With the clacking sound of metal on metal permeating through the air on the infield grass area of Great Friends of UNM Track Complex May 13, the Taos Tigers took their time enjoying the experience of winning it all – yet again. The sweet sound was from medal on medal as they dangled ever so showy on the necks of the reigning champs – accompanied by millions of goosebumps on the arms.
For the fourth time in a row, the Taos Tiger boys track and field team claimed a state title, responding to the coaches who asked the team’s members to give everything they could – on a day when they needed it the most and on the biggest stage.
The Taos Tigers boys track team brought home another blue trophy with an extraordinary performance at the 2017 New Mexico state championships held at Great Friends of University of New Mexico (UNM) Stadium May 12-13. The two-day affair included teams from the larger 4A, 5A and 6A classifications – bringing an end to all interscholastic sports for the 2016-17 school year.
This latest state championship is the fourth in a row for coach Benny Mitchell and his thinclad stars, as the Tigers racked up 67 points as a team and fended off a furious pursuit by the Portales Rams and the Silver Colts to defend their reign as the top boys team in Class 4A.
Lackluster day one
Taos ended the first day of competition, which included some field events and preliminary heats in all dashes and relays, with a total of 12 points – third place behind teams from Moriarty and Portales, which had 14 and 13 points, respectively. A dropped baton by the Tigers’ 4-x-200-meter relay team resulted in “did not finish” or DNF for Taos, which meant that the team was disqualified from finals competition on day two. This in turn meant that Taos could no longer gain any points from this event – points that were counted on, as this particular relay team was predicted to win the event with ease. Taos did qualify its remaining relay teams.
“That disqualification gave teams an opening by leveling the playing field,” remarked a Taos assistant coach as events were wrapping up May 13. “We had to manufacture points in other events to make up the difference.”
The first-day points came from second- and fourth-place finishes in the long jump by Jonah Vigil and John Olivas, respectively. Vigil’s longest recorded jump of 21 feet, 11.75 inches was an improvement from last year’s longest jump, when he notched 21 feet, 7.25 inches to win it all. This year, however, he was outjumped by Marvin Encinias from Moriarty, who was able to squeeze an extra quarter inch of distance on his second attempt to win with a flat distance of 22 feet.
In the high jump, Taos’ John Olivas was not able to match his personal best height of 6 feet, 4 inches earned at the beginning of the season and matched at the district qualifier May 6. Olivas was the favored jumper coming into the state competition, but was hampered by equipment issues that caused a subpar showing – mustering a fifth place and two points for his team.
Ryan McCarty also garnered a fifth place and two additional points for the Tigers with a jump of 11 feet, 6 inches in the pole vault.
Redemption day two
As day two progressed, those points did start to trickle in, but Taos was indeed in a vulnerable position. Portales quickly acquired another 11 points early in the morning to jump out to a 25-12 lead as javelin and shot put throwers added points to the growing total for the Rams. It wasn’t until the final running events started up that Tiger fans began to see the point gap narrow a bit.
The Tigers began to chip away at the lead with strong individual performances from Dalton Donaldson in the hurdle events and Vigil in the sprint events. Then, a pair of lightning bolts hit the Taos Tiger express when Alejandro Salazar and Simon Mount turned in big-time results in their respective events, electrifying the gathering crowds inside UNM Track Complex and dashing the hopes of Colts, Pintos and Rams – again.
Salazar, barely qualifying in the triple jump (by a mere inch) in the district qualifier at West Las Vegas May 6 with a distance of 41 feet, 1 inch, came out of nowhere to win the event at a distance of 43 feet, 4.75 inches. Coach Mitchell emphasized how important Salazar’s win was to the team by declaring the Tigers “were back on track” with the added seven points and in a good position to vie for the top spot.
“Alejandro practically made up our lost points from the 4x200 team,” said Mitchell. “He doesn’t know how big that was for us.”
Holding on to a slim lead late in the afternoon and with events wrapping up, the Tigers received another unexpected lift from long-distance runner Mount, who pulled off a fifth-place finish in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 10:12.62 to add two points to the tally. This essentially clinched the championship for the Tigers, as there weren’t enough remaining points to be won by Taos’ opponents.
Other notable performances on day two included a first-place finish by Vigil in the 100-meter dash by an incredibly thin margin. Crossing the finish line neck and neck with LaVaughn Smooth from Ruidoso, Vigil managed to surge forward just enough to win the fastest event of the meet by two one-thousandths of a second. Another photo finish in the 400-meter dash would see Vigil take the state title with a razor’s edge of four one-hundredths of a second over Brandon Chavez from Silver High School.
The relay teams didn’t disappoint on day two. The 4-x-100-meter relay placed sixth with a time of 45.424 seconds. The 1,600-meter sprint medley relay came in fourth with a time of 3:42.92 and the 4-x-400-meter relay team won easily with a time of 3:28.46 to put an exclamation point on the championship meet.
The final team scores ended with Taos garnering 67 total points and the state title. Portales was second with 50 total points and Silver taking the third spot with 49. The other teams from District 2-4A finished as follows: St. Michael’s was sixth with 34 points, West Las Vegas came in eighth (tied with Moriarty) with 28 points, Robertson finished in 10th place with 23 points and Pojoaque clinched 12th with 18 points.
And a plaque to boot
Vigil was named the top point-getter in Class 4A with his two first-place and two second-place individual finishes on the weekend for 24 solo points. As the anchor for the first-place 4-x-400-meter relay team, Vigil was responsible for an additional 10 points, bringing his total haul for the 2017 championships to 34 points.
When asked about the keys to this year’s victory, Mitchell had a two-word response. “They responded.” “We had a team meeting at the end of competition Friday, where we talked to the kids,” said Mitchell, who reiterated how unforgiving the state meet can be. “We reminded them that it’s a very thin line when they get on a stage like this.”
Mitchell continued, “But, we didn’t rant and rave at them,” noting how young his team really is with just two seniors on the roster. “We just leaned in a bit and told the boys they got to want to work.”
“They responded,” said Mitchell. “They responded!”
TOP TIGERS PERFORMERS – AT A GLANCE
Jonah Vigil (24 points)
First place in the 100-meter dash: 11.373 seconds – seven points
Second place in the 200-meter dash: 22.70 seconds – five points
First place in the 400-meter dash: 49.24 seconds – seven points
Second place in the long jump: 21 feet, 11.75 inches – five points
Alejandro Salazar (seven points)
First place in the triple jump: 43 feet, 4.75 inches – seven points
John Olivas (eight points)
Fifth place in the high jump: 5 feet, 8 inches – two points
Fourth place in the long jump: 20 feet, 2.25 inches – three points
Fifth place in the 200-meter dash: 23.78 seconds – two points
Sixth place in the 100-meter dash: 11.88 seconds – one point
Simon Mount (two points)
Fifth place in the 3,200-meter run: 10:12.62 – two points
Ryan McCarty (two points)
Fifth place in the pole vault: 11 feet, 6 inches – two points
Dalton Donaldson (nine points)
Second place in the 110-meter high hurdles: 15.71 seconds – five points
Third place in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles: 40.48 seconds – four points
4-x-100-meter relay team (one point)
Sixth place: 45.424 seconds – Nathaniel Martinez, Justin Good, Jonathan Garcia and Ryan McCarty
1,600-meter sprint medley team (four points)
Fourth place: 3:42.92 – Nathaniel Martinez, Ryan McCarty, Jonathan Garcia and Alejandro Salazar
4-x-400-meter relay team (10 points)
First place: 3:28.46 – Dalton Donaldson, John Esquibel, Ryan McCarty and Jonah Vigil