Aspen High’s Sunday Abarca chasing dreams at state track meet

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Aspen High School junior Sunday Abarca pulls away from the field in the 400-meter dash at the Western Slope League Championships in Grand Junction. Abarca, who won the 100, 200 and 400 at the league meet, was named the conference track athlete of the year. He'll race in the state championships this week.
Jeremy Wallace / The Aspen Times |

Sunday Abarca, the Aspen High School sprinter supreme, will return to the State High School Track and Field Championships this week in suburban Denver.

He’ll be a familiar figure as he steps onto the track at Jeffco Stadium in Lakewood.

A year ago, Abarca was under the radar as the state’s top track athletes gathered for the annual state championships, one of the premier high school events in Colorado.

But this year, Abarca will be all over the radar screens in all three sprint events in the Class 3A state meet.

Abarca is the reigning Colorado state 3A champion in the 400-meter dash, taking home the gold medal last year as a sophomore.

He’s back this year with one of the top 3A times in the 400 entering Thursday’s opening day of the state track championships. Abarca recorded a time of 49.37 seconds earlier this season at the Central Warrior Invitational in Grand Junction.

Only Eaton’s Josh Gregory has a faster time in Class 3A at 49.32 seconds.

Those Class 3A times rank among the top 10 times in Colorado — in all classifications.

Class 3A also has Jared Keul of Manitou Springs and Kent Harris of Lutheran who have run under 50 seconds in the 400.

That same foursome of 3A sprinters will duel in the 200 and 100 at the state meet.

Harris, in fact, has the fastest 200 time at 21.68. Gregory is next at 22.09 and Abarca is at 22.17.

Elite 100

Chris Youngs, also from Lutheran, has the top 100-meter time at 10.81. He’s followed in order by Harris (10.92), Gregory (11.04) and Abarca (11.16) among the Class 3A elite sprinters.

Abarca will start his state meet with the prelims in the 100 meters at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

He’ll race in the 200 prelims at 5:55 p.m.

And at 6:58 p.m., he’s scheduled to race in the 3A 400-meter prelims.

Finals in those sprints will be Saturday at Jeffco Stadium.

“I’m really excited for this weekend,” Abarca said in an interview with The Aspen Times. “We’ve been working really hard for this … so far, so good.”

national experience

Abarca said the experience of being at the state championships as a freshman and as a sophomore has helped prepare him for the 2016 state meet.

Last May, he finished third in the 200-meter dash as well as first in the 400 at state.

This year, he’s adding the 100 for a complete sprint card.

“I didn’t run the 100 last year, but I’m running it this year,” Abarca said. “And the 200. And the 400.”

He added that he’s glad he’s got three events at state this year.

All season, Abarca has done the three-sprint program at his track meets.

And all three events are better for him this year, Abarca said.

“I feel like I’ve improved in all of them honestly,” he said, adding that coach James Aldridge has been influential in his preparation and improvement on the track.

“I want to always progress from last year to this year,” Abarca said. “And from this year to next year.”

A summer track program, directed by Aldridge, also provided invaluable experience, according to the Aspen High School junior.

He competed in the Junior Olympic Regionals in Texas, finishing third in the 400 meters.

That qualified him for the nationals in Florida, where he finished 20th among the nation’s 400-meter elite.

“Racing against those older guys helped. I was 16, most of them were 17,” Abarca said. “The competition is really intense. I hope to go back this year.”

First though, is the Colorado state championships against a talented field of sprinters.

“We’ll all push each other,” Abarca said. “It’ll be awesome.” He also credited Aldridge with help in his pre-race preparations, physically and mentally.

He said he knows how to warm up properly and how to mentally prepare for the starting gun.

Course work

He said Aldridge also helped him prepare better for his academic requirements as well as his track regimen.

“Food, sleep … everything,” said Abarca, who has attracted the attention of college track programs with his sprinting proficiency, particularly his sub-50 times at 400 meters.

Several national programs, including UCLA, have courted the Aspen High School sprinter.

Abarca will be accompanied to Lakewood and the state meet by an Aspen High School girls relay team.

The Skiers qualified in the 4×400 relay among the 3A girls.

The final lineup for the Aspen relay will be decided today.