STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
AUSTIN — Every member of the Marble Falls High School girls track-and-field team advanced to the Class 5A Region IV meet after finishing in the top four of their events at the District 25 and 26-5A area meet April 19.
However, that’s no surprise.
The surprise came in the execution of strategy the Lady Mustangs used to finish second overall in the team standings. That strategy in key events allowed them to move on to the regional meet, which is Friday-Saturday, April 27-28, at Alamo Stadium, 110 Tuleta Drive in San Antonio.
Take the 1,600-meter run.
Going into the event, head coach Anthony Torns gave his sophomore runners, Ambrie Lizcano and Jaden Johnson, some specific instructions.
He told Lizcano she couldn’t run each lap slower than 85 seconds and she needed to stay stride for stride with Boerne Champion runner Erin Briley, who won the District 26-5A gold medal two weeks earlier.
“The girl from Champion, you need to sit on her shoulder,” he told Lizcano. “When she decides to move, you move. On the bell lap (the final lap), you make your move.”
He also reminded Johnson that her kick — that extra gear runners have that allows them to speed away from the pack toward the end of races — is better than the majority of the other athletes. She simply needed to stay near the leaders, he said.
Torns told his runners they needed to finish each lap in no more than 85 seconds. To ensure they were in a position to advance, he’d give them a time after each lap. However, Torns forgot to start his watch after the gun sounded, so once they completed the first lap, he told them to run for placement. Fortunately, assistant coach Jessica Withrow had started her watch, so Marble Falls was able to stick to its strategy.
The leaders completed the first lap in about 84 seconds, right where Torns predicted they needed to be.
The result was that Lizcano won the gold medal in 5 minutes 32.57 seconds, and Johnson finished third in 5:32.70.
“Jaden actually surged ahead of Ambrie by about three or four steps,” the head coach said of the final lap. “Ambrie dug deep. The last 10 meters, she passed Jaden.”
Another race that stood out to Torns was the 100-meter hurdles. Senior Sarah Cauble and sophomore Jessy Stephenson each advanced to regionals after finishing third and fourth in 15.65 seconds and 16.81 seconds, respectively, to set new personal bests.
“They’re starting to grasp what they need to do,” Torns said. “Sarah said she was able to three-step the hurdles (the running pattern), and it felt normal.”
The other running event Torns highlighted were the 4×200-meter relay team consisting of senior Trinity Ware, junior Nomi Pegues, and sophomores Alexis Torns and Kendall Ulbricht, which was fourth in the race in 1:44.43.
The reason the coach is so high on this team is because of the challenges they’ve overcome. They had to change anchor legs a month ago, and each runner is strategically positioned to excel on the part of the track she runs the best. Alexis Torns and Ware run specific curves because they hug those turns well, Anthony Torns said. Ulbricht is the anchor leg and has run faster every race.
What’s even more impressive is that only Pegues ran in the individual 200 meters, where she finished fourth in 26.27 seconds to advance to regionals.
To the coach, the relay highlights his favorite part about sports.
“You take a group of kids and give them an opportunity to compete,” he said. “They may not be the best in individual events, but when they run together, they run some really good times. They’ve chipped away and gotten better every time they go run.”
Freshman Bailey Goggans took home double gold in the 400 meters in 56.24 seconds and the 800 meters in 2:12.77. Goggans will enter the regional meet as the state’s fastest 800-meter runner.
The field event Torns highlighted was the long jump featuring sophomore Rylie Ulbricht, who was second with a leap of 16 feet 10¼ inches. Torns credited coach Desire De Leon for Rylie Ulbricht’s improvement.
“It’s about the rhythm of the run and feeling what her body is supposed to do in the air as she reached for the pit,” Torns said.
The boys team continues to get outstanding performances from senior pole vaulter T.J. Stephenson. He finished second after clearing a vault of 14-0 to advance to regionals.
Girls (top four advance to regionals): 3,200 – 4, Ambrie Lizcano, 11:58.97; 800 – 1, Bailey Goggans, 2:12.77; 100 hurdles – 3, Sarah Cauble, 15.65, 4, Jesse Stephenson, 16.81; 400 – 1, Bailey Goggans, 56.24 seconds, 8, Daijah Torns, 1:02.89; 200 – 4, Nomi Pegues, 26.27; 1,600 – 1, Ambrie Lizcano, 5:32.57, 3, Jaden Johnson, 5:32.70; 4×200 relay – 4, Marble Falls (Nomi Pegues, Alexis Torns, Trinity Ware, Kendall Ulbricht), 1:44.43; 4×400 relay – 2, Marble Falls (Nomi Pegues, Kendall Ulbricht, Daijah Torns, Bailey Goggans), 4:02.12; discus – 4, Aileen Neri, 94-02; shot put – 5, Aileen Neri, 32-8 1/2; long jump – 2, Riley Ulbricht, 16-10 1/4; triple jump – 6, Riley Ulbricht, 34-4
Boys (top four advance to regionals): high jump – 6, Jervon Collins, 5-10 (jumps), 8, Kason O’Reilly, 5-10 (jumps); pole vault – 2, T.J. Stephenson, 14-0 (jumps)