CASPER – Big Piney High School athletes pushed the limits at the 2022 State Track Championships in Casper on May 19-21, regardless of the snow, slush, wind and cold.
Eight Punchers stood atop the rest in running, throwing and jumping and received All-State honors.
Junior Colby Jenks earned All-State in four events – the 400, 800 and 1600 meters and 300-meter hurdles. Fellow junior Shelby Guest made All-State in both the 100 and 300 hurdles.
Freshman Jolynn Jones snapped up All-State in the 800-meter run and as a member of the gold-medal winning 4x800-meter team, including sophomore Morgan Brown, freshman Micah Strong and Emma York.
Junior Hannah Runyan achieved All-State in the shot put while junior Hunter Fisher capturing All-State in the 110-meter hurdles.
Fisher paused for an interview following the 4x400-meter relay. Catching his breath, the hurdler said the relay was the highlight of the State experience, even though he won the 110-meter hurdles.
Fisher and his teammates, seniors Jaron Petty, Thomas Barron and Karson Cline, raced into third place in the 4x800 on Saturday afternoon, scoring crucial points to pull the Puncher boys into third in the team standings.
“All the seniors are going to be gone next year,” Fisher said. “It was special getting to run with them one last time.”
On Saturday morning, Fisher blew the competition out of the water in the 110 hurdles. Crossing the finish line in 15.42 seconds, he beat Caleb Kilbride of Tongue River by 0.84 seconds to seize gold.
The two-time All-Stater makes leaping over hurdles look easy, though Fisher admits learning technique and the refining the combination between skill and speed took time to learn. He began his track career in middle school and described himself as “not very good.”
In high school, he began to see improvement, encouraged by BPHS hurdles coach McKenzie Sullivan.
“I found more drive in high school,” he said.
Fisher prefers the 110-meter hurdles to the 300 because “we get the 110 over with faster.”
Fisher enjoys relays as much as hurdles. Relays provide the opportunity to “interact more with people,” while individual events come down to “self-accomplishment.”
Relays topped Fisher's list of season memories. Fisher, Petty, Barron and Cline bagged first place in the 4x400 at the 2A Regionals in Shoshoni, edging out Greybull by nearly 20 seconds.
Guest also conducted her interview after completing the 4x400-meter, where she and her team pulled ahead of Tongue River by 0.5 seconds to earn third place, tallying the points to help the Puncher girls' team secure bronze.
Guest captured gold in the 100-meter hurdles hours before the relay on Saturday, pulling ahead of Peyton McLaughlin of Big Horn by .21 seconds to post a mark of 16.79 seconds, her personal record.
She also scooped up silver in the 300-meter hurdles, timed at 49.29 seconds.
Guest ran the preliminary heats on Friday morning, braving frigid temperatures and threatening clouds.
“It was pretty cold,” she said. “It's hard on your muscles. We made it through, though. Good thing we practice in this weather often.”
Guest is fairly new to hurdles, picking the sport up as a sophomore.
“I never thought I'd be a hurdler,” she said. “Mrs. Sullivan was the coach for hurdles, and I love her, so I decided to try it. She brought me this far.”
Chipping away at her times over the season, Guest achieved her goal of coming in under 18 seconds in the 100 hurdles at the Mountain Man Invitational in Pinedale on April 29 before she hit 16 seconds at State.
“I've built up a lot of confidence and skill over the past year,” she said.
Success in hurdles comes down to form, endurance and stamina, Guest said. Guest found the mental preparation the biggest obstacle.
“The hardest thing is getting un-intimidated,” Guest said. “It's hard at first. You don't like falling. It's embarrassing and it hurts. You learn to go for it, not be scared, and that helps. If I go in saying, 'I've got this,' it's a lot easier.”
Guest and Fisher both thanked their coaches and teammates. Fisher also gave an additional shoutout to Jenks for encouraging him in the 300 hurdles.
Shooting for success
Heavy snow fell as athletes gathered for the shot put on Friday morning. Runyan did her best to stay warm.
“When it's cold outside and if I have cold hands, every shot could roll off my fingers,” she said.
Runyan was the last thrower in the final flight, an unenviable position. Runyan watched one successful throw after another, and started to “psych myself out.”
The official finally called her name. Stepping into the ring, Runyan managed to clear her mind.
“I think of my family,” she said. “They're the reason I'm here.”
Runyan executed her rotation and launched the shot put. Clearing 33 feet, 1/4 inches, she snagged second place by 0.25 inches.
“Getting second at State was huge for me,” she said. “I definitely improved from last year when I placed eighth in shot put. The progress and work I put into it definitely paid off.”
Runyan hit an impressive mark at State, especially considering the weather. The season's high point was at Regionals in Shoshoni, when she cleared 34 feet, 3 1/2 inches.
“That was huge for me,” she said.
Runyan picked up the shot put in middle school.
“Shot put makes me feel strong,” she said. “I'm not very fast, so I decided I'd try a throwing event in sixth grade. Lo and behold, it worked out for me. Ever since I threw my first shot, I knew I loved it.”
Runyan earned Best of the Best in seventh and eighth grades, building the confidence she needed to excel in high school.
Runyan thanked her coaches, team and family.
“They've been by my side the whole time,” she said. “And my family are my biggest fans no matter what.”
The temperature plummeted as the wind picked up late on Friday before the 4x800-meter relay.
Brown, Strong, York and Jones went through their group warm-up routine.
“We kind of hype ourselves up,” said Strong. “Right before the race, we do a group prayer, which always helps.”
The relay teams lined up and the starting gun went off. Brown exploded into action. Hitting her stride in the first lap, Brown established a commanding lead of more than 100 meters.
“It was a little scary, because I wasn't looking behind me and I didn't know where (the other runners) were,” Brown said. “I just had my coaches yelling out. Each time I heard someone yelling (the runner-up's) name, I thought she was behind me.”
Brown executed a perfect handoff to York. York maintained the pace.
“The goal is to push yourself hard, so the other people on the team will do well,” York said.
Jones drew the third leg and pulled the Punchers farther.
“At that point, you don't have any competition, so it can be harder to go fast,” she said.
Jones showed no signs of slowing and handed off to Strong.
“We were already ahead by quite a bit, so I just kept the same pace going,” Strong said. “We did lap a couple of teams.”
Strong sped across the finish line at 11:00.09, beating the competition by nearly 40 seconds.
The members of the 4x800 team, all friends, found their rhythm early in the season and remained undefeated, said Strong.
“It's like traveling with your own personal hype group,” added Brown.
The team hit its own record of 10:39 at the Bobcat Invite in Thermopolis, the “really nice weather meet,” said Brown.
“It's really motivating when you have your team together and they're telling you that you are a minute ahead of everyone,” she added.
York highlighted the team's win at the Green River Invite on April 22.
“We beat Green River by two steps,” she said. “It was because of Micah's amazing kick.”
And Jones's favorite race?
“They're all fun,” she replied.
The key to success lay in the team's bond, Jones said, supporting each other “even when you mess up.”
The team gave a shoutout to their coaches, the community, Joan Mitchell and BPHS alumni Muriel Jones, who runs for the University of Wyoming and took time to cheer the team on at State.
“Muriel is always so happy, and when you hear her cheer for you, you want to go faster because she's fast,” York said.