Clovis senior Ben Teconchuk works on his high-jump technique Wednesday at the high school. CNJ photo by Eric Kluth.
By Rick White
Distance runners have long been an afterthought when it comes to Clovis boys track.
Clovis has finished in the top five at state in each of the last four years — including a school-best runner-up finish in 2003 — on the strength of sprinters, jumpers and hurdlers.
But the Wildcats figure to be more balanced this spring with the emergence of a strong corps of distance runners led by seniors Matt Appelman, Brian Romero and Tyrell Northcutt.
Fifth-year Wildcats coach Darren Kelley said he’s never seen a harder-working group.
“It’s fun to watch work out,” Kelley said. “They never take a day off.”
Senior Ben Teconchuk said having a strong distance group helps relieve some of the pressure on the sprinters.
“Our sprinting corps isn’t as strong as its been and (the distance runners) are stronger,” said Teconchuk, who anchored the Wildcats’ to the state 400-meter relay title last year. “They also bring leadership to the team. They’re really good leaders.”
Appelman, who helped Clovis finish a surprising second in the state cross country meet this fall, is looking forward to the challenge.
“It feels good knowing that Coach Kelley knows we’re going to score some points,” said Appelman, who verbally committed to run track and cross country at East Central State in Ada, Okla., a NCAA Division II school in the Lone Star Conference.
Appelman, Northcutt and Romero give Clovis a strong punch in the 3,200 while fellow senior Jeremiah Clark figures to be a factor in the 800.
The Wildcats, who open their season Saturday at Hobbs, will still be solid in the sprints and relays with Teconchuk and junior Phillip Williams. Kelley said sophomore John Tranchida has been a pleasant surprise and figures to be a factor in the sprint relays with freshman Brian Mead another possibility.
The Wildcats have won the 400 relay two of the last three seasons and the race has long been a source of pride at Clovis.
“That starts off the day and sets the tone,” said Teconchuk, who is being asked by Kelley to step into the role of one of the team’s stars, following in the footsteps of the likes of hurdlers Joey Garcia and Hank Baskett and sprinters Nathan Nuttall, Aaron Smith and Derond Jackson.
“When I first came up, I’d always complain about having to run in the quarter,” Teconchuk said. “But this year, I determined to step up and do the best I can like the others have the last few years.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”
Seniors Charles Purdy (shot put), Shea Chase (discus) and Jarod Baldwin (javelin) are expected to be the top performers in the throwing events.
The Williams, Phillip and fellow junior Tanner, should score points in the long jump in most meets.
Kelley said although his team lacks the star power its had in the past, he’s hoping better depth and balance can earn the Wildcats another district title and a trophy (top three finish at state).
“We’re going to be all right at regular meets and at district,” Kelley said. “I just don’t know if we can compete for the one of the top two spots at state.
“But I definitely think we can be in the top five in the state.”
CHS track schedule
20 — Gene Wells Inviationa, Hobbs. 27 — Clovis Invitational.
2-3 — Amarillo Relays. 8 — Planview Invitational. 12 — Sepulveda Invite, Albuquerque. 16 — Wildcat Relays. 23 — Alamogordo qualifier. 27 — Hobbs qualifier. 30 — Carslbad qualifier.
7-8 — District 4-5A meet, Clovis. 13-15 — Class 5A state meet, Albuquerque.