CASPER – Paige Guille will be the first to admit she had her doubts at the beginning of the race.
But when you have someone nicknamed “Maneater” on your team, you’re never truly out of it.
Guille, a senior runner on Cheyenne South’s 4x400-meter relay squad, knew the expectations for her team were high. The Bison quartet of her, Darby Downham and sisters Kaycia and Caydince Grothe were a perfect 6-for-6 in the relay this season.
To make it a perfect season, Guille and her crew had to win one more: the 4A state title.
With a lone race left in the 2021 season, which just so happened to be the biggest one of the season, the weight of the world was on their shoulders. After one lap of Saturday afternoon’s race, the relay team was in dead last.
But the Cheyenne South girls did what they’ve done the entire season: they fought through. And after a battle that lasted just over four minutes, Guille, Downham and the Groths can officially say they had a perfect season.
After a tough start to their race, Downham, affectionately known as “Maneater” by Guille, made up ground as the second leg in the race. From there, the Bison charged ahead and comfortably won the 4A 4x400-meter relay with a time of 4:08.44 to end their season an immaculate 7-of-7 in the race.
It’s one thing to win a state title. But to do it while having never lost a race? That’s something that truly transcends any trophy or medal.
“(It means) hard work, dedication. We have so much trust in each other. To us, it means everything,” Guille said. “South, I think, has been seen as an underdog. And we’re tired of that.”
The Bison 4x400-meter relay team was among the biggest winners on the final day of the WHSAA track meet at Kelly Walsh’s Harry Geldien Stadium. The other big winners were Cheyenne East senior Kaliff Guevara, who emerged victorious in the 4A boys triple jump; Cheyenne East freshman Taliah Morris, who won the 4A 200; and the Cheyenne Central girls team, which finished first in the overall 4A team standings.
The Cheyenne East girls finished eighth overall in 4A, while Cheyenne South finished in 13th. The Cheyenne East boys took sixth, while the Cheyenne Central boys finished in 10th. In 2A, the Pine Bluffs girls took third and the boys took ninth. Burns finished in eighth in 10th in 3A boys and girls, respectively.
Saturday was filled with emotions coming from every which way, the cliché joys of victory and the alternate agony of defeat. Morris experienced both peaks and valleys within mere hours of each other.
Morris, who won the 4A long jump on Friday, took second in the 100-meter dash Saturday morning. Immediately after the race, she started to cry.
But a few hours later, Morris emerged on the track once again, ready to make amends for a race that hadn’t gone her way. She won the long jump by two feet – it was never really in doubt. Bouncing back from an emotional loss, however, was a new test for the 15-year-old.
Morris passed that test, winning the 200 with a time of 26.76 seconds. Morris’ Cheyenne East teammate, junior Ian Garcia, finished in seventh in the 4A boys race.
“(It) took a good cry,” Morris said with a laugh. “I took a few deep breaths, and I changed my mindset. I knew it was going to be a hard race. I knew (second-place finisher Sydalee Brown) was fast. I just had to come out and compete. And that’s what pushed me over her.”
While it was “Maneater” who gave the Cheyenne South girls a much-needed boost, a mental game of chess proved to be the most important resource of all.
Before the race, the four runners thought about what it would mean to go undefeated for them. It was an exciting proposition. And, if only for a moment, Kaycia Groth said she was scared.
But it was the ability to step back from that moment of doubt that allowed the Bison to push through.
“(I told her), ‘You’ve done this for six meets already,’” Guille said. “It was almost systemic, in our brains, that we could do it.”
Caydince Groth also took second in the 200-meter dash.
Emotions ran deep for Cheyenne Central girl’s coach Sean Wilde. Sitting with his team after securing the team victory, Wilde was at a loss for words on a few occasions. Given everything his team had battled through, this win was special.
The Indians won the 4A girls title in 2018-19, but were unable to defend it in 2019-20 due to COVID-19. Cheyenne Central won the 2021 meet with 85.50 points, just 3.50 points ahead of second-place finisher Campbell County.
