Griffin Hay, left, and Gus Waneka, right, couldn't settle things on the course and so had to revert to a time-honored tradition among male contestants. Photo by Karina Ernst.
For many programs in Colorado, the week after Liberty Bell presents questions, challenges and opportunities. How good are we? Can we overcome a natural tendency to let down following a big midseason meet? Can we build on any momentum gained and move forward?
This is also a time when most programs are ramping up the intensity at practice, the kids’ class loads are getting heavier and talk of homecoming dances heats up. Aches and pains, sniffles and coughs must all be evaluated and managed closely.
Such is the background to the John Martin Invitational, dubbed after the legendary Lambkin coach, hosted Friday by Fort Collins on their campus on the southeast side of town.
A fast course and the promise of some top-notch competition baited the squad from Thompson Valley to go to the well one more time this week after big meets at Cheyenne Mountain and Liberty Bell. The decision paid off in Division 1 wins for both teams and individual wins for Karina Ernst and Gus Waneka (well, sort of, kinda, but not actually).
University, looking every bit the #2 team boys’ team in 3A, won the D2 title, 42-76 over Mountain View. Jefferson Academy, another 3A team to watch, finished third. Faith Christian’s Evan Fortney (16:40) notched his first win of the season at the end of a pretty big September: Pre State (3rd), St Vrain (2nd), Liberty Bell (2nd) and John Martin.
Folks, Mountain View’s girls are for real. They went 1-2-3-6-7 in the D2 race to win 19-53 over Wheat Ridge. But, plug their times into the D1 race and they finish 2nd there, as well, and that was without their normal #4 runner, Kayleen Rybicki. Freshmen Riley Cooney (individual winner here in 19:28), Kayla Smith (5th) and Caroline Foster have been huge additions for the Mountain Lions, but returning runners McKayla Gray, Elizabeth Powell and Abbi Stratton are all stronger than a year ago.
Both D1 races had a similar feel; the home-team Lambkins sent their frontrunner to the front, and decisively. Thompson Valleyt's Ernst and Waneka went through the first mile in 5:49 and 5:10, respectively, but were clearly behind Erin Hooker and Griffin Hay. Similarly, Collins’ pack started strong, obviously wanting to defend the home turf despite resting some top runners.
In both races, the Collins’ stars seemed to be pulling further ahead and exerting their considerable wills on the rest of the field. But with about 800 meters to go, both probably felt the effects of a hard Wednesday tempo run (info courtesy of Chris Suppes) and tied up ever so slightly.
Ernst and Legacy’s Melanie Nun, every bit the 5A contender I pegged her to be last month, went by Hooker on the long, paved, ever-so-slightly downhill stretch at about the 4250m mark, Ernst getting the win in 18:46. Nun ran 18:55 and Hooker 19:05.
Waneka and teammate Dan Lara charged after Hay at the same point on the course and it was Waneka who crested the grassy hill after the 3-mile mark stride-for-stride with Hay. The two battled thrillingly over the final meters, both edging in front, and Waneka dove across the line to the delight of the crowd. Final results showed a virtual tie in 15:55: dead-even to the thousandth of a second, which long-time XC and road race timer John Lonsdale had never seen in years of service.
Now, Coach Suppes is a character if you don’t know, and when he suggested an arm wrestling match to determine the winner, in took me a second to realize he wasn’t kidding. Maybe it sounded more fun to the coaches than the participants, but Waneka and Hay made a great show of it, and those remaining at the end of the awards ceremony crowded the stage with all the vigor and boisterousness of a pro wrestling event. Hay, amid reports that he sought and gained some unfair leverage against the stage risers, overtook Waneka and thus won the meet title. Both can say they put on quite a show.
Teamwise, both Eagles’ squads matched the moves of their front runners, overtaking the Lambkins in the final mile. Laurren Anderson, Megan Irvine, Hayley Berg and Kacie Kaufman packed within 17 seconds of each other and the Eagles claimed a 37-77 win over Fort Collins. Centaurus showed some of the form that made them a 4A dark horse at the beginning of the year and claimed 3rd.
For the boys, an ill Kevin Baldwin and soccer-weary Mike McKenna edged their Ft Collins counterparts to help TV score a 54-60 win over the hosts. Lara was a solid third, nearly matching his time from Liberty Bell, while newcomers David Mast and Kaleb Simington equaled each other’s time for the second straight week.
Obviously, I can’t speak for the other teams Friday, but what you saw from Thompson Valley was their best shot: we haven’t pulled any punches in three successive weeks. We ran 250-meter hills Monday and 6x1000 on Tuesday and our varsity runners are at max mileage. Now, it’s time for us recollect and refocus for the championship season. And maybe get Waneka some extra upper-body weight work.