LAKEWOOD — They needed each other to walk; they couldn’t stand alone.
Arms around their teammates, the Fort Collins High School girls track and field team lifted each other to the top of the podium.
There was no other way they could do it.
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Through injury and fatigue the Lambkins somehow fought their way to the top of the Class 5A track and field mountain, winning a state title with 81 points, 12 ahead of second-place Arapahoe.
“This one we’re going to remember,” Fort Collins coach Conrad Crist said. “These kids came to play.”
Fort Collins really had no business winning the team title. During Friday’s events one of their top athletes, Audra Koopman, blew a hamstring in a preliminary race right before the high jump.
She could have pulled out. Maybe the healthy thing would have been to withdraw. But that’s not the champions way.
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Somehow she leapt her way to fourth place and vital six points. On Saturday, she walked the 100 dash to secure another big point, getting hugs from her competitors in sympathy after finishing.
On Friday, usual superstar Lauren Gregory, who has been battling injuries, maxed out running the 800-meter run only to not place.
She could hardly walk Saturday, leaving her in doubt for the 1,600. She ran it and mustered seven points with a third-place finish.
“It was so amazing to see them do that,” senior Becca Schulte said. “Seeing her get fourth in the high jump was the best thing ever. Lauren getting third (in the 1,600), I don’t know how they did it. Somehow they did. That just motivated me even more.”
On Thursday, before she was injured, Koopman won the long jump. On Friday, Schulte jumped up two spots from seed times to be a surprising 800 champion. She also took fourth in the 200 and sixth in the 400.
Those were the only winners for Fort Collins. The rest of the points came from team depth. Emma Dern took third in the shot put (up two spots from seeding) and ninth in discus (up eight spots from seeding). Kailey Patterson took fourth in long jump after entering seeded 14th. Jasmine Chesson scored in the 200 and was key runner in relays.
Instead of relying on a couple superstars, this battered and bruised group all picked each other up.
“They made us feel so great about our performances; then they just ran off with it,” Koopman said. “It was such a team effort. It makes you feel so much better. There wasn’t anybody that stood out. It was all of us together.”
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It’s the Lambkins second title in three years, after winning in 2014 and taking second last year.
Many seniors missed graduation Saturday night to win the title. They celebrated by taking pictures in cap and gown at Jeffco Stadium. Some things are worth it.
“It’s just so amazing,” Schulte said. “Seeing all the hard work put together and the whole team experience. We had our ups and downs, but it took every single one.”
Follow sports reporter Kevin Lytle at twitter.com/Kevin_Lytle and at facebook.com/KevinSLytle.
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