Having last competed for Colorado track-and-field coaching icon Larry Zaragoza as an Alamosa senior in 2010, qualifying for the Class 4A state championships in the 300-meter hurdles, second-year Ignacio High School girls track coach Aimee DeSouchet admitted Wednesday afternoon that the master’s methodology is trying to show through in her own instructing.
“I think once you get ‘Zare-d’ you don’t un-Zare,” she joked. “He was always ready to raise the expectations for me, tell me, ‘You’re strong enough, you’re fast enough and you can do this.’ That was really cool, and I try to channel that into how I speak to my athletes, finding that balance between coaching and ‘mom-ing’ them, you know?
“The most meaningful day of practice is the one where you’re sick or you didn’t get enough sleep because you were studying. That hardest day is the one that means the most because you’ll remember getting through a day like that. That’s something that’s stuck with me from Zaragoza.”
And as it stands, any spring break slump this coming Saturday at the Bloomfield Bobcat Invitational could be the biggest barrier between the Bobcats and a strong season start that is almost three weeks behind other area programs, including 3A Bayfield and 4A Durango.
“Coach Aimee’s the only veteran, the only one that’s been here for a while,” said boys’ head coach Alfonso “Ponch” Garcia, 2019 successor to John Gurule and more or less IHS’ chief executive with assistants Daniel Holley and Caryna Pourier holding cabinet positions. “You need to be open-minded with the kids and yet strict when you open your mouth and teach them. They’re still young kids, and hopefully if the kids listen, we’ll be OK. And it’s going to be fun; I’m excited.”
DeSouchet also has three new coaches working with her this year.
“There’s an awesome attitude that’s come out; it’s very united, which I don’t think it was last year,” said DeSouchet. “Communication’s really open, kids know what’s going on, know what’s coming and they know expectations. It just seems more comfortable. High expectations but comfortable.”
Garcia is eager for the first meet this Saturday to see what his 16 athletes have to offer.
“As a new guy, the first meet will dictate a lot of things for me; it’ll tell me a lot about where I’m going to place kids and where they want to go themselves,” he said.
Returning state qualifiers on the boys’ side will help simplify such decisions. Thrower Natoni Cundiff graduated last May, but Elco Garcia Jr, and Jonas Nanaeto are back as juniors seeking a return to Lakewood’s Jeffco Stadium in two months.
“I have big goals for Elco, and I have big goals for Jonas,” said Garcia. “Elco ran, I think, a 4:48 (in the 1,600 meter run) last year, and we had a tryout Monday and he ran, already, a 4:55. And that was with nobody pushing him. And Jonas, he’d run a 2:01 (800), then ran, like, a 2:13 already with nobody pushing him.
“Our distance coach (Holley) is doing an amazing job; we think alike. I gave him the workout, and he was like, ‘Whoa, did you copy mine, or did I copy yours?’”
Senior Joe Herrera, foregoing a final baseball season, could surprise in the sprints as well as other events.
“The other day we had tryouts and he ran, like, a 13-high in the hundred,” Garcia recalled. “I told him, ‘We can definitely take two seconds off of it,’ and to him that was a shock, like, ‘You can do that?’ I was like, ‘Of course I can, but you’ve got to do what I ask of you.’”
Junior Jason Hampton-Foutz returns in the pole vault and sprints, while freshmen Tyler Barnes, Alric Hudson, Damien Escalera, Jeremy Roderick and Nathyn Stollsteimer, junior Johnathon Whitt and senior Lucas Roderick presently round out the boys’ roster.
With state-qualifying thrower Aliyana White having relocated for her junior season, senior Kiana Valdez and sophomore sister Charlize will be expected to lead the ’Cats. Sophomore Vanessa Gonzales also returns, giving DeSouchet at least three-fourths of last season’s 4x200 relay around which to build (freshman Lexy Young could step in should Emily Cundiff not return), plus a trio able to compete anywhere from the 100 to 1,600 meters.
“The girls, they’ve been going on and on about relays. So, I think the returning members as well as this idea of ‘We want to do relays,’ – we really didn’t get to do that last year – is going to pull them together a little bit more,” said DeSouchet. “And we have a junior girl, Helaina Taylor. She didn’t compete with us last year, but she’s also been running every day. Running, getting good technique down. I haven’t seen anything bad yet.”
Garcia also has his eye on one of the girls athletes, as he hopes Kiana Valdez will compete and surprise some in the long jump.
“Overall, it’s been really hard because we have not ran a meet,” Garcia said, trying to assess the squad’s collective progress to date. “We don’t even know if we’re going to have hurdlers, you know, with being so small. But by looking at our practices, so far, so good.”
DeSouchet joked that the track has just recently been cleared of snow and the throwing pits opened. The team planned on attending last week’s Piedra Vista Invitational in Farmington but decided they weren’t quite ready to compete with so little practice time.
“We just decided we weren’t going to be ready, wanted to make sure nobody’s going to get hurt because we have such a small team,” DeSouchet said.