Lady Cats take 5A state track title

Clovis senior Vanessa O’Neal, left, finished fifth in the 400 meters at Saturday’s Class 5A state track meet, helping the Lady Wildcats win their first state title since 1999. (CNJ staff photo: Jesse Wolfersberger)

By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ staff writer

ALBUQUERQUE — When they were called to accept first-place trophy, the Wildcats walked to the podium holding hands, an example of the unity that carried Clovis to its first state title since 1999.

With a pair of individual champions in javelin thrower Aimee Hilburn and hurdler Kim Perkins and plenty of depth, Clovis comfortably won the 5A meet with 79 points.

Eldorado edged Highland for second in 5A. The Eagles scored 68 points to Highland’s 61.

“We went out, we went hard,” said senior Vanessa O’Neal, who was fifth in the 400 meters Saturday. “We scored in the events that we didn’t think we were going to score. We stepped up, and this is the reward we get for stepping up.”

A few weeks ago, O’Neal was taken off the 400 relay, an event she had been running all year, so she could concentrate on the long jump. She took the change in stride to benefit the team.

“She might not have a lot of golden hardware on her mantle,” Clovis coach Darrel Ray said of O’Neal. “Those kind of kids are amazing and I love that.”

Only in the relay events do track teammates compete at the same time, but the Lady Cats treated every event like a 32-man relay.

“Even though it’s a lot of individual events, we lean on each other,” O’Neal said. “If a person isn’t running, then they are on the sidelines, giving you that boost you need to finish. We love each other.”

The Wildcats scored points throughout the day, picking up crucial points when Kacee Escobar and Lorena Garza finished second and third in the discus and Caitlin Waters was second in the 800. Clovis didn’t win a relay but picked up points with fifth-place finishes in the 400 and 800 relays, a second in the medley and third in the 1,600 relay.

“We might not have won every event,” Escobar said. “We might have gotten fifth or fourth, but we got enough points to win.”

The fact that Clovis won the meet without winning a single relay wasn’t lost on Ray.

“It’s not the traditional Clovis team,” Ray said. “It’s usually sprints and relays. Well, we didn’t have any sprinters, and we had good relays, not great relays. But this is probably the most balanced team I can ever remember Clovis having.”

Perkins edged La Cueva’s Alexandra Darling to repeat as 300 hurdles champion, which only seemed fair. Darlin edged Perkins in the 100 hurdles.

“It’s been me and her since I’ve been running track,” Perkins said. “It kind of pushes you harder, it makes you sprint.”

Meanwhile, the La Cueva boys won their the ninth team title in the last 10 years.

La Cueva, whose streak of titles was halted last year by Highland, scored 75 points. Alamogordo was a close second with 65 points and Eldorado third with 51.

Clovis tied Onate for eighth with 23 points.

Clovis sophomore Manuel Robles continued his strong showing at state, finishing fourth in the long jump — only 1 1/2 inches separated first and fourth.

On Friday, Robles successfully defended his triple-jump title and added another fourth in the high jump.

“You always got to like the way Manuel performs,” Clovis coach Darren Kelley said. “He’s a competitor.”

Junior Brian Mead added a third in the 110-meter hurdles, junior Jordan Medoza was fourth in the javelin, and senior Tanner Fickling was sixth in the 200.

“I think we did about as well as we possibly could,” Kelley said. “We got to the finals in pretty much everything we wanted to.