Danielle Aragon was the big story, all through this spring of 2012, in Montana high school track and field. The Billings Senior High School runner – I’d say “distance runner” but that limits her too much – crowned her personal story by demolishing a record set by another Billings Senior High athlete way back in 1973: Julie Brown’s 800-meter mark of 2 minutes 11 seconds.
This was the longest existing record on the books. Mind you, Aragon had already run faster 800s this season, two of them, in the 2:10 range, but in Montana official state records can be set only at state track meets.
So, in the last meet of her high school career, on the second and last day of the State Class AA Meet in Butte, in cold, wet, blustery weather, she turned in a 2:08.31.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the fastest first lap I’ve ever run, so I knew I had set myself up pretty good for a shot at it,” Aragon told Mike Zimmer, a Billings Gazette reporter. “I just ran as hard as I could that whole second lap. When I crossed the line and saw that time, I couldn’t believe it. I was completely exhausted, but it was pretty cool.”
The 800 is twice around the track. Later that same day, Aragon ran eight times around the track and won that race, the 3200, as well. Her time was 11:09.28, about 3 seconds faster than Paige Gilchrist of Missoula Hellgate.
And the previous day Aragon had run four times around the track and won the 1600 (with Paige Gilchrist finishing a more distant second). But as Zimmer wrote, “a stiff wind and sideways snow” probably prevented Danielle from breaking the 4:55.18 all-class state record in that event. Her time was 4:56.43.
Saving our garden
This year Elizabeth and I missed both the Class AA and C state meets held concurrently in Butte and the Class A and B state meets in Bozeman – where the weather was equally wretched.
Track and field season is also gardening season, and we stayed home in Roundup to protect our tomato and pepper plants, newly transplanted into their beds, from snow and temperatures that dropped to the freezing point.
So we missed our local athletes at the Class B meet in Bozeman, and in any case would have missed Danielle Aragon’s achievements in Butte. Back in 2002, however, at the state AA and B meets in Great Falls, we did see Heidi Lane set that 1600 meter record.
It was a sunny day, not too warm, not too cool: no weather problem for Lane, a dominating distance runner out of C.M. Russell High School in Great Falls, running in her hometown.
The reason you can’t call Aragon just a distance runner is that she also competes in a race that is called not a run but a dash — the once-around-the-track 400. For that matter, I’ve also seen Aragon run the 200-meter dash, and win it, at small meets – “just working on her speed,” a coach told me.
In Butte, the day she ran the 1600, she also ran the 400 and finished second. Her time of 57.23 seconds time was a PR – a personal record — for her, but Liz Harper of Missoula Sentinel crossed the line half a second faster, in 56.72.
Aragon would have had the day’s second fastest 400 time except that in Bozeman, Marlow Schulz of Whitefish turned in a 57.07 in winning the Class A 400. Schulz, by the way, was another busy athlete; she won both the 100 and 200 that same day, and also got 5th in triple jump.
Aragon also ran another 400 meters, the anchor lap of the 1600-meter relay, for her Billings Senior team, which finished second in this race.
Numbers tell the tale
Scoring is 10-8-6-4-2-1 points for the first six places. So with her wins in the 800, 1600 and 3200, Aragon amassed 30 points. Add another 8 for her second in the 400, and another 2 points for her share of the 8 points earned by her relay team, and Aragon ended up scoring 40 of her team’s 120.33 points. She had a lot of support from her teammates.
The Senior girls won their third straight AA championship in dominating fashion. Billings West took second with 80.5 points and Flathead High of Kalispell was third with 56.
On the boys’ side, Billings West derailed the Billings Senior boys’ ambitions of winning three state championships in a row, by rolling up 97.5 points. Glacier High School of Kalispell edged out Senior for second place, 72,75 to 70.
For the record, Corvallis won both the Class A girls’ and boys’ titles. In Class B, the boys’ champion is Manhattan with Missoula Loyola taking the girls’ title. And in Class C, Charlo won the boys’ title and North Star — an amalgam of towns along the Hi-Line — is the girls’ champion.
Because of the large pool of athletes in the 14 big schools — and more coaches and other opportunities — it is common for Class AA to capture the fastest, highest or longest marks in the 10 track and seven field events. But there are always exceptions.
This year, Class A athletes had the best marks in pole vault, both boys and girls, and the winning Class A boys’ javelin mark was the longest of all classes. The Class B boys’ discus mark tied that of Class AA, and the Class A and B boys’ high jump marks tied for the best.
In girls’ javelin, the two longest throws were by Class B girls, and the girls’ 3200 meter winning time was fastest in all classes. Class C boys had one overall best: in the 110 meter hurdles.
Besides Aragon’s 800 meter all-class record, one other record was broken: Kwyn Johnson of Flathead (Kalispell) surpassed a year-old record in Class AA girls’ triple jump with a mark of 38 feet, 34.75 inches.
Fans for decades
Elizabeth and I have been track and field fans for decades. We like the variety of events and the purity of competing not only against other athletes but against one’s own limitations. We remember watching a television program called “ABC’s Wide World of Sports,” which showed a lot of world level track meets back in the 1960s into the ‘70s.
But what kicked us into the category of serious fan was our daughter Rhiannon, who showed some aptitude for running in grade school and ended up holding the Roundup High School 3200 meter record for eight years and the 1600 meter record for five years.
Another girl, Rory Vescovi, challenged Rhiannon’s school records for four years until she finally got them both in her final state meet in 2002 — the same meet where Heidi Lane set the still-existing 1600 meter all-class record.
Until a few years ago, “distance runners” were not allowed to run more than the 1600 and 3200 at a single meet. You could not do what both Danielle Aragon and her older sister Alexa did for Billings Senior, and what numerous other runners from schools large and small have been doing. You could not run the 800 as well, nor the 400.
That was fine with our daughter: Those two longer races were enough for her, especially since Montana rules did allow the distance people to take part in relays. Small schools don’t have the large pools of athletes to draw from in forming relay teams, and Rhiannon did have decent speed in the 400, so she always ended up doing one lap of the 1600 meter relay.
Unleashing the distance runners
Now it is common to see runners of both genders doing all three longer races, with more and more of them also competing in the 400. For example, a freshman runner out of Big Fork – Makena Morley – ran all four races at the State Class B Meet this year. Morley finished sixth in the 400 but won the other three races, and her time in the 3200 (11:02.97) was more than six seconds faster than Aragon’s. So she’s for real.
They just keep rising up, the new ones. Here in Roundup a girl who’ll be a freshman next year has run better junior high times in the 800 and 1600 (the 3200 is not run in junior high) than did our daughter or the girl who succeeded our daughter. If she stays healthy, and dedicated, we’re looking to see some new high school records in the next couple of years.
As for Danielle Aragon, she’ll be following her older sister Alexa to Notre Dame. At an April track meet in Billings, the Aragon girls’ father, Chuck, told me that Alexa had recently qualified for the college national championships in the 3000 meter steeplechase.
With both Aragon girls now gone, you might think coaches in schools would be breathing sighs of relief – except that another Aragon daughter is coming along.
Christina is her name, and she’s a runner, too. Next fall she’ll be a freshman at Billings Senior High.