Taos Lady Tigers rise to the occasion, end four-year podium drought

Team's depth helps it claim state title and reclaim dominance in class 4A, Powell key in win


The business of acquiring podium finishes and collecting championship medals and trophies was good this weekend for the Taos track and field program.

And it was how Tigers head coach Benny Mitchell punctuated a successful weekend at the State Track and Field Championships.

"That's how you take care of business!" Mitchell exclaimed to his athletes as they posed with their prized trophies Saturday afternoon on the south end of Great Friends of UNM Track Complex.

Both trophies were colored blue, to represent Class 4A boys and girls team titles Taos earned on the final two days of the prep sports season. While the boys won their fifth straight state title, the girls finally ended a 4-year cold streak between championships. What's more, the Lady Tigers' 71-61 win over Albuquerque Hope Christian was vindication for last year's podium finish fail that saw the team miss out on a third-place trophy by one point to Ruidoso.

"If anything chapped me a little bit, it was last year not getting that third-place trophy by one point," Mitchell said. "The whole team set out a goal, and they obtained every single one."

It was the first trophy the girls program won since the 2014 state title -- quite the drought when the program has become accustomed to bringing home hardware. Taos has eight state track and field championships over the last six years, with this being the second time the boys and girls swept both divisions (the other happened in 2014).

The Lady Tigers' depth was simply too much for any other team to overcome. Sure, getting 28 points and three first-place finishes (Friday's long jump, plus the triple and high jump on Saturday) from junior Faith Powell gave the girls a good foundation, Cora Cannedy winning the 1,600 and 3,200 meters added to it and junior Abigail Gunther's first and second in the pole vault and 300 hurdles, respectively, were great additions. However, the little things put the Lady Tigers out of reach:

Freshman Ella Katz finished sixth in Saturday's 3,200 and fifth in Friday's 1,600, while Emily Cordova finished fifth in the javelin.

The Lady Tigers managed 10 points in the relays, but the 400-meter relay team lived up to its fifth-seed status entering the meet by taking fifth in the final Saturday.

Those five individual and 10 relay points provided a cushion that shrank a little when the medley relay team false started, but the bulk of the Lady Tigers' work had already been laid out to absorb the hit.

"I feel it's us starting to build a culture that influences the younger athletes that we have," Powell said. "It pushes them to be better. They have something to look forward to."

Like maybe taking down state records. Powell missed a record in the long jump by 1.25 inches, and Gunther wants another shot at the 11-foot, 6-inch 4A mark in the pole vault. She won the meet at 10 feet, 6 inches and came close to clearing 11-0 after changing poles for her final effort.

"Of course, I would have wanted 11 or 11-6 and tie the state record, but I was happy just to get those points," Gunther said.

Gunther and Powell will have one more opportunity to etch their names in the record book when they return as seniors in 2019.