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Strength in small numbers

Jon Maletz

It was a sight that undoubtedly made Aspen High School track coach Chris Keleher shake his head Saturday morning.The team bus left for Kremmling with seven boys and just two girls runners on board. Notably absent was junior standout Kyla Walter, who stayed behind because of sickness. Halfway through the West Grand Invitational, however, Walter shook off her nausea and traveled almost 150 miles to rejoin her team. She wound up scoring valuable points with a fourth-place finish in the 200-meter dash and a sixth in the 300-meter hurdles. It was a performance complete with the dedication and commitment Keleher has struggled to find three meets into 2006.”I guess it’s sort of the nature of the sport at this season,” Keleher said. “Winter sports go forever, kids are burnt out and want to do something other than work hard in track. It’s good to have kids that really want to be here. It makes it a whole lot easier to coach.”While his girls team has 11 members for a second straight year, Keleher’s boys squad has gone from 25 members last year to 17. Word is that more kids will come out this week, when spring break and winter sports end, but Keleher said it’s “anyone’s guess.” While his position is frustrating, Keleher has seen it all before. Such is the challenge of coaching in Aspen, where kids are pulled in so many different directions. “The seasons really cycle. Some years we have a lot of kids, some years we don’t,” Keleher said. “But the kids I do have are a lot of fun and are not afraid to work hard.”Keleher was encouraged by the individual performances in Kremmling. Both Skiers squads finished sixth out of seven. Leading the way for the Skiers girls were Walter, Christy Severy and Brittany Fortier. Severy finished second in the mile, with a time of 5 minutes 55.37 seconds. Gunnison’s Haley Barton outkicked her 10 meters before the finish.”It was by tenths of a second,” Keleher said. “It was good for Christy. She hasn’t been in a race like that for a long time. She would’ve liked to win, but it was fun to watch that race.”Fortier was Aspen’s top finisher in the 800 meters with a fifth-place. Her time of 2:44.68 was almost four seconds better than that of Severy, who took sixth.The Skiers boys 4×800-meter relay team of Jacob O’Connor, Adam Huber, Barton Tofany and Whit Fuller won in 9:17.03; they are undefeated in two races this season. While Keleher estimated that Fuller, the anchor, finished some 80 meters ahead of his closest competitor, the team was 16 seconds slower than in its first race, March 18 in the Delta Invitational. The team finished in 8:39 at last year’s state meet.”We were out in front the whole time and didn’t even hear footsteps,” Keleher said. “There hasn’t really been the competition we’ve been looking for.”At Palisade [on Saturday] they’ll see some 4A and 5A schools and will have someone on their shoulder or in front that’ll pull them along. Fear is a great motivator.”The Skiers’ 4×400-meter team of Fuller, Huber, O’Connor and J.D. Redmond finished fourth. In the 400-meter dash, Fuller (55.42 seconds) and Huber (57.2) finished fifth and sixth, respectively.O’Connor came close to tracking down the leader in the 800 but finished a half-second behind, in 2:14.81. Nate Marrs finished sixth in 2:19.54. Marrs relied on a strong finishing kick in the 3,200 meters to cross the line in third. He finished in 11:33.Redmond (12.84 seconds) and freshman Robert Codd (13.03) posted personal bests in the 100-meter dash. Redmond (26.46 seconds) also posted Aspen’s fastest time in the 200 meters. “We’re not where anybody wants just yet, but I can see that we’re definitely pulling in the right direction,” Keleher said. “I’m amazed that we’ve been able to do as well as we have with so few kids. It’s not sour grapes, and it’s not just Aspen that goes through this. It’s another challenge that we have to try and overcome.”It’s never a dull moment.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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