Puncher girls run away with state title

Coach Lehr ends career on a high note with championship

CASPER – The Big Piney girls captured the 2A state track and field title with a dominating performance Thursday through Saturday in Casper. The Punchers scored 127 points to win the school’s first girls’ title in track, which was 66 more points than the second-place team, Sundance.

“It was terrific,” Big Piney Head Coach Bill Lehr said. “When you double the score of the team below you, my gosh. It was pretty impressive.”

The Punchers won six individual events to help them win the team title. Grace Tanner won four state titles, including a best-of-the-best honor in the 300-meter hurdles.

“I won individual titles every year, but this year I knew I had to do my absolute best to help us win it as a team,” Tanner said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year.”

Freshman Muriel Jones won a state title in the 3200, as well as two other All-State honors.

Muriel Jones, Chandler Jones, Melissa Merritt and Jaynee Hunt won the championship in the 4x800.

McKenzi Davison also scored an All- State finish in the 800.

Adam Willoughby and Chancy Hunt both earned All-State honors for the Puncher boys, who finished fifth as a team.

In addition to the All-State performances, the Punchers stepped on the podium more than 20 other times.

For many of the Puncher girls, finishing second in state last year behind Big Horn by less than a point gave them some extra motivation this season.

“We came up short by a half-point last year which was pretty frustrating,” senior McKenzi Davison said. “This year we had some unfinished business.”

Muriel Jones gave Big Piney some early momentum, winning the 3200-meter race to start the state meet on Thursday. Jones jumped out in the lead and after one lap no one was within 10 yards of her. Jones ran the first 400 in 1:12 and the first mile on record pace in 5:37. Jones ended winning the race by about 200 yards in 12 minutes, 1.16 seconds.

Senior Melissa Merritt also made the podium in the 3200, finishing eighth in 13:21.23.

“It just pumped everybody up,” Lehr said.

To end the day, Muriel Jones and Merritt teamed up with Jaynee Hunt and Chandler Jones and won the state title in the 4x800 relay in 10:37.91.

“They competed way beyond what they ever did before,” Lehr said.

Muriel ran the leadoff leg and after trailing for the first lap, she passed Burns about 100 meters into the second lap to give Big Piney the lead. Chandler Jones maintained the lead, fighting off a Wyoming Indian runner to keep the Punchers in front. Merritt extended the lead over Wyoming Indian after her first lap, but Burns almost caught up with her as she handed off the baton. Hunt then took the baton and took off. Burns stayed on her heels and on the second lap Burns passed her. Hunt, however, ran her race and on the final turn she passed Burns and sprinted to finish, winning the race by 2.54 seconds.

“I thought she was out of gas, but nobody was going to beat her,” Lehr said about Hunt’s performance, calling her a “bulldog.”

Cadee Mager also earned a spot on the podium on Thursday, placing sixth in the shot put with a heave of 34 feet, 2.50 inches.

Heading into Friday’s events, the Puncher girls were second behind Sundance, 29-24.

Big Piney, however, got off to another strong start Friday by scoring 16 points in the 800.

Davison led after the first lap before getting passed by Moorcroft’s Hailey Jones. Davison ended up finishing second in the race, scoring an All-State finish in 2:20.66.

“I felt good; I set a new PR (personal record) by over 3 seconds,” Davison said. “I was hoping for first, but I can’t complain when I PR; without her pushing me I wouldn’t have.”

Muriel Jones (third, 2:25.58) and Jaynee Hunt (seventh, 2:30.86) also reached the 800-meter podium, scoring eight more team points.

After a sunny Thursday, rain and lightning also delayed some of the Friday events. The Punchers, however, weren’t bothered by the wet conditions.

“You can either laugh about it or cry about it,” Davison said. “We definitely had an advantage because we ran in it so much – we handled it well.”

The Puncher girls also scored five points in both the 4x100 and 1600 sprint medley relays on Friday.

Torry Taylor, Mesa Butler, Rachel Foster and Alda Acosta finished fourth in the 4x100 in 53.62.

Acosta, Foster, Jaynee Hunt and Taylor then finished fourth in the medley, which was a new event in Wyoming this year, in 4:44.48.

Sundance continued doing well in the field events and remained in first place heading into Saturday, 57-50.

The Punchers, however, knew the title was within their grasp.

Tanner started the day by winning the 100-meter hurdles, grabbing an early lead and never looking back. Tanner won the race in 15.73 seconds while Liberty Runyan crossed fifth in 17.85 and Foster finished eighth in 18.70, giving Big Piney the team lead.

“I felt like we had the state championship after I saw Grace compete in the 100 hurdles,” Davison said. “She dominated and that set the tone. Each day in the first race someone did well that set the tone; it was infectious.”

Within the hour, Tanner also won state titles in the 100-meter dash (12.97) and the 300-meter hurdles (45.81).

“I was a little sore from the day before, but it was actually nice because I didn’t have to rewarm up,” Tanner said about racing back-to-back-to-back.

Runyan also made the podium in the 300-meter hurdles, placing fourth in 51.12. Tanner’s time in the 300-meter hurdles, however, was the fastest time in all four of the classifications, earning her the Best of the Best honor.

“She’s been given a lot of talent, but she doesn’t sit on her talent,” Lehr said, attributing Tanner’s success to her “work ethic and competitiveness and drive to be the very best she can be.”

Before the 300-meter hurdles, Tanner also had to get her hip taped up, which had been bothering her earlier in the season. Tanner, however, didn’t let her hip slow her down Saturday. She finished the day by capturing her fourth state title on the day, winning the 200-meter race in 27.04.

