State champions!

Grizzly boys power to first school state track title

By David Peck

In the end it wasn’t even close.

Expecting a strong threat from Big Horn and/or Tongue River from the east side of the state, the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies showed their depth and talent to power to cruise to the Class 2A boys state track and field title over the weekend in Casper, the first state track title in school history.

The Grizzlies racked up 161 points over the three days of competition at Harry Geldien Stadium, beating second-place Big Horn by 48 points. Challengers Big Horn and Tongue River finished with 113 and 108 points, respectively, Big Piney 59.5, and by Saturday morning the only race was for second place behind the Grizz.

In the girls division, the Lady Grizz placed a solid seventh with 41.5 points, trailing Big Horn (48 points) and Moorcroft (46). Tongue River won the girls title with 158 points.

Rocky Mountain head coach Tobee Christiansen said the state title gave him a feeling of nostalgia, thinking back over the years of competition and the coaches who led the Grizzlies.

“We’ve always had this one in mind, trying to get this one off our back, trying to win the big one,” Christiansen said. “We’ve come close…We’ve messed around with it.”

The Grizzly boys placed third in 2016 and second to Lovell by 18 points in 2017. They placed sixth in 2018 and back to third in 2019. The Grizz believed they had the horses to win the title in 2020, but the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus.

This year, with a talented senior class leading the way and plenty of help from sophomores and juniors, the Grizz won the title going away.

“It was absolutely amazing how our kids competed down there,” Coach C said. “In event after event, the kids were achieving. It was just amazing. I just walked around from event to event and watched the kids go off all weekend.”

Noting the team’s success in technical events like the pole vault and hurdles races, Christiansen noted, “We had to get it done in some events that are scary. Bar events are scary. Having to depend on field events is nerve-racking. There’s so much that can go wrong.

“Our kids just kept coming up big. It took a lot of kids coming up in big spots. It took the whole team.”

Asked if he ever felt comfortable in anticipating the title during the weekend, Christiansen said, “John (Bernhisel) and Daniel (Robertson) are the numbers guys, and we were keeping it close to the vest. With Austin (Haslem, senior sprinter) injured, we knew we had to come up big in some spots. But by noon Saturday we knew we couldn’t be caught, mathematically. We would have had to have a train wreck for it to go wrong.”

Christiansen said he was blown away by the team’s determination.

“All year long we preached to the kids to just compete. Even if the weather was bad, just get out and compete,” he said. “Even as a team we challenged each other. Like our jumpers would compete with each other but would still be supportive and happy for each other.”

Super seniors

Christiansen said he wanted to express kudos to senior Austin, who pulled up lame with a hamstring injury in the 200-meter dash, the second to last event of the final day, during the 2A West Regional in Shoshoni the previous Saturday. He had qualified for State in three individual sprinting events and one relay.

“Austin felt bad after the (state) meet, but I believe the work for this title was done in the months and weeks in advance, and all we really had to do was go perform. Austin was a huge part of that. He was a team leader who pushed us in practice. I don’t think we get to where we are without that senior leadership.”

Two seniors dominated the point totals for Rocky Mountain, each winning three individual titles and running a leg of a championship relay team.

Branson Robison won the 100-, 200, and 400-meter dash and ran the final leg of the first-place 400-meter relay.

Robison and Big Horn senior Carson Bates both ran the 100 in 11.65 Saturday morning, and fans and coaches waited with bated breath while officials took the race to the thousandths of a second and perhaps examined a photo finish before declaring Robison the winner.

He then ran a personal record time in the 400-meter dash to win in a time of 50.79 and later capped his career by coming from behind down the stretch to beat Bates in the 200-meter dash, running the half lap in 23.79.

“Branson is just a gamer,” Christiansen said. “He works hard and sets goals. He’s just a good kid. We had two kids (Robison and Horrocks) who won everything they were in. That’s just nuts.

“He was trailing (Bates) big in the 200, but we knew the strongest part of Carson’s race is the beginning, not the end. In the 400, without that breeze, he would have beaten our school record (set by Raymond Sibbett at 49.63 in 1997).”

On Friday, the team of Collin Haslem, Carsyn Weber, Zane Horrocks and Robison won the 400-meter relay going away in a time of 45.86, beating second-place Wright by a second and a half.

“Carsyn was big for us stepping into our four by one for Austin,” Christiansen said. “He hit both ends of his handoffs perfectly. Man, they hit their handoffs. It was fun to watch.”

Horrocks overcame many challenges to win his events at State, Christiansen said. Though a top-notch performer in the pole vault, he failed to make weight at Regionals for a pole he liked to compete with and didn’t clear the opening height. Having to cut weight, he wasn’t in peak form early at the state meet.

“He made weight barely, and by then he hadn’t been eating good,” Christiansen said. “In the prelims of the 110 (high) hurdles (Thursday), he came out and stutter-stepped and four-stepped and had to fight to even make the finals. He was last and fought back to fourth (in 17.69).

“He comes up big when you need him.”

Having made weight, and using his favorite pole, Horrocks overcame cold, wet and windy conditions to win the pole vault Friday morning, clearing 13 feet and beating teammates Kelden Boettcher and Jackson Hanusa, who both cleared 11-6. Boettcher placed second by way of fewer misses.

Later Friday morning, Horrocks ran the preliminaries of the 300-meter intermediate hurdles and qualified for finals in second place with a time of 44.03, and he ran on the winning 4x100 relay team later in the day.

