Reaching the state championship level in any sport is special, but the three Stephenville High School track and field state qualifiers each have their own perspective on the spectacle.
Senior Blake Aragon is returning to Austin to try to win the Class 4A boys high jump for the second year in a row. His event is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.
The two SHS girls who qualified are both scheduled to compete on Saturday.
Junior Bailey McBee, who qualified in the girls 100-meter hurdles, is scheduled to compete at 12:45 p.m. Saturday. Sophomore Shayden Toof will compete in the girls triple jump starting at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“I am excited about Bailey and Shayden competing at the state track meet because they get to experience what many still believe to be the single greatest event in high school sports,” said Jeremiah Butchee, head girls track coach. “While it is an unbelievable atmosphere with the best athletes in the state competing on the biggest stage, at the end of the day, it is still a track meet and my goals for Shayden and Bailey are the same as they are for every track meet. Compete as hard as you possibly can, try to break your own personal record, and represent yourself, your family, your team and your town to the absolute best of your ability.”
Kreg Kimple is the SHS head boys track coach. Aragon and the rest of the high jumpers are instructed by Joe Carter.
“I was real excited about it,” Carter said of Aragon qualifying for his second straight trip to Austin. “I had hoped he would have gotten back. It’s real exciting for him to go again. He has the ability to repeat, but he’s got to have a good day.”
The state meet for all classifications will unfold this Friday and Saturday at Mike Myers Stadium in Austin, on the University of Texas campus.
Aragon’s future sports path will involve playing football at the collegiate level, since he signed a letter-of-intent to play for Texas State University in San Marcos.
But on Friday he has a chance to achieve a remarkable feat at the high school level one last time if he can win his second straight gold medal in Austin. He isn’t any part of the process lightly — even repeating as the Region I-4A champion with a height of 6-8.
“It was very surreal,” Aragon said of winning in Lubbock, which qualified him for the state meet once again. “I’m really happy I get to go back because I know it’s really hard for that to happen.”
His winning height at the regional meet, 6-8, was also what he cleared in winning last year’s state title — which made him the school’s first boys state track and field champion since 2001.
Aragon said he let his regional victory this year sink in for “about 15 minutes” before he started thinking about competing in Austin.
He said his thoughts, and the instructions from coach Joe Carter, center around his mental approach above all else because the physical prowess of the 6-5 Aragon is not the issue.
“It’s more on the mental level,” said Aragon, who was also a standout in football and basketball for the Yellow Jackets. “He (Carter) tells me not to get in my own head. I just need to do what we did last time, be calm and don’t think about anything.
“When I approach the jumps, I think ‘go up’ and my form will take care of itself. Just go up.”
Carter, who coached his daughter Jordan to a state berth in the girls high jump last year, and her second straight regional appearance this season, was also excited for Aragon.
“It seems like he is prepared for it mentally more than anything,” Carter said. “Explosion is the key. We set his goal at regional for 6-6 with no misses. I think we’re going to have to go 6-7 with no misses, or 6-8 (to win in Austin). There are a lot of really good jumpers. He’s going to have to win on (fewer) misses.”
Aragon said he will approach the state meet as if it were “just another meet,” but of course winning a second gold medal will be anything but routine.
“It will all feel new again,” Aragon said. “It would mean the world to me. My whole year it’s been in the back of my head that I’ve just got to get another one. I’m leaving everything on the mat, because I know this is my last time.”
McBee qualified for Austin with her second-place 100-meter hurdles finish at the regional meet, in a time of 14.78 seconds. She broke her own personal record in the prelims, and topped it the next day as the runner-up in the finals.
In addition to head girls track coach Jeremiah Butchee, McBee has another source of hurdles knowledge — her mother, Stacey McBee. When she was in high school in Ballinger, Stacey McBee was a regional qualifier in the 100-meter hurdles — and Bailey’s grandfather, Tom Lee, used to coach Stacey.
“It’s kind of like I follow in the footsteps,” said Bailey McBee, whose father, Phillip McBee, was accepted to play football at Howard Payne University, and competed one season there. “I’ve been working really hard, and it’s paying off. Hopefully I’ll PR again. I think I have a good shot to get on the podium.”
Leading up to the regional meet, McBee had said, “Basically she’s like my second coach. I love it.”
As she was preparing for state, McBee also said of her mother, “She pushes me to be my best. She’s always kind of been there"
McBee said she was not really expecting to qualify for state as a junior.
“I was very surprised,” McBee said. “It was a very shocking moment. I was like crying tears of joy. It felt really good. It was just a great moment — something I’ll have the rest of my life.”
Toof has been competing in triple jump since she was in the seventh grade, and this is her second year to earn a varsity track letter. Previously she was a long jumper and ran the 200 and 100.
She played on the junior varsity basketball team this past season. As a freshman, Toof played both volleyball and basketball on the SHS freshman squads.
At the regional meet, Toof qualified by taking second place, showing she has plenty of potential to improve even more. Her last jump, 37 feet, 4 1/2 inches, broke her previous personal record by by an incredible 15 1/2 inches.
She has been preparing by doing lunges around the track during practice for about the last month and a half, and added, “I’ve been working on my form, and getting my arms in.”
As a sophomore, Toof is simply enjoying the sport and the experience.
“It feels really good when you can jump far,” she said. “Right now I’m just happy that I got to this point. I’m not really worried about how I do.”
Asked how she might feel if she is able to earn a medal this year, Toof said, “I’d just be in shock, honestly. This year was (intended) to make it out of district, then next year make it to state, and my senior year win state.”