BIG PINEY – Spring sports returned this year and the Puncher track and field team took full advantage of the opportunity to compete.
Three Big Piney athletes went the extra distance at the season-culminating State Meet in Casper on May 20-22 and earned All-State honors.
Senior Muriel Jones earned four All-State awards in the 400 meter, 800 meter, 1600 meter and 3200 meter. Fellow senior Carlos Munoz earned All-State honors in the 800-meter run at State.
Sophomore Hunter Fisher made All-State in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles.
Jones thrived in long distance during a high school career packed with accolades. Running has played an important part in Jones’ life for as long as she can remember.
“I started running competitively in sixth grade,” she said. “But I always ran. My mom ran in college, and I would just run around the ranch with her when I could. I couldn’t keep up, but I tried. I really liked competing in sixth grade and wanted to do more.”
Distance running was a natural fit.
“I always knew I wanted to do distance,” she explained. “You can go and run forever and it relieves stress and lets you think things through. It’s just very freeing.”
Putting in the effort, sweating through the pain and running nearly every day paid off. Jones made All-State in outdoor track her freshman and sophomore years (Jones’ junior year season was abruptly called off).
Jones competed for Green River in indoor track her junior and senior year. She broke the Green River High School record in the 1600 and 3200 meter during the 2019-2020 season and made All-State that year.
In the fall, Jones ran cross-country with Jackson Hole High School’s team, earning 2019 4A All-State honors in the sport.
The 2021 outdoor track season capped off years of hard work and success. Jones received All-State honors in an unprecedented four events and shattered the Big Piney High School record in the 400, 800, 1600 meter and 3200 meters at Regionals and State. She came within a few seconds of breaking the 2A state record in the 3200 meter.
“My main goal this year was to break the state 2-mile record,” she said. “I didn’t quite get it, but I’m still really proud of how I ran. I managed to break all of our school records in the last two weeks of the season, so that felt pretty good too.”
Jones also enjoyed competing with Green River and Jackson, but was glad to be back with her BPHS classmates this spring.
“I have a little more Puncher pride,” she added.
Jones’s favorite event is the 3200-meter run.
“I like it because it challenges me,” she said. “The longer the distance, the better. I think it gives me more time to think about what I’m doing when I’m running, which can be a blessing and a curse. You can hear your splits and change your pace, which you can’t do in a 400 or 800.”
Jones’ strategy is to get out in front and set a pace based on split times every 200 or 400 meters. A sense of camaraderie between long distance runners also helps.
“We compete during the races, but we also try and help each other and push each other and work together for our goals,” she said.
Coaches, parents and teammates also provided support during long-haul events.
“Coach (Terry) Cain and (Jess) Nugent, (McKenzie) Sullivan, (Jennie) Kozeal and my Jackson coach (Jeff Brazil) have all been really helpful,” Jones said. “My parents come to most of my meets and are always very supportive.”
Jones signed to run cross-country and long distance in outdoor track at the University of Wyoming. She plans to major in animal and pre-veterinary science and go on to graduate school to become a veterinarian.
Jones also participated in 4-H, choir, jazz band and the NHS at BPHS.
Munoz excels in multiple sports. He made All-State and All-Conference selection in 2A basketball following the Punchers historic 2020-2021 season. On the gridiron, Munoz played receiver and defensive back and made the 2020 2A All-Conference team.
Initially, track was a means for Munoz to stay in shape for other sports.
“I wanted to do it more for the endurance for my other sports,” he said. “Mrs. Cain really helped push me and compete in track because I had goals to be competitive and help the team.”
One goal was to make All-State in track, a goal accomplished by a second-place finish in a tight 800-meter finals race in Casper. Munoz also ran the 800-meter leg in the boys’ 1600-meter sprint medley relay. The team broke the BPHS record by four-hundredths of a second.
Munoz said the 800 meter and 1600-sprint relay are his favorite events. The senior built his long-distance strategy around Coach Cain’s guidance.
“She breaks down the laps for us – like maybe we have to go faster on the first lap and the second not as fast, but the third lap is when it hits hard,” he said. “In the fourth lap, it’s all about what you can do. (Cain) leaves that open, but she always wants us to PR (personal record).”
Munoz said another key to distance running was staying loose to preserve oxygen.
“Mrs. Cain will tell you if you need to relax so you’re not going so hard. She does a good job keeping you positive and pushing yourself.”
Munoz agreed with Jones that the sociable atmosphere in distance running helps.
“Everybody’s pretty friendly,” he said. “You warm up with them, wish them good luck before the race.”
There is some room for some light rivalry, however.
“I ran against a couple of Rocky Mountain kids in track. It was friendly, though, but if I beat them, I’d be like, ‘That was for State basketball.’”
Munoz explained that track and basketball can both be nervewracking in different ways. The adrenaline starts pumping the minute he hits the basketball court. In track, the excitement builds up.
“In track, your adrenaline hits the most in that last home stretch when the fans are lined up and the crowd is cheering you on. You’re just starting your kick and so is the kid next to you who is trying to beat you.”
Munoz thanked his track coaches for their support.
“In track, I think coaches play a big role, especially Mrs. Cain. She’s always been so positive. Mrs. Nugent takes track pretty seriously and Mrs. Sullivan has been a really big help, especially freshman and sophomore year when I didn’t know if I wanted to do track.”
Munoz plans to attend Western Wyoming Community College before transferring to a university with the goal to become a chiropractor.
Sophomore Hunter Fisher hoped to make the top five and podium at State this year. He beat that goal and took second place in the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles, earning his first All-State honors in outdoor track.
“I wasn’t really expecting to get All-State in either of those events,” he said. “I just kind of wanted to go to State. I didn’t think I was going to do as well as I did.”
Fisher picked up hurdles in seventh and eighth grade after a brief experiment with distance running.
“I wasn’t very good at hurdles at first,” he said. “I saw the other kids doing hurdles and I thought it looked cooler than sprinting. I didn’t want to do long distance – I tried that in sixth grade.”
Fisher worked on his hurdling technique and began to improve.
“You have a trail leg and you have to snap that down really fast so you can get over each hurdle faster,” he explained. “I just worked on my trail leg a lot. It’s more like sprinting work.”
The 110-meter hurdles involve a set rhythm for Fisher, including three steps between each hurdle. The hurdles in the 300-meter are spread out farther, between 45 and 50 feet, Fisher said, and a specific rhythm is not necessary.
He also practiced with starting blocks to get that explosion of speed needed to beat the competition in hurdles.
“You have to get your right foot forward on the blocks so you hit the first hurdle with your good leg,” he said.
Fisher tries to clear his head before the race starts.
“I just kind of warm up and talk to everyone else doing hurdles. We’re all kind of good friends. The 110-hurdles you think about a lot more than the 300s because there’s more technique and strategy.”
Fisher was a member of the record-breaking 1600-meter sprint medley relay team at State. He ran the 400-meter segment, a distance all three All-Staters agreed was a sprint – the most brutal sprint.
“It’s challenging,” said Fisher. “I have to work on the handoff from the 200 (runner) to me. It’s not a shuffle like the handoff to the 800. It’s more like a 4x100-meter handoff.”
There is no time to look back if you want to stay competitive, he said.
Fisher joined the BPHS indoor track club this winter to stay in shape for the spring season. He plans to continue his high school track career in hurdles, relays and the long jump and is thinking about trying new events like sprinting and the triple jump.
“I’d just like to thank Mrs. Sullivan and all the other coaches for helping me this season,” he said.