Both programs earned their first state titles in school history with convincing performances on the other side of Wyoming Saturday afternoon. The ladies had five of the top 14 runners including all-state finishes for Hailey Ricks, Hannah Demler and BreeAnne Guzman. The guys had five of the top 17 runners with all-state nods going to Cody Peck and Gabe Waldron.
The Lady Braves used an extremely strong off-season and depth to unseat defending champion Cody by eight points for the 3A Girls team title after finishing second to the Fillies last year. Senior Hailey Ricks won an amazing third individual title in her high school career. The 4A title in her sophomore season, and 3A titles her junior and senior seasons. Ricks is the only runner in SVHS history to hoist a team trophy in track & field and cross-country.
The win was especially sweet after a series of setbacks in last year’s race, including Hannah Demler running nearly three miles with one shoe. This year, Demler earned all-state honors in her sophomore campaign with a sixth place finish to help what looks to be a perennial title contender get the monkey of the first championship off their collective backs. Juniors BreeAnne Guzman and Dakota Bateman along with freshman Madison Ashworth had been shaving off time the entire season which culminated with defeating Cody on three consecutive weekends. Sixth varsity runner, Courtney Smith, was also a key element in the win.
“It played out how we thought it would,” said head coach Ty Draney. “We knew it would be super close and we knew it would come down to their fifth place runner. It was windy so the times were a little slower than we wanted but we got some help from the other side of the state. The clincher was Courtney Smith coming in as our sixth in front of Cody’s fifth runner to push them back a little. It was a total team effort.”
The Braves had a maddening wait before their turn to run which was the last race of the day in Douglas. While there was no individual title, the blue-collar Braves were always in it for the team glory this season as they outdistanced defending champ Jackson by 29 team points.
“It was a weird emotion,” Draney said of the wait between races. “We were sweating it out but we didn’t’ realize that Worland didn’t have a full team on the girls side which affected the standings. When we finally found out officially we were obviously excited. Some of the girls being the perfectionists that they are wished they had run better. If nothing else, it really inspired the boys and I thought it was going to be a close race and it really wasn’t. Our boys were patient and even climbing the hill at the top of the second mile they just rolled through the field in that last little bit. Cody [Peck] finished really strong and David [Livingston] caught his kid. They ran so well in that second half that we weren’t even nervous.”
Sophomore Cody Peck led the way with a second place finish overall, just eight seconds off the winning pace of Devyn Brotherton of Cody High. Gabe Waldron also collected all-state honors with an eighth place finish. Waldron’s transformation from undersized wrestler to all-state distance runner has been one of the more compelling story lines of the program over the past two years. Fellow senior David Livingston,who had been nursing stress fractures in his foot all season long finished 14th. Junior Zachary Dubisz has also been a big part of the success, with sophomore Nic Demler and freshman Aaron Abrams filling out the varsity spots. It was Demler who took the #5 varsity spot at state to help the team to the convincing victory.
It has been a team goal since Draney took over the program. With some letdowns and frustrations along the way, the teams were understandably cautious.
“It’s been a long time coming,” sighed Draney. “There have been signs pointing to this but the kids have worked so hard. We needed this for our kids that won’t be here next year and also for those that will. We’ve been talking about this for about eight years and it was time.”
Look for full and celebratory coverage of the double dip in the October 24, 2012 edition of the Star Valley Independent.
Follow this writer on Twitter @DahlErickson