Track & field: Niwot’s Cruz Culpepper, Taylor James win 4A titles in 800

Cougars also take state championship in girls 800 relay

Lewis Geyer/Staff Photographer
Niwot’s Taylor James won her second consecutive title in the girls 800 meters at the state track meet on Friday in Lakewood.
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LAKEWOOD – Taylor James was aiming for a record, while Cruz Culpepper was seeking redemption.

Both got what they wanted, as they led Niwot to a sweep of the Class 4A 800 meters at the state track and field championships on Friday at Jefferson County Stadium.

James won her second consecutive title in the girls 800 meters, while Culpepper claimed his first championship on the track.

For Culpepper, it was a chance to make up for a disappointing 2018 state meet, when he fell in the 800 meters and finished a surprising third in the 1,600 meters after going in as the favorite.

On Friday, he got the lead down the back stretch and held on, crossing the finish line in 1 minute, 52.93 seconds. Durango’s Aidan Fitzgerald was .52 of a second behind him.

“It was a really fun race,” said Culpepper, a junior who won the 4A state cross country title in the fall. “I felt good. I felt way better than I normally do the first lap, which was good. It was pretty comfortable.”

After falling in the 800 last year, Culpepper said, “It was definitely a lot of pressure going into this meet, so it was relieving after that (win). I was definitely fired up.”

In the midst of what is shaping up to be a remarkable prep career, James won the girls 800 in 2:08.29, breaking the 4A state meet record previously held by former Niwot star Elise Cranny (2:08.50 in 2013).

“I’m so excited,” said James, a sophomore who now has five career state medals in five events. “I was trying to go after the record. That’s been a goal all season. To finally be able to do it and get as many points as I can for my team is such a great feeling.”

It was already the third career state title for James, a sophomore who, in 2018, won the 800 and was part of a 1,600-meter relay win.

James was originally slated to compete in the high jump, as well, on Friday and came into state seeded third. She pulled out of the event, however, to take injured teammate Maggie Smith’s spot in the 1,600-meter relay. In the final event Friday, she helped the Cougars reach the finals.

“I’ve been struggling with (high jump) a little bit this season, so in a way it was a little bit of a relief,” she said. “Also a disappointment because I wanted to try to see how I could do. But actually the 4×400 is probably my favorite event.”

In addition to the 1,600-meter relay finals, James will also compete in the finals of the 200 and 400 on Saturday after posting the top qualifying times in both events during Thursday’s preliminaries.

“I’m very excited to see how everyone competes tomorrow,” James said. “We have our eyes set on the (team) state championship, so we’re trying to get as many point as possible. I’m hoping it’ll go well. Having this positive event happen kind of earlier in the meet gets everyone exited for what’s to come.”

The Cougars took another step toward a possible girls team title later in the day when the 800-meter relay team won a championship. The team of Erika Timbang, Julea Trank-Greene, Kayla Nowlin and Margot Diasabeygunawardena clocked in at 1:42.52 to land atop the podium.

“It’s amazing, because we’ve worked so hard to get here,” said Timbang, who also helped Niwot to a fifth-place finish in the medley relay on Friday. “I’ve been doing relays for so long and this is my second state championship. The girls did so well and our handoffs were amazing. The excitement is just based on how proud I am of the girls.”

Niwot is in first place in the team standings going into Saturday, with 52 points, followed by Battle Mountain (30) and Roosevelt and Eagle Valley (tied at 28).

Niwot also takes the lead into the final day on the boys side. The Cougars have 29 points, followed closely by Air Academy (27) and Durango (26).

On Friday, the Niwot boys got a fourth-place finish from Jack Kenkel in the 800, while the 800 relay team placed fourth.

Brian Howell: Bhowell@prairiemountainmedia.com or on Twitter @BrianHowell33.