Ponder battles back from injury to make run at return to regionals

Junior sprinter among 20 from Stephenville advancing to area

Stephenville junior Kylee Ponder, center, is headed back to area after spending much of the season battling back from an injury suffered on the opening day of practice. || Photo by Dr. CHET MARTIN



STEPHENVILLE (April 16, 2016) — Kylee Ponder has still not returned to full strength.

It is unlikely she will until she takes a break, which for Ponder means following the conclusion of her junior track season.

It’s a season that has been more about recovery than racing for Ponder, who suffered an injury on the opening day of practice, back when expectations loomed large for a Honeybee team expected by Hall of Honor coach Mike Copeland and others to contend for yet another district championship.

Then it happened. Right off the bat.

“It was the first day of track practice and we were bounding on the 200 and I came down wrong and heard a pop in my knee,” said Ponder. “I finished running that race. I should have stopped, but I didn’t because I wanted to beat someone.


“After I finished that race, I started walking and I felt like something wasn’t right, and my next thought was ‘Oh no, there goes my track season,’” she explained.

The bone just below her kneecap was fractured.

“I went to se Dr. Evans and he got an x-ray and told me it was unusual,” she explained. “But he was great. I was in a straight line brace for six weeks and I was riding the bike trying to get mobility and strength back.”

Ponder’s injury proved to be a bad omen for the Honeybees, as later Bayleigh Chaviers would also be sidelined by injuries she still has not fully recovered from, and Lariat Larner never returned to prior form after a series knee injury that ended up costing her all but one meet in her junior and senior seasons.

But if Ponder is an example of anything, it’s of the resiliency and determination of Stephenville athletes. Those like Ponder and Chaviers, a two-time state champ in the 800-meter run who will play soccer at Miami (Fla.), and Larner, who has returned to form in one sport, qualifying in multiple events for the Texas High School Rodeo Finals.

“It’s been amazing watching this girl work. Watching her struggle to get where she is right now and seeing her achieve what she has is so inspiring,” said Copeland of Ponder. “She’s still not 100 percent, but I’ll take her 90 percent over just about anybody else’s 100 percent.”

Ponder has competed in just two meets, both at Lem Brock Field. She ran in the Optimist Relays on April 2 before the District 6-4A meet last Monday and Wednesday. The District 5/6 area meet is Thursday at Ram Stadium in Mineral wells.


Based on district times alone, Ponder is a favorite to return to the Region I-4A Track and Field Meet in Lubbock, but the margin is slim.

She was second in 6-4A in 13.2 seconds, trailing only regional favorite Tristan Escamilla of Brownwood, who crossed the line in 12.7. Sprinters from Wichita Falls Hirschi claimed the top two spots in 5.4A in 12.9 and 13.2. Right on their heels are Laiken Ratliff of Brownwood and Hannah Hackler of Graham, both in 13.3. Vernon has the final two 100 meter spots from 5-4A in 13.4 and 13.6.

Ponder also runs the opening leg of the 4×100 and 4×200 relays for Stephenville. Their second-place district time of 1:48.1 in the 4×200 was faster than any team in 5-4A, and their third-place time of 50.9 at district ranks them fourth among area qualifiers in the 4×100.

“Going from area to regionals won’t be easy, but nothing about this year has been easy for a lot of our girls, especially Kylee,” Copeland said. “It’s been a struggle all year.”

While most kids migrate to track and field through other sports, Ponder grew up around it. Her father, ninth-year Tarleton track and field and cross country coach Pat Ponder, has been named Lone Star Conference Coach of the Year five times.

“Her upbringing is certainly an advantage,” said Copeland. “She knows how to work through injuries and she’s been around good athletes and knows how competitive they are and how they carry themselves.”

Ponder feels as if she’s coached by two dads.

“It’s pretty awesome because I get coached here by my second dad, Coach Copeland, and at home by my real dad.”

She hopes to celebrate with both following a return to regionals.

A return trip to Lubbock that seemed impossible following the opening practice of the season. A trip now just one blistering 100 meter dash away.

“I know how Kylee works and I know she’ll be even stronger next week than she was this week,” said Copeland. “I don’t expect her to just run a 13.2 to get back to regionals; I expect she’ll go out there and run her best time of the season. I know she expects it, too.”


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