“We didn’t get one last year … Just after everything that’s gone on, this year’s felt like 10 years,” Wilde said. “So, getting a chance after everything’s said and done, it’s really hard to actually put it into words. The girls just overcame so much.
“So many times the deck was stacked against them, and they came out on top. It’s just, it’s really special this year, and this one means a lot.”
Despite making history, the competitor inside Guevara didn’t allow him to crack much of a smile Saturday morning. But at the end of the day, he left everything he had on the field. Or, in this case, the triple jump pit.
Guevara jumped 48 feet, 7 inches Saturday morning in the 4A boys triple jump event, eclipsing the school record held by former Kansas City Chief Troy Dumas. You wouldn’t know it by the look on his face at the end of the event, which he won by more than four feet.
Guevara wanted more.
The state record for all classifications in the boys triple jump is 48-9.5. Guevara’s school record was set in his flight. When it came time for the finals, the result of the event was never in doubt; it was clear Guevara was going to win.
But after firing up the crowd before his last jump, Guevara knew immediately after takeoff that he came up short. And, as a competitor, that still stings.
“I’m probably going to cry about it later,” Guevara admitted. “I want the most I can get. There’s no holding back. There was no holding back today.”
Guevara ended his storied Cheyenne East career with a definitive bang: After winning indoor state championships in the triple jump and taking third in the 4A long jump earlier in the week, he culminated his career with a win in an event he didn’t get to compete in last spring due to COVID-19.
When he looks at it like that, Guevara is able to sneak in a brief grin.
“All the way up here, the whole way up here on the bus ride, I was sitting there thinking, like, ‘What am I going to do?’ It’s over. It’s all over. Now it’s time to relax and see where it takes me.
“It was a great way (to end a career).”
Cheyenne Central sophomore Richard Prescott took fifth in the event. Teammate Katie Thomson (junior) finished third in the 4A girls triple jump and 100-meter hurdles.
In the girls 100-meter hurdles, Burns junior Riley Ward took third in the 3A event, a finish she was admittedly not happy with. Like Guevara, she is a competitor. Ward also took fourth in the 3A girls pole vault.
“My start was really slow. But I decided in the middle of the race that I wasn’t going to let anybody else beat me,” Ward said. “I’m very, very competitive. … When I’m running, and I’m behind, it just pisses me off, and I just hit the gas.”
Ward didn’t really need any extra motivation, but she certainly has something to chew on in the coming months.
“I’m very motivated, because I wasn’t really satisfied, as well as I did this year,” she said. “I’m really motivated to get going this summer and get in the weight room, get stronger, get faster, all that.”
Burns sophomore Cody Hape tied for eighth in the 3A boys high jump with a jump of 5-8, but won the 3A 400-meter dash, edging out Douglas junior Cameryn Spence by just half a second.
“I did not expect that,” Hape said with a smile. “It’s the greatest feeling ever, your last step or two (in the race). … It’s just crazy and unexpected.”
Hape’s teammate, senior thrower Wade Pollock, didn’t win the 3A shot put. But given his circumstances, Pollock felt like an All-American standing in the second spot on the podium.
Pollock tore his anterior cruciate ligament playing basketball for a school event. He is going to have the knee operated on in June, he said. He could have had the surgery immediately, but that was never really an option for Pollock, who will throw collegiately at the University of Nebraska-Kearney.
You only get to be in high school once. The knee wasn’t going to get torn up worse with the proper knee brace on. Why not give it one last ride, he thought.
On his final throw of the afternoon, Pollock hit a mark of 54-2, more than a foot and a half better than his seeded throw.
To say it felt good would be an understatement.
“You know, with that last throw, I think I can get a bigger scholarship from my school, so that’s a big plus,” Pollock said. “But going out on a high-note, it’s always better than going out on a low one.”