By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (June 6, 2017) — Now graduated and preparing for her first semester on the Tarleton State University track and field team coached by her father, Kylee Ponder is still raking in awards stemming from her successful final season on the high school oval.
Ponder was one of four Stephenville athletes to reach the UIL Track & Field State Meet last month in Austin, concluding her prep athletic career competing against some of the fastest sprinters in Texas and one who is among the fastest in the nation.’
For her state meet qualification in addition to anchoring regional finalist 4×100 and 4×200 meter relay teams, Ponder was one of 33 athletes selected for the Texas Girls Coaches Association 4A all-state team.
“When you get to the state meet you compete against nine of the best athlete in your event from across the entire state, so that’s a huge honor,” said Stephenville athletic director and girls track and field coach Mike Copeland, a member of the prestigious Texas High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor. And then from that large group, you narrow it down to only 33 being on the all-state team, you have to be a special athlete and compete consistently at a very high level to make that list, and that’s exactly what Kylee has done throughout all four years here.”
Pat Ponder recruited Kylee to run for the TexAnns, but it wasn’t quite the immediate shoo-in one might think. Not that the 10th year head coach of track and field and cross country at Tarleton had any doubt his daughter would benefit the team, but because the daughter had one goal in mind, one achievement she knew would mean she belongs on a NCAA Division II team.
That goal – the same one she had been striving four years to accomplish, one that disappeared had previously been unattainable due to injuries, including a knee she re-injured in the opening practice of junior season while excited for a come back and chance to sprint to state.
Healthy and refreshed for her senior year, Ponder performed consistently from February to May. She claimed the unwritten tille of fastest woman in 8-4A when she won the district championship in the 100 and also anchored 4×100 and 4×200 relay teams on to the area meet in Springtown, and then advanced in all three events from there to the Region I-4A championships at Lowrey Field in Lubbock.
Ponder said she prepared for the regional meet by working on form and explosion out of the starting blocks with assistant coach Jeremiah Butchee who mentors long jumpers and triple jumpers and sprinters.
The results of that work was stunning – a time reduction of 32 hundredths of a second in the 10 day window between the area meet and the preliminary running events on opening day of the regional event. She was second in 12.36 at area, and won regional prelim heat in a personal record 12.04.
But prelims don’t get you to Austin, and when it came time for one final round of cuts before sending the best of the best down to beautiful Mike A. Myers Stadium, Ponder was there with the same consistency she displayed throughout her final season at Stephenville.
Copeland says he knew his prized senior was sprinting to Austin as soon as she saw her get out of the blocks. Sure, Alexis Brown of Kennedale would run her down with raw foot speed, but if Ponder could get a strong start, Copes, and believed nobody else in the field could catch her.
‘When I saw her get out of the blocks in first I knew she was running all the way to Austin,” he said.
Kylee needed just enough time to hop on the regional medal stand, check in for the 4×200 really and run her anchor leg and then it was off to find Copeland for a heartfelt embrace with the coach she says is the second most influential man in her life. Butcher and other coaches were there, too, applauding when she walked across the track to meet them.
Moments later she told her father she was ready. She does want to keep competing. For Tarleton. For her dad.
“She’s one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever had the opportunity to be around,” said Copeland, and that’s coming from a man who has spent 40 years as an official at the state meet when he isn’t busy coaching one of his own athletes there.
Back in Stephenville, as the Honeybee track team was joined by the Yellow Jacket athletes, coaches and families for an awards ceremony in the high school cafeteria, Copeland had one final thing he wanted to say publicly concerning his all-state star.
“I told Kylee this,” Copeland stated. “I couldn’t be more proud if it was my own child.”