Ready to Rumble at the Valor Oval

Barely anyone noticed when Mullen's Grant Emrie triple jumped last year. Starting tomorrow, that could be a good deal different. Colorado Track XC file photo.

Yes, it’s only week two (and for most, in reality, week one), but the Valor Christian Invitational Saturday in Highlands Ranch is a little 11-team meet that demands a little attention.
The last five 4A boys’ team champions, and 6 of the top-10 ranked squads in 2013, will be in attendance, as well as the team that wins a virtual meet against all of them.
Four of the last five 4A girls champs, and four of the top-five ranked steams in the preseason, plus a loaded 5A girls team perennial power.
There’s the possibility of seeing national-caliber athletes Elise Cranny, Taylor Klein and Marybeth Sant lace up their spikes.
Coaching titans Tim McIntire and recent Hall of Fame inductee John Hancock will be roaming the infield.
One coach is even getting texts from alums willing to leave their college dorms to catch the 7:15 AM bus to Highlands Ranch. Let the full weight of that fact percolate for a minute.
“’Nuff said,” meet director and Valor head man Brian Kula opined about this meet that brings Longmont, Mullen, Niwot, Cheyenne Mountain, Thompson Valley, Boulder, Durango, Palmer Ridge, Horizon and Skyview Academy to Valor Stadium.
Longmont, the defending 4A boys champion and winner of three titles since 2008, took some big hits to graduation. Head coach Tim McIntire said that put the Trojans in a somewhat unique situation.
“Usually, we have a nice group of returners from the previous state-level team and we would be looking to just fill in the holes with new, young developing athletes,” he said. “This year we will be looking more to just identify and develop the new, young athletes.”
Don’t let McIntire fool you, however, A team that returns Marcus Johnson, Miles Bergner and Forest Wetterstrom has the throws and jumps covered, and there is no better staff in the state at teaching and developing technical-event athletes.
Still, McIntire feels one of his main jobs early in the season is to light a fire under a young team that will learn to carry on the rich tradition of a proud program.
“We will just be happy to get the season started and enjoy another great opportunity to have a positive effect on young people (with) the sport we all love, track and field,” he said.
Niwot’s Maurice Henriques mentioned a similar desire to build the character of the Cougar squad.
Only his team is poised and ready for a breakout season, and he is working to give them the perspective to achieve some lofty goals.
“At Niwot this season we are focusing on four concepts, Attitude, Effort, Passion and Finish,” Henriques said. “If all our coaches and kids buy into our four concepts, we will have a great showing in May at the state meet.”
I’m not sure how a coach gets to work with a Sarah Cocco and Elise Cranny at two different schools within a decade, but Henriques’ Cougars are more than the new #4 all-time indoor miler in the United States. 
When one thinks of Niwot, one should think of kids like Amber Liu, who run a credible 5k cross country and long jumped 17 feet. Henriques has quite a cadre of such multi-talented athletes. They will field a full complement of five dangerous relays, perhaps as early as Saturday. The ascendance of Cranny to favorite in the three distance events means Niwot has the potential to put up a lot points when it counts.
Not to be outdone, the Cougar boys sport one of the best all-around athletes in senior Lorne Jenkins. He could win state titles in both horizontal jumps as well the hurdles, and his indoor form suggested he’s right on target.
Henriques will also gain the services of Alex and Ben Braman, talented athletes who play for the Colorado Rapids development academy. Both made an instant impact in sprint workouts last week, though Henriques is still unsure where exactly they, and lot of others, will shake out on the Cougar roster.
“At Niwot, any meet before April 20 (the annual BOCO Championships) is just a training session or an evaluation period,” he said, though adding, “I feel that since we missed our first meet this season, our kids will be excited to compete.”
Newly-minted national Hall of Fame coach John Hancock is similarly excited about his 2013 Mullen Mustangs, and that’s saying something when you consider he has led Mullen to 12 team titles during his tenure there.
“There aren’t many seniors on either side, but the potential is there because they want to be good,” Hancock said.
The boys will be led by multi-event threat Grant Emrie, who hopefully will begin a season-long duel with Niwot’s Jenkins in the hurdles and jumps. He and seniors Nigel Vaughn and Brennan Molleur should team up for some typically fast sprint relays, and the trio of CU-football recruit Tim Coleman, Reid Stables and Zach Rios (the latter two standing 6’3”, 295 pounds) should form a talented, large and intimidating throws group. Hancock said sophomore Nick Van Horn was also making significant strides in the pole vault.  
Kansas signee and 2012 double state gold medalist Taylor Klein will lead the girls. Considering she was hurt for the state meet last year, the rest of Colorado should be on high alert every time she steps on the track on 2013.