Horrocks was in top form Saturday. He looked smooth in winning the 110-meter hurdles that morning in a time of 16.46, and he later won the 300 hurdles by a full second in a time of 42.03, giving him three individual titles.

One performer who came on strong this season is senior Trevor Jewell, who placed in three field events. He started strong on Thursday by winning the long jump with a personal record jump of 21-3½, which is just four inches off Randall Mann’s school record of 21-7½ set in 2006.

“We needed him,” Christiansen said of the senior. “He really came on the last couple of weeks in the long jump and triple jump.”

Weber placed third in the long jump with a leap of 20-6½, a personal record, and Boettcher was sixth at 19-4¼, also a PR.

Friday afternoon, Rocky Mountain went 1, 2, 3 in the triple jump. Boettcher won the event with a personal-record leap of 41-9¾, and Jewell was second at 40-10, a PR, Weber third at 40-8. After an opening jump of 33-10½, Ben Simmons pulled up on his second jump and ran through, then withdrew from the event.

“He’s springy, he’s a jumper,” Christiansen said of the sophomore Boettcher. “It was awesome to see him pop that big jump in the triple jump. They were going after each other but also excited for each other.

“Ben has some bursitis in his knee. He showed some grit still doing his events.”

On a chilly Saturday morning, three Grizzlies placed in the high jump. Junior Kendrick Beckman won the event, clearing 5-8, and Weber was second on misses, also at 5-8, Jewell tied for seventh at 5-4.

“Eric Honeyman (coach) said 5-10 may win this thing, and it ended up being 5-8,” Christiansen said. “Kendrick is a technician.”

A somewhat hampered Simmons didn’t make opening height in the high jump, and he gutted out two hurdles races, placing eighth in the 110 high hurdles and the 300-meter intermediate hurdles. He ran the 110 hurdles in 21.04 after running a preliminary time of 18.38, and he completed the 300 hurdles in 45.72 after qualifying in 45.53.

“Boy, he improved over the year in the hurdles,” Christiansen said. “He’s going to keep getting better and better.”

Senior Zach Simmons completed his strong career with a pair of solid performances in the long-distance races. In Thursday’s opening event Simmons placed sixth in the 3,200 meters in a time of 11:06.83, close to his best time of the season, and on Saturday he placed fifth in the 1,600 meters in 4:58.10, his first time under five minutes this season and just a half second off his personal record.

Christiansen said he was pleased with the way Simmons competed and finished his career strong, despite battling a sore knee.

The Rocky Mountain 1,600-meter relay team of Taylor Winland, Boettcher, Hanusa and Beckman placed fourth in a time of 3:50.32, and the quartet of Winland, Hanusa, Beckman and Zach Simmons placed eighth in the 1,600 medley relay in 4:10.85.

Other boys results at the state meet were:

100m dash – Collins Haslem 15th in preliminaries, 12.71; 200m dash – Haslem 11th in prelims, 25.02; 400m dash – Haslem ninth in prelims, 55.0; 800 meters – Max Cooley 15th, 2:32.10; shot put – Dylen Clendenen 11th, 35-11¼.

Girls solid at State

Field events propelled the Rocky Mountain girls to their seventh-place finish at State. Freshman Kaitey Christensen won the triple jump with a leap of 31-11, two feet further than she jumped at Regionals in Shoshoni a week earlier and just eight inches below her personal record.

“She does a good job. She’s been consistent all year,” Christiansen said, adding that Christensen works hard and is very coachable.

Sophomore Anna Arnold finished 11th with a jump of 28-5.

The Lady Grizz had three placers in the high jump and nearly a fourth. Christensen tied for third, clearing 4-8, and senior Taylin Boettcher tied for sixth on misses, also at 4-8. Senior Alexis Minemyer also cleared 4-8, placing eighth. Freshman MacKelle Moss cleared 4-6 to finish ninth.

Sophomore Victoria Arnold placed fifth in the long jump with a personal record jump of 15-5 ¾, and Christensen was sixth at 15-2, Moss ninth at 14-7½, a personal record.

Boettcher concluded her pole vaulting career by clearing 8 feet to place fourth in the event. Senior Bailee Loftus also cleared 8 feet, placing fifth on misses.

“She’s a leader for us on the girls side,” Christiansen said of Boettcher. “She has a great work ethic and has been a positive influence on the team. That whole group of pole-vaulters got into it new as freshmen. It’s been fun to have them.”

Freshman Rylee Winland finished 14th in the shot put with a toss of 28-4½.

The Rocky Mountain sprinters were strong in Casper, but just not strong enough, finishing just out of advancing to the finals in two events. In the 100-meter dash, Victoria Arnold finished 10th in preliminaries with a time of 14.49, Anna Arnold 13th at 14.72 and Brinn Jenkins 14th at 14.73. In the 200-meter dash, the Lady Grizz finished 9-12: Boettcher in 29.41, Victoria Arnold in 29.51, Anna Arnold in 29.61 and Moss in 29.66.

The 400-meter relay team of Boettcher, Minemyer, Moss and Christensen placed fourth in a time of 54.54. The 1,600-meter relay squad of KateLynne Herren, Jenkins, Loftus and Anna Arnold placed seventh, completing the four laps in 5:03.82.

Christiansen said he would like to thank his assistant coaches and acknowledge “how phenomenal they were,” adding, “My assistant coaches are some of the best around in character, knowledge and the way they work with kids. A couple of volunteer coaches came and gave of their time just to help the kids.”

Assistants were John Bernhisel, Ryan Boettcher and Daniel Robertson and volunteers Kade Ames, Eric Honeyman and Aric Hanusa.