I've never done that in my high school career, so I'm trying to help them out and do whatever I need to do to leave a champion," Maldonado said.
Maldonado left the Vista Ridge basketball program with many memories, leading his team in points (23.7 per game), rebounds (6.5) and assists (2.2) his final season en route to the 5A round of 16. His many leaps toward the basket didn't hurt during his brief stint in track and field.
"It's a different way of competing, a different mindset," Maldonado said. "But at the end of the day, you're still trying to win for your teammates. You can't get there by yourself."
Pratt tied for sixth in the high jump (6 feet, 51/2 inches) and was fourth (22-21/2) in the long jump. Harper and Maldonado will finish up Sunday in the triple jump.
On Saturday, Harper was second behind Pueblo West's Frank Nash in the long jump with a 22-91/4 and fourth in the high jump on what he called an "OK" day personally. But his time at state is also about more than results.
"It was a great experience, especially with some of my basketball teammates to just bond with them even further, with Hunter going to Wyoming next year," Harper said. "Without him, it's going to be different. It was good to join track, come out here and have fun."