“She’s such an amazing athlete,” Davison said. “I love watching her compete.”

Davison will get to watch Tanner compete some more. After the state meet, the University of Wyoming contacted Tanner on Monday and said they wanted her on their team. Tanner accepted. Davison signed with the UW earlier in the spring.

Lots of other Punchers also made it into the podium Saturday, helping 

Davison finished third in the 400 (1:01.07).

In the 1600, Muriel Jones led for most of the race, but Moorcroft’s Hailey Jones passed her in the final 200 meters. Muriel Jones, however, still earned an All-State honor with her second-place finish. Davison, who just ran the 400, finished fourth in 5:49.62 while Merritt knocked 14 seconds off her previous best to place ninth in 5:58.57.

Acosta, Hunt, Runyan and Davison then finished second in the last race of the day, the 4x400, in 4:19.94.

“It’s a good feeling to know my team and I finished on a good note,” Davison said about the title. “It’s pretty exciting and it’s been a great season.”

The Puncher girls won the team championship with 127 points, followed by Sundance (61), Lovell (55), Moorcroft (49), Kemmerer (46), Burns (46), Wright (42.50), Niobrara County (41.5), Wind River (38), the three-time defending champion Big Horn (33.5), Upton (32), Pine Bluffs (31.5), Southeast (26), Glenrock (18), Tongue River (16), Greybull (13), Rocky Mountain (8), Wyoming Indian (8) and Shoshoni (6).

“I want to say thanks to our entire community and our coaches for everything they’ve done for us,” Tanner said. “Bringing home a first-place trophy and a banner to hang in the school is our way to say thank you.”

Puncher boys finish 5th

While the Puncher girls were able to capture a team title, the boys came up a little short on their goal in the team race, finishing fifth out of the 17 squads.

“They were disappointed; they wanted a trophy,” Lehr said. “There were a few events where we didn’t score that we thought we should have.”

The Puncher boys, however, still had some good results.

Adam Willoughby finished second in the pole vault after a jump-off was needed to decide the winner. He cleared 13-0 to earn the All-State honor. Willoughby also finished seventh in the 110-meter hurdles in 17.17 and eighth in the 300-meter hurdles (42.54).

Chancy Hunt scored All-State honors, as well, finishing second in the 200 in 23.54. Hunt also finished third in the 100 with a time of 11.71. The 100 was one of the closest races of the meet with six of the runners crossing at almost the exact same time. The winner only finished .04 seconds ahead of Hunt.

Zane Meisner crossed third in the 300- meter hurdles (40.81) and fourth in the 400 (51.47).

“They all had a great meet,” Lehr said about the three seniors.

Tate Hughes tied for eighth in the high jump, clearing 5 feet, 8 inches.

The Puncher boys also placed in three relays.

In the 4x400, Hunt, Noah Lewis, Willoughby and Meisner finished second in 3:34.72.

In the 4x100, Meisner, Jake Pape, Lewis and Hunt finished third in 45.89.

In the medley, Lincoln Long, Hayden Bruce, Lewis and Tate Hughes placed seventh in 3:53.91.

Lovell won the boys’ title with 134.33 points, followed by Big Horn (83), Pine Bluffs (82), Glenrock (61), Big Piney’s Punchers (52.33), Rocky Mountain (41.33), Kemmerer (35), Wyoming Indian (34), Niobrara (34), Southeast (34), Upton (25), Wright (25), Wind River (18), Sundance (13), Burns (12), Tongue River (9) and Moorcroft (2).

Other Puncher performances

The Punchers had a lot of other performances that just missed the podium.

Bruce finished ninth in the triple jump (39-05.75).

Shelby Hatch finished ninth in the shot put (33-07).

Carlos Munoz crossed 10th in the 3200 (11:24.16) and 16th in the 1600 (5:24.58). Barney finished 12th in 3200 in 11:44.56.

In the 200, Lewis finished 14th in 24.43, Hughes finished 15th in 24.57 and Pape finished 16th in 24.62.

In the discus, Chon Pelham finished 18th (115-02) and Garrett Nielson placed 19th (113-03). Pelham also finished 14th in the shot put (41-07.50), two spots behind T.J. Frazier (42-07.50).

Acosta finished 14th in the 200 (28.46).

Cassidy Espenscheid placed 14th in the high jump (4-06).

Chandler Jones finished 16th in the 100- meter hurdles (20.15).

Braxton Smith finished 16th in the 110 hurdles (24.24).

Tristan Barney, Liam Hughes, Munoz and Creeden Schell finished ninth in the 4x800 (9:36.21).

In the 100, Tate Hughes finished 15th (12.33) and Long finished 16th (12.40).

In the pole vault, Trent Taylor cleared 10-06 to finish 11th while Pape and Jakobi Hibbert both recorded no height.

In the 300-meter hurdles, Foster finished 15th (53.42) and Chandler Jones finished 16th (59.64).

“The team did amazing,” Tanner said. “I’m incredibly proud of each and every one of my teammates.”

Lehr retiring

After coaching for 50 years, including 33 in Big Piney, the meet was also the last one for Lehr, who’s retiring.

“We discussed it as a team at State,” Davison said. “We wanted to send him out with a hurrah.” The state title was the 12th for a team coached by Lehr. He also led the Punchers to six state football title and five boys’ track titles.

“It was a good one to go out on,” Lehr said. “Like I tell my kids: ‘Best one, last one.’”

The coach said he will miss the kids most of all.

“These are memories that I’ll remember for the rest of my life – how those kids competed,” Lehr said.

The coach also wanted to give kudos to all of the parents, grandparents, fans and assistant coaches for all of their support.

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