When Hinkley arrives at a track meet nowadays, others take notice.
The Thunderbirds might have snuck up on some of the usual powers at last season’s Class 5A state track meet when they finished third overall with just a handful of qualifiers, but Hinkley athletes are among the star attractions for this season’s meet, running an abbreviated slate May 20-21 at Jefferson County Stadium.
Featuring returning state champions in senior Darrien Wells and junior Angel Heredia, coach Chris Carhart’s group will be tracked by contenders such as defending champion Pomona and Fountain-Fort Carson in the chase for the state championship.
“Attention is not something that we’re looking for, but we’ve got it and we worked hard for it,” Heredia said. “Now when we are at meets, people say ‘Oh, Hinkley’s here.’
“You look around and see all eyes on us a times; it’s something to live up to, but in the end it’s something we worked for.”
All eyes will especially be on the Thunderbirds when they run the hurdles. Carhart has taken to calling Hinkley “Hurdle High” on social media and it would be hard to argue that’s not an apt moniker as former Thunderbird Francisco Padilla has coached the group into one of the best around.
Heredia is the defending state champion in the 300 hurdles and he’s actually been surpassed in the event by friend and junior teammate Oscar Sarabia. Heredia is ranked No. 2 in the event going into state — behind another Aurora hurdler, Cherokee Trail’s Kellen Monestime — while Sarabia ranks fourth.
The two friends swept the title at the EMAC Championships and push each other to new heights.
But Hinkley’s no one-trick pony.
The Thunderbirds also feature one of the state’s top sprint threats in Wells, the defending 400 meter champion who is seeded in the top five of the 100, 200 and 400. He missed a large chunk of the season due to injury, but won all three events at the EMAC Championships and is geared up to face Fountain-Fort Carson’s Donovan Williams for the first time.
Williams has the state’s top times in the 100 and 200, while Wells would have to get past Overland star Cameron Murray (the top seed) and others to repeat in the 400.
Hinkley used its last chance meet to drop the second-fastest 4×200 relay team and also grabbed the last state spot in the 4×400 relay, which could loom large if the Thunderbirds have a chance at a trophy late.
“It’s different this year, we’re not going to surprise anybody, but I think last year’s experience we had at state was enormous,” Carhart said. “These guys know that they can compete at that level and it’s really taken us to a different place in practice and at meets.”
The Cherokee Trail boys won the Centennial League championship with remarkable depth and have an Aurora-high nine individuals headed to compete in 14 events, plus the high-performing relays in the mix.
Monestime is the top seed in the 300 meter hurdles where he’ll aim to unseat Heredia, while junior Dawson Spann is the third seed in the long jump and the Cougars’ 4×100 and 4×200 relay teams both come in seeded top three.
Grandview senior Hayden Blubaugh popped the longest boys long jump of the year at the league meet and could spearhead a fierence charge by the Wolves, who should get big points from senior Robert Moss in the shot put.
Regis Jesuit could be a top-five team in coach Ryan Taylor’s estimation of well-rounded senior Jason Lewis is able to compete at full strength in three events, including the pole vault, which also includes Raiders’ star Geoff Lord.
Rangeview’s state contingent is heavy on jumpers, with senior Chance Walker leading a group that could pick up plenty of points.
While Gateway has just one individual qualifier in junior Kevin Traylor, the Olys’ 4×200 meter relay is seeded No. 4 going into the meet and could be a darkhorse in the event.
On the girls side, Grandview takes aim at the state championship and goes into the meet with a cadre of 10 individuals qualified in a total of 17 events, in addition to four relay teams.
The Wolves expect to thrive in the distance events thanks to senior Brie Oakley — the defending 1,600 and 3,200 meter state champion — who is seeded in the top four in three events, along with junior Caroline Robbins and sophomore Kaitlyn Mercer, while the trio could also put the Wolves’ 4×800 relay high on the podium.
Senior Michaela Onyenwere has run sparingly as she recovered from a lengthy basketball season and battled minor injuries, but her presence in the 100 and 200 meters is big in addition to relay work.
Junior Leilah Vigil is a state title threat in the shot put, freshman Lily Williams is a 400 meter contender and Grandview features a variety of multi-sport athletes capable of getting points in many areas.
Cherokee Trail returns an individual state champion in junior Sydnee Larkin, who has designs on a repeat in the triple jump. Junior Taylor Watson won a combined three Centennial League championships (two individuals, one with a relay) for the Cougars, who have particular strength in the jumping events and relays.
Overland’s 4×100 and 4×200 relay teams have had outstanding seasons and both could contend.
Most conceed that Denver East’s Arria Minor won’t be caught in the sprinting events, but Rangeview sophomore Dawnielle Lewis figures to challenge her in the 100 and 200 as a top-three seed.
Led by juniors twins Kierra and Sierra Arceneaux, the Hinkley girls — coming off another EMAC championship — aim for a top 10 finish. The Thunderbirds have a particularly competitive 4×200 relay team.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel