State records, continued domination and a newcomer to the podium’s top step highlighted last week’s Division I state track and field meet.
Two of the three state records that fell at Mesa Community College came by way of the duel anticipated all season between Highland’s Lauren Ellsworth and Desert Vista’s Dani Jones.
The two juniors went head-to-head in the 800 and 1,600 meters, and each changed up their usual strategy to etch their name in the state record book.
Jones pulled away from the pack early in the 1,600 and crossed the finish line in 4 minutes, 48.73 seconds, lowering the state record by .38 seconds. Former Mountain Pointe runner Sara Gorton last broke the record in 1999. Ellsworth came in second at 4:56.69.
Jumping to the early lead was the change for Jones, who last year used a late kick to win two titles.
“I used to rely on my kick so much last year, go hard the last 100,” Jones said. “My coach told me be the Prefontaine and push the first half. I wanted to break the pack of the mentality in the first half of the race and it was good because the last lap of the race I was crawling.”Ellsworth utilized a similar kick late in the 800 to catch and pass Jones and finished in 2:07.61.
“That was the plan, to kick late. I knew what I was doing,” said Ellsworth, though she admitted she didn’t always have 100 percent confidence.
“My biggest worry was when I was going to kick. You don’t want to kick too late and you don’t want to kick too early and have someone kick after you. It was all feeling after the 400 mark.” Ellsworth also credited the presence of Jones, who took second in 2:10.69.
“If I wouldn’t have had Dani as a competitor I wouldn’t have ran as fast as I did,” Ellsworth said. “I owe Dani for pushing me.”
Ellsworth also was part of Highland’s championship team in the 3,200 relay. The Hawks nipped Jones’ Desert Vista team by .04 seconds.
“I don’t usually celebrate after my races, but that was one to celebrate,” Ellsworth said
Jones won the 3,200 for the Thunder, who led in the team standings until the final event, the 400 relay.
But Chandler won that race to claim an unprecedented ninth straight championship, 129-123.5.
The Wolves relay team secured the title, but it wouldn’t have been possible without Ky Westbrook.
Senior Westbrook won the 100, 100 hurdles, 200 and shot put — yes, Chandler won the 400 relay without Westbrook. Her four titles bring Westbrook’s career total to 12, and she won the 100 and 200 for the fourth time. The USC-bound Westbrook won the 100 in 11.69 seconds, the 100 hurdles in 14.17, the 200 in 24.33 and the shot put with a toss of 45 feet, 7.75 inches
On the boys side, senior Nathan Rodriguez stepped out into the sun and led Corona del Sol to its first state championship since 1982, when the school competed in 4A.
Rodriguez finished either second or third to Cibola’s Bernie Montoya at last year’s state meet but won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 this year, and led the Aztecs to a repeat title in the 3,200 relay.
“Most of the time the last couple years I was caught up in the shadow or one step behind Bernie,” Rodriguez said. “This year as a senior, I said I wanted to run those kinds of times and kind of be that force in the Valley.” Rodriguez, headed to Iowa State next year, won the 800 in 1:52.97, the 1,600 in 4:18.24, and the 3,200 in 9:25.50
Corona, which finished second as a team a year ago, easily pulled away and beat second-place Desert Vista by 23.5 points.
“We were so close last year,” Corona coach Tim Kelly said, “so to see all those kids, even the ones who didn’t qualify for state, on the field celebrating a state championship, that was pretty special.”
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