Best in Field at the Meet of Champions

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Santa Fe's Akeisha Ayanniyi (center) had a record setting day at the Marilyn Sepulveda Classic. Photo by Rod Stanopeiwicz.

Monday's Marilyn Sepulveda Meet of Champions marked another season for some of New Mexico's top-ranked track and field athletes to come together for a quick pre-state round of competition and ready themselves for the final shot at proving whose year 2015 really was. And as a former athlete of the meet's namesake, Marilyn Sepulveda, it was an honor to be witness to some of our state's most dedicated and talented athletes that this legendary Alamogordo High School coach and pioneer for all of track and field would have been proud to see.

With the quiet buzz of an almost afternoon practice, the low-key atmosphere was not indicative of all that was taking place at Albuquerque's University Stadium this past Monday. And nicely what often occurs outside the average spectator's viewpoint, this time took center stage before any of the running action began. With countless vantage points to observe the "best in field," the momentum of simultaneous jumping and throwing events provided the perfect chance to more clearly see what these athletes do, day in and day out. And when the measuring tapes and equipment were finally packed up and carried away, there was a new story to tell. Some of the expected leaders found continued success, as the strong supply of competition available gave them just what they needed to stay at the top. Others were met by the will and determination of athletes eager to experience a win, meeting the challenge with nothing to lose and everything to gain. With some obvious top individuals missing from Monday's scene, their absence also made room for those on the fringe of the "inner circle," who used their invitation as a chance to compete with the "big dogs" and succeed. And while all those in attendance earned their spot as one of the chosen few, there could be only one winner in each event at the end of the day.

Girls Field Events

Top performance of the afternoon belonged to junior Akeisha Ayanniyi of Santa Fe, making history of her own with a meet record long jump of 19-02, surpassing her 2014 meet winning mark of 18-0 and claiming the new all-time Meet of Champions title from Yeshemabet Turner (18-08) of Pecos, set in 2011. With the best legitimate mark of the season, ranking her in the top thirty best long jumpers nationally, Ayanniyi remains a force to be reckoned with. Second place went to Nia Powdrell of Cleveland (17-11), third place Chelsea Chalacombe of Los Alamos (17-9.5), and fourth place Sarah Root of Aztec (17-6.75).

Onate's Yemisi Oroyinyin prepares for an attempt at the shot put pit. Photo by Kelly Salas.

In another corner of the stadium, fellow 6A shot put competitors Yemisi Oroyinyin of Onate and Carlsbad's Carly Kantrowitz took advantage of the opportunity to see who would come out on top in a head-to-head match-up. Kantrowitz, leading the event after five throws, gave Oroyinyin just the right boost of adrenaline she had been needing all season, pushing the Onate senior to dig a little deeper and pull out a career best throw of 40-0 in her final attempt for the win. Alamogordo's Cierra Chenault placed third with 36-11, although already having a mark of 38-0.5, it could be a tough fight for this 6A crew at State. Oroyinyin polished off the day with a second victory in the discus (133-10), outdistancing second place Cleveland's Katie Howerton (115-04), and Abigaile Jimenez of Tucumcari (112-03).

Sarah Reyes captured a first in the girls' javelin, landing a throw of 123-03 and improving her recent best mark of 121-11. With double Taylor's in tow, it was Alamogordo's Taylor Bowman in second (117-11.5), followed by Artesia's Taylor Morton in third. All three senior throwers look to leave their mark at state, with Reyes and Bowman battling in 6A and state leader Morton taking on the 5A title.

St. Pius X's Martinez attempting clearance in the girls high jump. Photo by Rod Stanopeiwicz.

Center stadium south, the high jump line-up left St. Pius X's freshman Arianna Martinez clearing the bar at 5-04 and clinching the win. Belen senior Danee Bustos finished second (5-0), and La Cueva senior Alexa Romano secured a third with a jump of 5-0 as well. A bit of rearranging in the rankings only shows that most of the top high jumpers can all take on the bar with a four-inch give-or-take, depending on the day. A few weeks left to practice might give some of these ladies enough time to step back into a consistent 5-04 mark or higher with a little fine tuning.

Aztec's Root preparing for an attempt in the girls triple jump. Photo by Kelly Salas.

Making a horizontal leap, the early triple jump event placed Sarah Root of Aztec in the hunt for a first place medal as she led the way with her season best of 36-06.5. Right behind her, senior Alina Armstead of Cleveland finished a close second (36-0.75), and junior Taea Hill of Ramah in third with a solid jump of 35-09.