But it’s the burgeoning depth behind Klein that has Hancock excited and should have the rest of the classification worried. Hancock specifically mentioned Devon Case, Kerry Turner, 2011 all-stater Amanda Diaz, Amanda Martinez, Bridget Schafer, Laura Statelar, Jessica Sienkiewicz and freshmen Sarah Oancia and Sarah Laird.
“All our relays should be very strong,” he said. “This week will be raw, but I know the direction we can take things.”
You think?
Stan Lambros’ Cheyenne Mountain boys will once again be a major player after winning the 2011 title. His team had the fortune of getting their week-one meet in as scheduled, the D-11 Relays, against Vista Ridge, Fountain Ft Carson, Pine Creek, Coronado and Pueblo West, among others.
“We have our largest team since I’ve been the head coach,” Lambros said. “That’s no small feat because we have a very good soccer program and a very good lacrosse program—nonetheless, we are excited about our numbers and our team energy on both the girls’ and boys’ sides.”
Lambros’ 2011 champs scored a staggering 44 points in the 800, 1600 and 3200 plus 10 more in the 4x800 relay. While that might be a difficult number to match this year, a very talented and deep distance squad could be hard to handle. The Indians won a spirited battle in the DMR with Coronado last week, with senior Zach Kuzma bringing CM back for the win on the anchor.
“Kuzma is ready to run under 4:30 if he gets the right race,” Lambros said. 
Daniel Belk (400), Jack Karber (jumps), Grayson Webber (152 DT last week) and defending high jump champion Colt Sessions all give the Indians serious individual threats across a variety of events. It would be shocking if the 4x1, 4x4 and 4x8 relays weren’t all exceptional.
The Indian girls were an under-the-radar 10th at state last year led by sprinters Emma Kidd and Courtney Tibbitts, and with Greta Sloan back fulltime after a stint on the lacrosse team and talented discus thrower Emma Thomas, Lambros said he felt the team could surprise again in 2013.
“Most of our best kids have a two event focus this week.  I am super cautious with multiple events at any point in the season,” he said. “But, man I am having some fun with this group of athletes--we are 120 strong right now.”
Thompson Valley is using the meet to challenge both sides to consider their team responsibilities in a day-long meat grinder similar to conference and state. Turnout for winter conditioning was the best in a decade and like Cheyenne Mountain, has the benefit of getting a good meet under its belt last week.
The Eagles were the 4A Golden Baton winner in 2012 and both teams will rely heavily on passing the stick Saturday (led by the 4x1 and 4x4 entries) and throughout the season. Seniors Lucas Dominguez, Josh Strobel and Nash Doughman, junior Kraig Burleson and sophomore Andrew Bradberry will do the majority of relay legs for the boys, and can be dangerous at 100, 200, 400, both hurdles and both horizontal jumps. The girls have a fairly deep relay pool consisting of returners Megan Irvine, Lindsey Kroboth, Ali Artzberger, Carly Feuerstein, McKenzie Craig and Hailey Stephens; freshmen Kelsi Schuetz and Maren Janda ran strong medley relay anchors last week and will be called on often. Irvine, Kroboth (defending champ in the HJ) and Stephens are returning individual all-staters from 2012.
The boys add Sam Baca and Tyler Kiess (who went 1-2 at the City Challenge shot put) in the throws and talented freshmen Gunner Mengel, Tanner Wall and Jarrett Thollot.
Sophomore Kendra Larson will be heard from at 300, 800 and 1600 this season and both the 4x4 and 4x8. Hayley Berg was on the number-11 4x800 nationally last year and returns with a talented 2012 cross country squad.
Jumps and throws coach Doug Crumb said he is looking forward to how his athletes will respond Saturday.
“We are looking at overall fitness levels and competitive drive,” Crumb said. “Tougher competition and larger meets should begin to separate the athletes bound for state finals and those who are not quite there.”
Graduating seniors like Gus Waneka, Josh Mielke and Karina Ernst leave questions about who will step up and lead the team. Saturday could begin to answer those questions.
“For some, it can be a perfect time in the season to realize they do belong at this level, and leave the meet with a new sense of esteem and self-assurance,” Crumb said.
Kula said the hosts will be running at “about 80 percent” as kids come off winter sports and national indoor leader at 60 meters, Marybeth Sant, gets back into training after an arduous indoor campaign. Still, he is hopeful his boys 4x100 could scare 43.00 Saturday, and hopefully we’ll see the girls duo of Haley Showalter and Aimee Larrabee in the throws rings.
Please don’t forget names like Erin McLaughlin (Boulder), Joe and Shannon Maloney (Durango), Ali Deitsch, Winn Howard and Kyle Yoder (Palmer Ridge)—all could make appearances Saturday.
Bottom line is, Saturday is March 16, and Lambros knows the meet is ultimately about pointing his teams in the right direction for the rest of the year.
“Our focus is on teaching our younger athletes to enjoy track and field,” he said. “In my opinion, watching quality programs get after each other is the best way to do that.”