It was a bitter pill to swallow in 2017 when the Bulldog track and field team came up just a half-point short of runner-up Alamogordo, settling for third at the Class 5A State Meet.
This year, there was less settling.
Artesia turned the tables on the Tigers, taking second place overall by — once again — one-half point Saturday, bringing home a little red hardware this time around that they hope will, in the naturally progression of things, turn blue in the near future.
“Across the board, you can take any kid out and say that they were responsible for this second-place trophy,” head coach Matt Conn said Saturday. “A whole handful of kids got a point or half a point, and it all added together to flip-flop from what we had last year.
“Coming out on the other side of Alamogordo is a good feeling for our team and our coaches.”
Additional good feelings came from the fact Artesia notched five individual state championships on the weekend, three of those secured by Bulldog junior Kale Mauritsen alone and one as part of the 800-meter relay team.
Mauritsen, a true track and field athlete, had his plate full Friday and Saturday but came out on top in all but the 200-meter dash, in which he finished fourth with a time of 22.99.
Mauritsen made his first trip to the podium Friday as the winner of the 5A boys’ pole vault, clearing 13 feet. He then proceeded to sweep the hurdle events Saturday, delivering a top time of 15.11 in the 110 and a 38.28 in the 300. Then, as part of the 800-relay group that also included Eric Cueto, Tyler Greenwood and Alex Fernandez, Mauritsen notched his fourth gold medal as the team ran a 1:31.44.
The performance also earned the junior the Class 5A boys’ individual high-point medal.
“It feels really good,” Mauritsen smiled after the meet. “It feels amazing, actually.”
While an outing like this will be challenging to top, Mauritsen says his goal for 2019 is a clean sweep of his events.
The Lady Bulldog track and field team came up short of their overall expectations with a 10th-place team finish, but they also secured an individual state title, courtesy of Sadi Butler in the 100 hurdles with a time of 15.81.
Butler had a challenge from Alamogordo’s Katie Fillmore, but the Lady Tiger stumbled over the last hurdle.
“It was good to get Butler out there in first,” said Conn. “She wasn’t favored to win, but circumstances happened, she ran well and ran a clean race, and she came out on top.”
Assistant track coach Stephen Johnston was impressed with the performance of the boys’ 800 relay team after an injury to senior Joe Willingham forced a last-second lineup change.
“We had to make some adjustments from day one to day two,” Johnston said. “We had a really solid time on day one and were seeded second behind Chaparral, and we knew we had a shot to chase them down if we could. That’s why you run races — that’s why you run relays.
“We didn’t intend on using Tyler Greenwood in the 4×2, but he ran lights out in the 4×1, and after learning it wasn’t good for Joe to run, we decided to change the order up about 10 seconds before we got on the track. We had all the confidence in the world in it, and fortunately, it worked out in our favor because those guys are just competitors and they wanted it.”
Also contributing to the Bulldogs’ second-place finish on the weekend were some additional points performances, courtesy of Cueto in the high jump (T-2nd, 6’), the 400-meter relay team (3rd, 43.37), Carson Anderson and Wesley Knowlton in the pole vault (4th and 6th, 12’6” and 12’), and Herbert Keene in the javelin (6th, 152’5”).
The Lady ‘Dogs, meanwhile, got top-six finishes from Rylee Peak in the discus (3rd, 113’3”), Zailor Lopez in the pole vault (4th, 9’), Paityn Houghtaling in the javelin (4th, 118’7”), and Madilynn Moon in the pole vault (T-6th, 9’).
The ‘Dogs had a number of competitors in the finals over the course of the meet, with remaining placements including Cueto in the long jump (8th, 20’3.75”), Willingham in the triple jump (8th, 40’11.25”) and 110 hurdles, where he suffered his injury (8th, 16.40), Eliazar Granillo in the 3200 (8th, 10:25.39) and 1600 (12th, 4:48.39) runs, Issac Lopez in the 800 run (12th, 2:05.61), and Andrew Veloz in the discus (14th, 106’11”).
Rounding out the weekend for the Lady ‘Dogs were Elliot Harrison in the 100 hurdles (7th, 16.96), the 400-meter relay team (8th, 51.39), Kristin Bruton in the pole vault (T-8th, 8’6”), Camerin Molina in the triple jump (10th, 31’11.25”), Harrison in the high jump (10th, 4’8”), Jaquiline Soto in the triple jump (11th, 31’10.5”), Nevaeh Hernandez in the shot put (11th, 32’6.5”), Honesty Segura in the javelin (11th, 108’9”), Michaela Phipps in the 3200 run (12th, 12:56.63), Butler in the long jump (14th, 15’2.25”) and RyLeigh Greer in the javelin (14th, 92’11”).
The Artesia track and field program will lose some key athletes to graduation this year, particularly on the boys’ side, but have a solid chance to make a run at the blue in both divisions in 2019 with a solid base of talent and experience returning.
“This senior class was kind of familiar with success, from football to basketball and everything else,” Johnston said. “I think it’s just a testament to their commitment, their hard work, and their character. They’re just solid athletes, and I think they’ve done a great job these last few years.”
“We’ve taken a step up from last year, and that’s a good direction for our team and coaches,” Conn said. “These athletes fought hard, and we’re still young. The classes are going to change next year, and it’ll be interesting to see the teams that come in, such as Taos, that are some of the better, faster teams out there, so that’ll shake it up again next year.”