Six events a wrap gives the girls' pole vault the final thought of the day. It was senior Merica Valdez of Rio Rancho who muscled out a victory, clearing 10-06. Fellow senior athletes Jessica Pohlman of La Cueva and Ruidoso's Ryann Flack both also followed suit, matching Valdez with their own personal best marks of 10-06. All will be looking toward the impressive standard set by Eldorado's Lauren Martinez (12-06) as the ultimate place in which to set their sights.

Boys Field Events

For the boys of the field, this meet proved that all bets are off and that no rankings are set in stone. The Meet of Champions provided spectators and athletes alike with a chance to see how "one man's loss is another man's gain." And as some of the leaders struggled a bit to maintain their peak performance slot, others were ready and willing to take on the task of filling it.

Alamogordo's Norman in the second phase of his triple jump. Photo by Rod Stanopeiwicz.

One of the afternoon's highlight performances for the boys came from freshman Chamar Norman of Alamogordo in the triple jump (44-04). With a foot plus four-inch improvement of his best, Norman earned the win over top seed senior Dante Torello of Santa Rosa (44-02.75). Third went to powerhouse jumper senior Elias Limon of St. Pius X with a mark of 43-06.5.

Del Norte's Burnett clearing the bar in the boys pole vault. Photo by Kelly Salas.

Bright spots in the pole vault came from Del Norte junior Nathan Burnett and Sandia senior Gabriel Brown, as they took first and second place respectively. Onate's John Jacobs scored a third place mark of 13-0 with Hope Christian's Jason Atencio also battling his own efforts at 13-0, still holding on to his recent record of 15-01. Who will see the bar still standing once they clear the other side may be determined by whose courage, strength, and self-awareness all pull together on time come May.

Farmington's Rasher clearing the bar in the boys high jump. Photo by Rod Stanopeiwicz.

The boys' high jump went two-for-two, as Farmington senior and state leader Avery Rasher along with Hobbs sophomore Zach Marshall both grabbed double inches on their previous best marks of 6-04, clearing the bar at 6-06 each. Junior Carlton Bartley of Alamogordo matched his own best jump of 6-04 for a solid third.

Albuquerque's Montano about to hit the board in the boys long jump. Photo by Rod Stanopeiwicz.

In the long jump event, Albuquerque's Joaquin Montano made ground as he landed a personal best jump of 22-01.5, while Elias Limon of St. Pius X once again grabbed a second place medal (21-09), with Taos junior Daniel Babb in third (21-03).

The discus ring provided Juan Pimentel of Cibola a first place finish over top-ranked sophomore Jackson Morris of Albuquerque Academy, with Pimentel's career best throw of 160-01 to Morris' 155-10 mark. While Morris still leads the state with a toss of 161-05, Pimentel is just a stone's throw away. Alamogordo junior Riley Finnegan took third with a consistent effort of 148-09.

Cibola's Pimentel claimed victory in both the discus and shot put. Photo by Rod Stanopeiwicz.

It was a double victory for Cibola's Pimentel as he added another first place medal to his count in the shot put (54-11). Sandia senior Joey Bertram threw for second (51-07) with senior counterpart Patrick Sanders of Hobbs reaching third with a mark of 47-08.

And as a final comment on Monday's challenge, the javelin event brought out an interesting shift in the results as Silver City senior Jerry Arroyo tacked on almost ten feet to his personal best mark, finishing in first with a strong throw of 175-08. Second place went to Sandia's Malik Matthew-Gordon (170-10) and top-ranked Steven Bailey of Rio Rancho finished in third (169-09). It will be tough to duplicate Bailey's 193-11, but the State meet often inspires the best in many an athlete.

With another Meet of Champions written in the history books of track and field, preparations continue for the next weekly test in mental and physical toughness. But before moving on, it is important to reflect on what this meet represents for all track and field programs and the people in them. From her struggle to create opportunities for girls in sports years before Title IX came to be, to her contributions in helping establish what we now know as the New Mexico Coaching Association, Coach Marilyn Sepulveda's efforts paved the way for much of what we know and have today. For every athlete and coach, know that what might have seemed like an ordinary Monday, was truly a small piece of something extraordinary. The achievements and efforts you each made that day and those you will make every day and every year like it, mark another point on the journey she in part started for New Mexico Track and Field, the sport she loved dearly:

"When the year was over, dusk settling over the stadium, I sat in the bleachers and watched our athletes scattered like petals at random on the grass. Their shadows long across the field. I remembered other athletes, also champions, whom I had seen in other competitions--athletes whose enthusiasm, preparation, courage, and sweat had enabled them to face competition determined to be the best. I will always have the memory of these competitions, the medals won, the championship trophies. But a feeling lives on in my soul. A feeling more strongly than words, PRIDE."

-Marilyn Sepulveda (excerpt from her personal letter "A History of Winners," 1987)