LYONS — With any prolonged dominance comes the risk of complacency and bluster.
Embarking on a campaign to win three straight boys and girls track and field titles, the Lyons Lions are challenging themselves to avoid squandering such a golden opportunity. They feel like they’ve been around the block enough times to know the route to avoiding folly.
“You just have to keep a level head,” Lions senior Matt Radich said. “You just can’t think you’re better than anyone. You have to think of everyone as an equal opponent. You want to run your own race, or event, as hard as you possibly can and not think of anyone else as being slower or faster. They’re just someone to run with.”
The Lions seem to graduate talented athletes each year only to replace them. This year is no different, particularly for the boys, so even at practice Radich will have plenty of opponents to run with.
The boys will have to replace the scoring that graduated seniors Forrest Donnell, who won multiple state titles last season, and Marcos Rodriguez provided. They’ll also need to plug new runners into their relays, which nearly swept the 2012 state meet, but they already see their relays as a strength early in the season.
The Lions boys return state champions in Ryan Boucher in the 400-meter dash and Radich in the 110-meter hurdles. In the distance events, they feature a talented group led by freshman Paul Roberts, who dominated the 2A cross country meet in the fall and led the Lions to the first team title in school history.
Some of that responsibility in both the sprints and throwing events will fall to senior Clint Hirschfeld, who will complete his fourth year in the Lyons program. He’s one of several Lions with big shoes to fill but Hirschfeld said the challenge of a three-peat has only further motivated the Lions boys.
“It’s given us more of a drive to go out and meet expectations, to be state contenders and hopefully win it again,” Hirschfeld said. “We know that’s our goal.”
Defending high jump state champion and versatile scorer Nola Basey will lead the Lions girls, who also return several relays with scoring potential, as a senior.
Junior Miriam Roberts finished second at the state cross country meet in the fall. She highlights a distance group laden with returning state qualifiers.
After the Lions girls edged Telluride by 10.5 points in 2012, senior Kelsey Miner is expecting their third championship to be harder to come by. Hotchkiss, which placed its girls sixth in 3A last season, dropping down from 3A to 2A is one of the reasons why.
“Our fitness level is really good right now,” Miner said. “Everybody’s really dialed in this season, which is really good to see. Especially for the girls team, I don’t know if people really understand how hard we had to work to win state last season. For us, we’re going to have to work that much harder, even than our boys team, to keep that title.”
Overall, Lyons has won seven team state titles, including six since 2003. The girls have won five and the boys two. In 2013, they’re looking for eight and nine.
But both the Lions girls and boys are in a unique position. With 18 combined seniors between the two, the window could be closing on their dominance, at least temorarily.
Jeff Boele, who has been a distance and jumping coach for the past three seasons, joined the Lions when the current seniors were freshmen. Boele said the Lions have started looking for other goals to stay motivated, like defending their Patriot League title or trying to compete with the larger schools in the area at the Boulder County Invitational.
“Those are the kind of things you want to lay out there to keep you hungry and getting after it,” Boele said. “We also have a big senior class. It’s also a double-edged sword because we’ve worked with them for four years and they’re really good but since it’s such a big class, we’re going to notice it next year.”
Lions head coach Mark Roberts said the strength of the Lions program and their continued success of late is not just about finding good athletes walking the halls of tiny Lyons High School, though that’s certainly helped. Roberts said the Lions athletes’ ability to train on their own, which frees up the coaches for more instruction and less direction, has been as big a factor as their talent.
“We hand kids the information and they have a plan,” Roberts said. “Obviously there are injuries, meets gets canceled, adjustments have to be made, but on the whole it becomes a very collaborative process with them. We’re sort of going alongside them instead of them coming to us everyday asking what they’re doing that day. I feel like our kids by the time they get through this program, are going to be able to coach. The more they’re invested and understanding what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, they better we’re going to be.”
Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradCochi