The Crook County High School track and field team recently ended one of their most successful seasons ever.
The Cowboys not only won their fourth district championship in the last five years, they also finished fourth at the state championships.
"We knew that we could reload and go after another district championship," Crook County head coach Ernie Brooks said. "Our guys were solid, and we had a little bit of everything."
That is until injuries looked like they were going to decimate the team.
Distance star Zach Lawson went down with a torn ACL in wrestling season. Although he battled his way back and did run one race late in the year, Lawson was unable to make the varsity team. Still, the senior was at every practice and ended up helping coach the 4x400 relay team.
Thrower Cameron Kleffner also was hurt in the off season, breaking his foot. Then a week before the start of practice, sprinting star Victor Ramirez was stabbed in the thigh with a pair of scissors.
Then jumper Jacob Hehn's season ended with a bulging disc in his back.
Finally, in the Icebreaker Invitational, the first meet of the year, Emmett Bailor, Stephen Dalton and Shane Viescas all suffered injuries.
Kleffner, Bailor and Viescas were all able to return after missing approximately a quarter of the year, while Ramirez started running half way through the season.
However, there were doubts that he would even be able to run varsity races.
Then, a week before district, Ramirez's times suddenly dropped, and he started showing the form that had earned him a trip to state the year before.
Still, going into the district meet, Brooks believed that the district meet was going to be close. Instead, on their home field, the Cowboys had a nearly flawless district meet, eventually winning by 85 points.
"Before all the injuries, we were like, 'Alright, we are just going to put a butt-whipping down at districts and get quite a few to state,'" Brooks said. "Then when all those injuries started happening, we weren't sure if we would be able to do it or not. But our guys put together a district meet. We didn't leave much meat on the bones. It was a great meet for us, and the season just kind of led up to it."
Although the Cowgirls did not fare as well, they still had an outstanding year, finishing a close third at district.
"Our girls have traditionally been third or fourth," Brooks said. "That's where we ended up, but we moved up so much this year. We used to be third by 70 or 80 points, and this year we were third by nine points, and we should have probably been second and could have been first."
Brooks noted that hurdler Emma Hehn was second with three hurdles to go when she fell, costing the team eight points. The Cowgirls also had a high jumper miss the district meet because of a previous commitment and another no height in the pole vault.
In addition, distance star Jan Carne was also injured at the Icebreaker meet.
Carne still had the fastest time in the state in the 3,000 meter run for most of the year, despite not running again.
Brooks noted that although the Cowgirls don't have the same kind of depth or numbers that the Cowboys have, he believes that the team could compete for the district title next season.
Crook County loses a large contingent of people to graduation, including several individuals who will be missed.
Neil Chaney, the state champion in the pole vault, will compete in college, as will 800-meter runner Emmett Bailor and Lawson.
Although the remainder of the senior class is not expected to compete in college, Brooks said that they will still be missed.
"These seniors are a tough group," he said. "They are a great group that works hard. We preach legacy, what are you going to leave so that four years down the road you are going to see the rewards of what you've been doing, and they bought into that. It's going to be hard to replace them."
Brooks was quick to add that although the seniors will be hard to replace, he is confident that next year's team will be strong.
"We had 18 people at summer running yesterday," he said. "And we had nine at strength training and some more that are doing their strength training with the football team. When you are running in a pack, it's a lot easier."
Brooks added that there is also a lot of talent returning. In addition, Brooks had nothing but praise for the middle school program, which was run until recently by Linda Pepper, and is now run by Michelle Holliday.
"They just do a great job of developing sixth through eighth graders," Brooks said. "We win as a team, and we lose as a team, and we couldn't do it without the middle school program."
Ramirez, who competed in four events at the state meet is back, as is Dominic Langley, who was in three events. Several other Cowboys and Cowgirls also have state meet experience.
"I'm excited to see what they can do. Those kids doing the extra stuff pays off," Brooks said.