Winning the Division I 100-, 200- and 400-meter titles during the state finals Saturday at Mesa Community College was impressive enough.
But the way Deer Valley junior Trae Armstorng claimed the crown was the real eye opener. The deepest field of sprinters in a decade could not close within a tenth of a second of the front-runner in any of the dashes.
"Mentally, he was perfect, taking one race at a time and once one race was over then his total focus went to the next race," Deer Valley tack coach Eric Bolus said. "He did a great job cooling down between races and never got caught up in the moment until the meet was over ... then we both cried. It was an amazing week not just for Trae but for Deer Valley track and field."
In the 100, Armstrong beat Ironwood senior Isaiah Underwood, the only sprinter to top Armstrong this year. Armstrong finished in 10.67 to Underwood's 10.80 and Phoenix Brophy Prep sophomore Devon Allen's 10.90.
Next up was Armstrong's newest race, the 400. After a solid preliminary time, he pulled away from the field in the final, posting a personal best 47.91.
“The 100 probably meant the most because I don’t like losing to Isaiah,” Armstrong said. “The 400 was good because there were some kids that were talking crap before the race even started. Most of them were being really negative, and I was like, ‘I don’t know why you're talking.’”
Then came a quick turnaround for the 200 finals. This time, Allen and Undewood switched places, but otherwise the story was the same. Armstrong ran a personal best 21.37 to Allen's 21.50 and Underwood's 21.61
"I was nervous about his 200 only because I was concerned whether or not he had enough gas in the tank after running 47.91 in the 400," Bolus said. "I knew he would have to be very fast because the 200 was stacked, but he turned in another great performance and ran 21.3."
Armstrong also led Deer Valley's first-place 4x400 meter relay team past Centennial.
Other local winners:
* Cactus senior Kinsey Minter tied for the Division II girls high jump crown with Tucson Catalina Foothills senior Shakayla McEaddy. Both cleared 5 feet, 6 inches without a miss, but could not get a higher mark.
Minter came in as the defending 4A-II champion while McEaddy won 4A-I last year.
“She was walking on cloud nine the entire night,” Cactus girls track coach Casey Olson said. “The coaching staff at Cactus is extremely proud of the mental and physical toughness she showed by battling back from her midseason ankle sprain. She was always a champion in our eyes but she finally believed it and owned it Saturday night at the state meet.”
* Liberty picked up three titles during the Division III meet.
It was a bit of a rebuilding year for Liberty track and field and, aside from senior Ashley Kealamakia, the state’s top 800-meter runner, the Lions weren’t looking for more than a couple of top five finishes.
And after an uncharacteristic performance in the 400 meter finals Saturday at Mesa Community College, the coaches were even sweating Kealamakia’s chances of winning her signature event. Kealamakia ran a 58.32 in the 400 preliminaries, within striking distance of Estrella Foothills junior Jasmin Pratt, but fell to sixth at 1:00.39 as Pratt cruised to the title.
All the concerns melted away quickly, as Kealamakia cruised to her first championship in 2:13:80, just off the personal best 2:13:78 she posted in March’s Chandler Rotary meet.
“She didn’t run a very good 400, so we were nervous coming in,” Liberty girls track coach Mark Rituper said. “She ran the first lap exactly how she was supposed to. She wasn’t leading, but she hit her mark. The second lap, she obliterated the field.”
For Kealamakia, this 800 was more memorable than the performance that garnered the outstanding girls track athlete award at Chandler. Though her main rivals were in the higher divisions, she could again claim to be Arizona’s best, posting the fastest time at state.
Plus, Kealamakia wasn’t as fresh coming into the 800 as at Chandler, where she skipped the 400.
“I was excited that out of all the divisions I had the best time, even more than winning the Division III title,” she said. “Being able to run a 2:13 after a 400 was great. I was curious to see what kind of time I could run after doing the 400 earlier this time.”
Kealamakia tests herself against the best one more time before college. Saturday night, she’ll face 12 of the top 24 800 meters in Arizona during the Meet of Champions at Queen Creek High School.
Then it’s on to Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, where she accepted a scholarship three weeks ago. It’s where her parents, Terry and Elizabeth, ran track and cross country and met. It’s also where Rituper ran.
She looked at a couple of colleges, but felt most at home in Weber.
“I visited the school and I really like it and the coaches,” Kealamakia said. “I’m excited because my mom has a bunch of records there and I’m looking forward to continuing the family name.”
Fellow Liberty senior Shane Nelson was far more of a surprise state champion. He came into the high jump seeded No. 13, though in reality he was tied for ninth. But teammate Dylan McKenna and several others had jumped more consistently coming in.
Liberty coaches had seen more out of Nelson in practice and thought his seed was low. But even they were stunned by Nelson’s consistency at state, which allowed him to finish first out of five jumpers that topped out at 6 feet, 4 inches.
“He had cleared 6-6 a couple of times and coach (Kevin) Bacon and I said if he can do that, he’ll get top three,” Rituper said. “Every time he tried a height he cleared it on his first attempt, and that’s what won state for him.”
Equally surprising was the performance of the boys 4x400 meter relay team. Liberty entered state ranked No. 10 in the event, but lopped off five seconds from its best time, beating Estrella Foothills and Rio Rico by posting a 3:26.88.
That improvement should continue next year as only senior Trevor Landry graduates. Sophomores Chad Williford, Caleb Robinson and Brandon Zitka give the 4x400 team a foundation for the next two years.
“After our heat, we had to wait for one more. The kids were waiting for the times to come up on the scoreboard and they wouldn’t display. We didn’t find out about it for 10 minutes,” Rituper said. “The past two weeks have been really good for them because they worked hard.”