Aspen’s Sunday Abarca going for three-peat at state track meet
Their relationship began five years ago with a challenge.
James Aldridge, then an assistant track coach at Aspen High School, asked eighth-grader Sunday Abarca to race one of the AHS seniors. He did, with the two ending in a virtual tie. That was the start of a bond between Aldridge and Abarca that has resulted in two state titles and counting.
“We came in exactly at the same time and that was when I guess he saw something in me that I didn’t even know about,” Abarca recalled earlier this week. “Since then we’ve grown closer and closer. So, he’s like family.”
Now a senior, Abarca has created a legacy that has more than lived up to Aldridge’s premonition. The AHS track standout won the Class 3A state title in the 400-meter dash as a sophomore and junior to go along with a pair of third-place finishes in the 100- and 200-meter dashes last season.
Not only did his 400-meter time of 48.54 seconds win him the state title last spring, but it also set a school and 3A meet record.
“Sunday is the kind of person where if he puts his mind to something he wants to be the best,” said his mother, Anita Abarca. “And if he’s not the best he doesn’t want to do it. He tried it and he knew he could do it.”
Sunday Abarca — named after his grandfather, Domingo, which means Sunday in Spanish — grew up in Aspen where he spent most of his time playing soccer and basketball. When he discovered his talent for sprinting — the big a-ha moment came when he won his first state title as a sophomore — track became his one and only.
Aldridge, who was a high school track standout in St. Louis and Indiana before playing football for the University of Notre Dame, is the head track and field coach at Aspen High School. He and assistant Kiffor Berg are Abarca’s primary sprint coaches.
“I was just checking out my times the other day and it’s incredible how much I’ve grown,” Abarca said. “The experience has been great with James and Kiffor as my coaches.”
Now, it’s about the three-peat, plus some. Abarca’s high school career will come to a close this weekend at the state track and field meet at Jeffco Stadium in Lakewood. He is again qualified to compete in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races as well as the boys’ 4×200-meter relay alongside teammates Dillon Leasure, Edgar Ortiz and Laughlin McIntyre.
Abarca is unsurprisingly seeded first in the 400 with a time of 49.07 seconds, four-tenths of a second advantage over Weld Central junior Jonathan Rodriguez. Seeded third is Manitou Springs senior Jared Keul (49.68), who Abarca passed in the final few feet of last year’s race to earn his second state title.
Abarca also is seeded first in the 200 (21.67 seconds) and is second in the 100 (10.85 seconds), only 0.06 of a second back of D’Evelyn senior Wesley Tedstrom.
The 4×200-meter relay team is seeded ninth with a time of 1 minute, 32.6 seconds.
“I am expecting him to win all three (sprint races). If we don’t go and do it, it’s understood. But he has more than enough speed and ability and strength,” Aldridge said. “I wouldn’t sit here and say he ain’t got no excuses, but he definitely has the ability and the determination and will to do it. It’s going to be about putting it all together when it’s all said and done.”
Barring any weather delays — the Denver area could receive as many as six inches of snow from this week’s storm — Abarca’s first prelim is scheduled for 2:40 p.m. today in the 100. His seed time of 10.85 seconds would have won state a year ago.
The 3A 200-meter prelim is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. today, with the 400-meter dash prelim at 7:13 p.m. The finals for all three races are scheduled for Saturday. The 4×200-meter relay prelims are set for 3:35 p.m. today, with the finals scheduled for Friday.
“I’m just trying to run my race. I’m not trying to feel all the pressure,” Abarca said of defending his title. “I’m just going to try and chill during prelims, just make sure I make it, and rest up on Friday besides the 4×2, if we make it. Then Saturday it’s just give everything I have. Just got to run.”
Although he declined to discuss his current plans for college ahead of the state meet, Abarca should have options if everything comes together. For now, he’s just trying to run his race one last time as a high school athlete, and hopefully add another — or maybe two or three — state titles to his already impressive prep career.
“He’s been working hard at it. He’s been grinding — 6 a.m. for the last four years now,” Aldridge said. “Just reach deep. At this point it’s what you’re built for. After all these years, there should be nothing to think about. Just line up and run and beat everybody in the heat. I don’t try to make it too complex. Just beat everybody.”
The track at the Utah Olympic Park will be put to good use toward the tail end of 2022. The Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Cups stop at the UOP from Nov. 28 through Dec. 4, and then the Luge World Cup from Dec. 15 to Dec. 17.
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