Lobos' senior hurdlers dominate at state meet
It was a day for redemption, and in the end, Escalante High School track athletes Hailey Whitaker and A.J. Blea accomplished what they set out to do — all while doing it together in their final opportunity.
The senior duo claimed a total of three gold medals at the 2019 Class A-3A State Track and Field Championships on May 11 at Great Friends of UNM Track Complex, as Whitaker snagged first place in the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles and Blea won the 300 hurdles with a new state record of 40.32 seconds.
For the two seniors, neither of them are new to the limelight that is the state championships. With the mission of overcoming disappointment and near-titles a season ago at state, it just seemed that little was going to stand in their way this time around.
It was the two of them standing side-by-side embracing each other with a hug after Blea won the 300 hurdles that signified how special the occasion was for the pair that have been pushing each other since the beginning of their careers.
“We’re the ones always working with each other and pushing each other,” Whitaker said. “It’s amazing to see both of us throughout our careers since eighth grade all the way to senior year. We knew this was it and we were here — we just had to give it our all.”
“We always grew up racing against each other and wanted the best out of both of us,” Blea said. “She always has me pushing her and she always has my doing better and go beyond what I think I can do.”
With the two first place finishes on the day, Whitaker closed out her career with her third gold medal. She had previously won the 300 hurdles in 2017 as a sophomore before nearly winning the event again last year, but a fall at the finish line cost her the chance at a three-peat.
That was all she needed to motivate herself this season en route to again becoming the state champion — the only fitting conclusion in her mind after setting new personal records nearly every meet this season.
“I’m just so ecstatic and so happy,” Whitaker said after the 300 hurdles. “I worked so hard and I wanted this so bad. Last year was a huge disappointment, but I used that as motivation because I had one year left and I just worked so hard.”
Her winning times were 15.82 in the 100 hurdles and 47.93 in the 300 hurdles
Blea’s motivation and reason for redemption reached back to last season when he was edged out by a three-tenth difference in the 300 hurdles, but even fresher in his mind was his second place finish in the 110-meter hurdles early in the day, as Santa Rosa High School’s Martin Madrid won with a time of 15.64 to Blea’s 15.79.
Entering the final stretch of the 300 hurdles neck-and-neck with Eunice High School’s Avante Stevens and Estancia High School’s Brian Walker, Blea made sure to avoid disappointment yet again, doing so behind the familiar faces by the gates just outside the track.
“I always have my coaches or my dad in that corner right at the stretch,” Blea said. “They always tell me to, ‘Kick it, or keep it up,’ and I just put that in my mind that they were there with me.”
Steven’s (40.68) and Walker’s (40.73) times also eclipsed the previous state record in the event of 40.78, held by Animas High School’s Job Sarellano in 2017.
“I was ready and I had it in my mind to break the state record,” Blea said.
For the entirety, Escalante medaled in seven additional events. Whitaker added to her collection with a fourth place finish in the long jump (15 feet, 4.75 inches) and fifth in the 100-meter dash (13.26), and Blea collected another medal in the 200-meter dash with a fifth place time of 23.62.
The girls team of Aubrie Hinds, Brycelyn Martinez, Sherydan Salazar and Reina Terrazas took home the silver in the 4x400-meter relay with a time of 4:24.37.