Vaqueros Track and Field Brings Home the Gold


Jonathan Williams, Sports Editor

The Vaqueros track and field teams hit the finish line of a pinnacle season Sunday at the state championships at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.

Elizabeth Nelson passed the best runner in the country in the women’s 1,500-meter and Justice Shank leaped over a 5-foot-8 bar to secure the state title in the women’s high jump.

Nelson is now ranked second best in the state and third in the country at the national community college level in the women’s 1,500.

“It’s really cool to know that you’re the best,” said Nelson. “It gives you a ton of confidence.”

Nelson stuck to the outside of the pack through the first three laps and then pulled ahead of Sequoias’ freshman Yesenia Silva, who was ranked the best in country, in the last 100 meters.

“It’s was really tactical,” said Nelson. “It came down to who had the most momentum in the end.”

Nelson said that she felt bad for Silva, because she understands how tough it is to lose right at the finish line.

“She did incredibly well, considering she’s a freshman,” said Nelson.

Nelson admitted that when she reached the awards podium, she was so tired from all the energy she had exerted that she could barely climb the step.

“I remember the whole time I was up there I was telling myself not to throw up.” said Nelson with a bright smile and a laugh. “So if I looked really mad I was just trying to contain myself.”

The first person Nelson approached after her victory was the assistant coach — her mentor and mother, Kathryn Nelson.

Lizzie Nelson, a sophomore, also competed in what would be her last event in a Lady Vaquero uniform — the women’s 5,000. After 10 laps, she found herself out of contention for a top-three finish but fought her way to a sixth place finish in the last lap.

Nelson will transfer in the fall to Cal State Northridge on a full scholarship and will run for the school’s cross country team and its track and field. CSUN is a Division-I school. She received offers to Humboldt State University, which her brother attends; San Francisco State; and Arizona State Universities but decided to turn them down so she can stay close to home.

Unfortunately, top decathlete Quaid Vuncannon’s shot at the state title was ripped away by a pulled hamstring. Vuncannon tried to fight through the injury and compete in the decathlon.

In the first event, the 100-meter dash of the men’s decathlon, Vuncannon bolted from the starting line. After many long and painful strides down the clay-colored track, Vuncannon limped his way to the finish line.

“This was my whole season,” said Vuncannon. “Quitting wasn’t an option.”

Vuncannon said that the entire training staff did a phenomenal job of taking care of him through the process.

“The training staff doesn’t get enough credit,” Vuncannon.

Nelson and Shank we’re very supportive of their wounded teammate.

“It had to hurt for him because he couldn’t compete, considering it’s his last year,” said Nelson. “But I know Quaid. He’s always been very mature and I’m sure he handled it well.”

Vuncannon stands at 6-foot-1 with a solid, athletic build. His teammates had expected him to come home with medals.

“He’s like Superman,” said Shank. “It broke my heart when I found out he couldn’t compete.”

Despite Vuncannon’s misfortune, Shank, who is the captain of the women’s team, managed to achieve something she had never done before — capture a state individual title.

Shank cleared an official height of 5-foot-8 ¾ to secure an all-state ranking and first place in the women’s high jump. Just two years ago she finished dead last in the competition.

Going into the event, Shank had a game plan.

“I listened to my favorite song six times,” said Shank. “I told myself to just go in there and do what you’re supposed to do.”

Shank didn’t even realize she won or that she was nationally ranked among community colleges at No. 4.

“The athletic trainer told me that I won and I said ‘no, we’re going to have a jump-off right now,’ so I put my jersey back on,” said Shank. “I looked over at my coach and he yelled at me that I won.”

Just like Nelson did hours later, Shank went right up to her mother, as tears trickled down her face after she was presented her state championship medal.

Shank is hoping to transfer next semester and has received some offers from other schools such as Concordia University and the University of LaVerne.

After two days of competition, the Vaqueros made history as two individual competitors finished with top honors in their respective events. It marked the end of an era for these three athletes.

“You all suffer together and there’s something about doing this together that really brings you close,” Nelson said. “It’s like a family.”