By Moses Leos III
Three top five finishes highlighted the afternoon for a trio of Hays High track athletes at the UIL State Track and Field meet in Austin on Friday.
Senior distance runner Esteban Villalpando, along with junior pole vaulters Meagan Gray and Rebekah Pogue, took on the state’s best at the University of Texas at Austin’s Mike A. Myers Stadium.
Friday’s event was the first ever state track meet appearance for Villalpando; his second state meet in the 2013-2014 school year. Villalpando competed at the UIL 4A boys cross country state meet at Old Settler’s Park in Round Rock in November.
Villalpando capped-off the day for the Hays athletes with a come-from-behind fourth place finish in the 4A Boys 800 meter run. He clocked in at 1:53.37, besting his qualifying time of 1:55.17 at the Region IV track meet.
However, Villalpando got off to a rocky start, falling to eighth place after the first 200 meters.
The senior responded right back, slowly making his way up the field. By the time he got to the gun lap, Villalpando had moved into bronze medal position.
He held that position until the front stretch, when he was passed in the final 50 meters by San Elizario’s Michael Johnson, who finished third.
For Gray and Pogue, Friday marked their second time at the state meet. Both competed in 2013, with Gray claiming the silver medal.
Gray claimed bronze on Friday, earning her second straight podium finish.
“It feels good. I was expecting more of myself today,” Gray said. “It feels good to be here in general and compete. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Her road to state was jeopardized by a training accident before the Region IV meet.
While she only qualified with a height of 11-3, Gray greatly surpassed the mark at state.
Starting at 12-0, Gray easily cleared the first three heights on only three attempts. She made her way past 12-9, and tried for 13-0.
“I was feeling good,” she said. “My warm-up jumps were amazing. I got to the point where I tried to make [the height]on the first attempt.”
However, Gray hit the wall in trying for 13-0.
In each of her three attempts, Gray made her way up, but couldn’t clear the bar. Several factors led to missing the desired mark, including her injury flaring up.
“I blew through my last pole [on the last attempt],” Gray said. “My standards were wrong on the second attempt. It’s fine.”
Despite not finishing higher than last year, Gray now looks forward to improving for the 2015 meet. She feels the friendly confines of Myers stadium will help.
“I haven’t fixed everything that I could. I didn’t connect with my poles like I should have,” she said. “I’ll try to connect with bigger poles and jump big.”
Familiarity of the big stage was a boost for Pogue, who sought to better her ninth place finish in 2013.
Pogue matched her personal best at Myers Stadium, hitting 12-0 to claim fourth place.
“Knowing the speed of the runway helped my confidence a lot,” Pogue said.
Pogue’s repeat state meet appearance began with three clearances – 10-2, 11-0 and 11-6 – on three straight attempts. According to Pogue, focusing on relaxing prior to the jumps helped ease her mind.
It also boosted her confidence — an attribute Pogue has worked on over the years.
“Once I put it in my head that I could do it, it was easy,” Pogue said. “I took several deep breaths … and I went for it.”
However, Pogue couldn’t surpass 12-6. She said the mark was “intimidating.”
Fatigue also played a factor as well. Her first attempt at 12-6 was her closest, as Pogue went airborne, but couldn’t power over the bar.
Despite the struggles, Pogue was pleased with her finish. Staying healthy through the season was an added bonus.
Her next goal is to improve to meet the 6A competition.
“I’m going to train harder and get stronger,” she said. “I’ll do summer track and get more confidence.”