KC athletes show grit at state meet
The Kirtland Central track team exhibited a lot of personal growth at last week’s Class 4A state track meet.
A handful of KC athletes culminated the season by hitting new personal records during the two-day meet held at the UNM Track-Soccer Complex.
In the throwing events, senior Jojera Dodge hit new PRs in both the discus and shot put.
Senior Zakk Thomas also shattered his previous best in the javelin while junior Kyler Joe (400) and senior Aisha Ramone (800) set new personal records in the middle distance events.
“At the beginning of the year they all came in with the mindset of not only getting here to state, but winning,” first-year KC coach Tory Franklin said. “We set those standards high, so they came in here with high expectations and their hard work is paying off.
“It’s paying off not only in track, but also in the classroom,” he added.
Franklin said every athlete on his team hit the weight room and they worked extremely hard to make progress in their respective events.
In a game of inches, Dodge came close to winning a state title in the shot put.
In her final throw, she improved her previous best by almost a foot as she threw the 4-kilogram ball 36 feet and one-half inch.
That throw appeared to be the best mark in 4A, but Artesia’s Lorin Wagner came up with a 36-01.25 effort on her final throw to earn the Artesia thrower the state title.
The difference was a mere three-quarter of an inch.
“I’m really proud of myself because I’ve made some improvements in shot,” Dodge said. “I’ve went from 35-feet all the way to 36. I gave it my all in my last throw.”
To hit that mark, Dodge said she’s been working with her timing and footwork in the previous weeks with her throwing coaches.
As for her final attempt, the KC senior had a feeling that her throw was going to go far.
“I was feeling pretty confident about that throw,” she said. “I was actually trying to aim for 38-feet, but 36 is still good.”
In the discus, she threw a 107-01 effort for another second-place finish.
“I usually throw in the lower 100s,” she confessed.
Dodge leaves KC with a couple of state medals in track, having placed second in the discus and fifth in the shot put at last year’s state meet.
In addition, she’s a three-time state wrestling champion.
“I feel like I ended my senior year really well,” she said. “I put all my determination and integrity out there because it takes a lot to be a three-time state champion and to be a state placer in track.”
In the fall, she’s going to major in criminology and she is going to start either at San Juan College or UNM.
For Thomas, he popped his second to last throw in the javelin for 160 feet. That mark earned him his first state title.
“I was like sitting sixth or seventh and I was thinking I gotta pop one out there,” he said.
The KC thrower brought two spears to the state meet and to get his PR he utilized the Space Master javelin.
“It’s one of the high-end javelins and that one is supposed to go 90 meters,” he said. “A lot of Olympic throwers use that.”
The other javelin, he said, maxes out at 60 meters.
“It doesn’t go that far, unless you force it out there,” he said, while adding that the Space Master is more aerodynamic.
Thomas said he lowered his tip to get his spear out to 160 feet, beating his previous best by over 10 feet.
“In my other throws my tip was too high and it was decreasing at the end,” he said.
Thomas said he’s surprised that he won the state tile as he came into the meet seeded sixth.
“I was hoping for top three,” he said. “I happened to get a PR on that second to last throw, and so it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it, and it’s good feeling to have winning state.”
The KC coach said his pupil made the necessary adjustments after watching video in his previous throws.
“With his PR, he went through a progression,” Franklin said. “We didn’t have to say anything. He knew what he was doing wrong and he took control of it and hit his PR.”
Next fall, Thomas is looking to study either engineering or kinesiology. He is still narrowing his choices between three colleges.
As for Joe, he felt the need to compete at a high level in the open 400 against a strong field of contenders.
The KC junior edged Hope Christian’s James Jenkins for the state crown as Joe finished the race at 49.54 seconds while Jenkins was a close second at 49.70.
“The Hope Christian guy won it last year, so I knew I had to go out fast,” Joe said. “I felt really good about my chances because I did really well in the prelims. I had a decent time and I knew that I could do it.”
Entering the state meet, Joe had ran a personal best of 50.49 and in the finals he beat that by over nine-tenths of a second.
The open 400 was one of four events that the KC athlete qualified for Saturday’s finals. He finished third in the 200 (22.42), fourth in the 100 (11.11) and he helped the 4×100 relay team to a sixth place finish.
He ran anchor for the relay team that consisted of Thomas, junior Brandon Okerman and junior Nick Cambridge.
“My prelims in the 100s were faster, so I could have probably done better,” he said. “But I was really tired for my 200s, so I’ll take that.”
He also earned a state qualification in the pole vault, but he didn’t clear his initial height of 10-06.
“I’ve cleared 11-feet, but I did get any run-throughs,” he said.
With another year left, Joe has his eyes set on earning new PRs in all of his events. In particular, he wants to reset the school record in the open 100.
The current record holder is Cameron Crawford, who ran a 10.85 during the 2021 track season.
In the girls’ 800-meter run, Ramone beat her previous best by nearly two seconds with a time of 2:23.26 as she finished second to state champ Delaney Ulrich of Los Alamos, who recorded a 2:23.18 time.
Franklin said he’s not surprise with the success they had at the state meet and he believes the hard work his kids put into their craft has paid off in a big way.
“The work they did exemplifies the kind of blue chipper athletes they are,” he said. “They put the work in and they were rewarded with PRs, competing with the best in all of 4A.”