This is a “heads-up” story appearing one day before the last Friday and Saturday in May, when Montana high school track and field meets happen.
This year the Class A and Class C meets run concurrently in Laurel, while the Class B and AA meets do the same in Bozeman.
It is in Bozeman where a bunch of speedy young women will appear. They’ve been running really fast times this year, in races that we used to call the half-mile, the mile and the two-mile. And this weekend they could set some new state records.
Those three races are now the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters — and by rule of the Montana High School Association, state records can be set only at these season-ending state meets.
It’s an old rule, going back to an era of hand-held stopwatches on dirt tracks and the uncertainty of measuring time, space and motion in conditions like that vs. measurements in more refined conditions, like a college campus with a smoother track surface and more accurate measuring procedures.
Last Thursday, May 16, in Laurel’s state-of-the-art facility (smooth track, photo finish, electronic timing) the Class B and Class C Southern Divisional meets were held concurrently, so you’d see four iterations of the same event before moving on to the next event. First came the Class C boys running or hurdling, then the Class C girls doing the same thing. Then came the Class B boys and finally the Class B girls.
Chiara Warner’s 3 wins
It was the Class B girls’ distance races that most interested me, and the decisive winner of all three — 800, 1,600, 3,200 - was a senior from Townsend named Chiara Warner. Last year Warner was a good runner who placed fourth in the 1600 and second in the 3,200 at the State B meet. This spring Warner, in her final year of high school, has improved her times so dramatically that she is on the cusp of becoming one of the premier distance runners in Montana history.
The 3,200 came early in the day, eight times around the track, and Warner finished more than a minute ahead of all others in the field. Her time - 11 minutes 11 seconds - was 14 seconds faster than her second-place time in last year’s State Class B meet, but she appeared dissatisfied with her result. I figured she’d been aiming to get down into the sub-11-minute zone.
In early afternoon, running the 800, her winning time of 2 minutes 14.28 seconds was almost 15 seconds faster than the second-place runner. Until last year, that would have been just three seconds slower than the All-Class state record of 2:11 set by Julie Brown of Billings Senior High School way back in 1973 — with some of those more primitive measuring devices, apparently, because the co-record-holder was listed as Carlee Clark of Bozeman, who ran a 2:11.10 in 2003.
Now, however, 2:14 is six minutes slower, because at last year’s Class AA State Meet, Billings Senior’s Danielle Aragon raised the stakes by winning the “half mile” in 2 minutes 8.31 seconds. In that meet, Aragon turned in one of the finest performances by any athlete, any gender, any class, by winning the 3200 in 11:09.28; just missing a win in the 400-meter dash by about half a second; and winning the 1,600 in one of the few below-5-minute times turned in by a Montana girl: 4:56.43.
This “mile” time was very near the All Class (and Class AA) state record in that event - 4:55.18 — set in 2002 by Heidi Lane of Great Falls, C.M. Russell High School.
But back to 2013, Laurel and Chiara Warner. She had one more race toward the end of the day, the 1,600, and in this one she wowed those in the crowd aware of what was going on, rounding the track four times in what may be the fastest 1,600 meter time ever turned in by a Montana high school girl on a Montana track: 4 minutes 52.01 seconds.
This, from a girl who ran a 5:28 to finish fourth at last year’s State Class B Meet.
I timed Warner’s splits — each 400-meter circuit of the track — and they were metronomically regular: 74 seconds, 74 seconds, 74 seconds, and a final split of 70 seconds, as the willowy blonde sped to the finish line.
To offer more perspective, Warner’s 4:52 was the fourth fastest 1,600 run that day on the Laurel track, the fastest being 4:47.98 run by Layne Lantis of Terry, the boys’ Class C winner, followed by the top two Class B finishers - Darren Hecker of Big Timber (4:48.63) and Baker’s Travis Koenig (4:49,64). Both Lantis and Hecker, by the way, joined Warner in winning all three distance races.
Morley and Warner
Still, at this weekend’s State B Meet in Bozeman, Warner is no shoo-in to win all three races – or even two, or even one – because she’ll be running against last year’s three-race winner, Makena Morley of Big Fork. Morley was just a freshman, yet she won the 800 in 2:18, the 1,600 in 5:09 and the 3,200 in 11:02.
While Warner has spectacularly dropped her time in the 1600, Morley has dropped hers in the 3,200. This year, in a race on the West Coast, Morley clocked a 3200 time of 10:30 (the Montana All-Class record in that event is 10:26.18, set by Zoe Nelson of Kalispell in 2004).
At last week’s Western B Divisional in Missoula, Morley also won three races: the 800 in 2:17 (three seconds slower than Warner’s), a sub-5-minute 1600 (4:59.50 — seven seconds slower than Warner’s), but a 3,200 time of 10:42.29 (nearly 29 seconds faster than Warner’s).
Morley looks capable of catching up with Sabrina Monro’s Class B 3,200 meter record of 10:46.12 (set in 1998). Both Morley and Warner have excellent chances of breaking Monro’s Class B 1,600-meter record of 5:03.29 (also set in 1998). The big question is, can either or both of them surpass Heidi Lane’s All-Class 1600 meter record of 4:55.18?
And how about challenging that 2:08 All Class 800 record set last year by Danielle Aragon? It’s possible, though Danielle’s younger sister Christina Aragon (a freshman at Billings Senior), who ran the 800 in 2:13.6 at the Eastern AA Divisional Meet last week, might have something to say about that as well.
And Aragon’s 5:02.5 time in the 1600, at that same Eastern AA meet, suggests that she could join Morley and Warner, the two Class B runners, in the sub-5-minute category as well. She’ll be running on the same track, in Bozeman, but of course won’t be running in the same race with them.
However, she’ll be competing with another Class AA running star, Paige Gilchrist, who is a senior at Missoula Hellgate. Gilchrist just joined the sub-5-minute “mile” club by winning the 1600 at the Western AA Divisional Meet last week with a time of 4:54.8 – faster than the All-Class record, two-plus seconds slower than Chiara Warren’s time in Laurel.
Speedy young women. Records in jeopardy.