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‘Competitive,’ ‘inspiring’ performances at state meet

David beat Goliath. The 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team beat the Soviets. The San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers to take the 2010 World Series title.

All are inspiring true tales of the underdogs working hard to do the unbelievable.

Add another one to the list: the 2012 Pagosa Springs track and field team.

While neither the boys nor the girls took a first place at state as a team, for the smallest Pirate track team Pagosa has had in over a decade, they broke school records, personal records and took the podium an astounding number of times at state, including an individual first place.

“What’s amazing about the girls is that they scored enough to get fifth place,” coach Scott White said. White recalled wondering at the first track practice, “Where is everyone?”

“This is by far the most talented and flexible group of girls I’ve coached,” White said.

The three top girls, scoring the greatest number of points, were junior Toni Stoll, junior Gabby Pajak and sophomore Taylor Strohecker. Pajak, who placed in three events, was competing with an injury to her Achilles tendon.

“I love that I get them all back,” White said.

Strohecker, White said, would have to be the most valuable player of the meet. As just a sophomore, she took first place in high jump with a jump of 5 feet, 4 inches.

Stoll placed fifth in the 100-meter hurdles, 16.47 seconds; fourth in the 300M hurdles, 48.31; fourth in long jump, 16 feet, 11.75 inches; and second in triple jump, 36-11.75. When looking at a picture of Stoll running, White was amazed at the competition evident in her face.

“Competitive,” White repeated, “That’s the best word for these girls.”

Pajak placed second in 100M hurdles, 16.11; seventh in long jump, 16-6.5; and eighth in triple jump, 34-1.25. Pajak, White said, was competing with an injury. When she ran, he said the pain was evident in her gait and face. Her most amazing race was the 100M hurdles. Due to her injury, White explained that she had not run the hurdles in a month, had not competed even at their home meet.

“The preliminaries at state was the first time she’d ran hurdles in a month,” White said. Her second time was in the finals, during a rain storm, where she placed second.

All three of these athletes, White said, had college scouts watching them closely.

“It was neat to see,” White said, who added that he is working to recruit the eighth-graders for track next year.

Senior Katie Armbrecht placed tenth in shot put with a throw of 85-8.

While the girls worked together through pain and injury and foul weather to take home fifth, it was senior Carlos Brinkmann who had the race of the day.

Throughout the season, with a time of 4.46 to 4.48, Brinkmann has taken first place in league meets, winning by several seconds. Two weeks prior to state championships, Brinkmann ran against larger schools in Grand Junction and took 8 seconds off his time. Even then, when he ran at regionals, he was back at 4.48.

“All week I told him, ‘Count to four,’” White said, explaining that if Brinkmann dropped four seconds from his best time, he would hold the school record.

Then, last Saturday, the final race of Brinkmann’s high school career came. It was cloudy; it was raining.

“This is your weather,” White told him. As the runners took to their blocks, White said the rain stopped, there was no wind. Brinkmann started in the far right lane and, after 200 meters, moved into fourth. By the bell lap, he was in third place. Then, in the last 200 meters, Brinkmann surged.

“The whole stadium was standing up,” White said. Brinkmann was neck and neck with the first-place runner from Faith Christian. Brinkmann dove across the finish line, but was .02 seconds short of taking first. Brinkmann finished the mile in second place with a 4.26.78, first place having a 4.26.76.

While he didn’t take home first, he did shatter his personal best and broke the old school record by 11 seconds.

“Every year at state you see something magical, something inspiring. That was it,” White said.

The three boys’ relays also greatly improved at the state meet. The boys came in placed eighteenth in the 4x800M relay. White said that he expected them to improve if they ran to their full potential, but he didn’t expect them to improve by so much. The boys dropped 19 seconds to take seventh place with a final time of 8.20.

The 4x400M relay had a similar story. “We were ranked fourteenth going into this,” White said. The boys finished in seventh place with a 3.29.04, less than a second away from beating the school record. White added that if it wasn’t for a problem during the last hand-off, they probably would have placed fifth or sixth and broken the record. In the 4x200M relay, the boys improved by 1.5 seconds and placed 12th.

Looking back on the whole season, White said he couldn’t be more proud.

“This was an unbelievably successful year and one of the most satisfying,” White said. “This is why I coach.”

From Strohecker taking first, Stoll pushing herself to the limit, Brinkmann having the race of the day, Pajak running through her injury and the boys working together, White said, “That’s it. That’s why I do what I do … I love how they fought and came together. It’s amazing.”

lindsey@pagosasun.com

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