John Martin, Making Up for Liberty Bell's Lost Opportunities

Cherry Creek and Fort Collins celebrate a 2-1 finish at John Martin, reversing their order of finish two weeks earlier at Cherry Creek. Photo by Daniel Joiner.

Relief. It's the first thought that comes to mind when rescue helicopters continue to fly overhead with loads of people stranded by the recent flooding along the Front Range. 
Until today, there was not a better sound to be heard than the percussive whir of blades flying over. That was until the John Martin Invitational starting gun went off. Then there was the rumble of a herd containing 300 over anxious cross country athletes trampling through the initial funnel of the John Martin Invitational starting straight away. Now, that is relief.
The 13th running of the John Martin Invitational, hosted by Ft. Collins High School, held promise to become one of the most competitive meets of the 2013 season. Many of the teams entered in the meet were prepped to flex a little muscle at the Liberty Bell Invitational, but were halted in their tracks by flooding, road closures, and school district policy. The coaches of these very teams were forced to re-route their race plans and flex that very same muscle, just at a different venue. 
Fortunately for us up in Northern Colorado, we witnessed the muscle of Ft. Collins, Cherry Creek, Boulder, Thompson Valley, Mountain View, Wheat Ridge, Legacy, Fossil Ridge, and many more late season contenders. 
Early-arriving fans were greeted by over 1000 middle school competitors ready to show what the state has to look forward to in the coming years. 
Then the high school show began with a bang, and the Division 2 boys were off. The Mountain View boys team proved exactly what a few coaches up north have been predicting in the early stages of the season. They blew out the competition by a large margin and were led by a three-man wrecking crew of junior Julian Von Holten, sophomore Peter Franklin, and senior Bryce Strohecker. Now it is no secret that the Mountain Lions are tough and will provide some fits at the 4A level.
Noteworthy items from the Division 2 race also included a solid showing by an emerging Berthoud team, followed by a tough defending state champion University team, and a pretty strong Wheat Ridge team. The individual race is not much different as Mountain View went 1-2-4 with Luke Spitz of Berthoud, Isiah Dilka of University, Chris Gardner of Wheat Ridge, and Kyle Cavey of Berthoud rounding out a very nice top seven, all coming in under 18:00 on a slower-than-normal soggy course.
The show only got sweeter when the gun went off for the Division 1 girls race a few minutes later. This race was primed to be the premier showdown between two of the state’s best female teams. And they did they not disappoint! 
The pace was screaming as Boulder, Ft. Collins, and Cherry Creek’s packs left no room for sitting and waiting. It was evident by mile one that the coaches and fans were in for a nail biter. Junior Jordyn Colter and freshman phenom Lauren Gregory must have decided early on that there were not going to be any individual title contenders besides themselves. The pair broke away almost instantly, creating a duel that we will hopefully see often during the next couple seasons…and, oh boy, is track going to be fun!
The excitement reached its height when Colter rounded the final turn toward the chute. At that moment, a faint cheer erupted into a roar as a hard-charging Gregory decided to turn on the jets. Fortunately for Colter, sub 2:10 half-mile speed comes in quite handy during a kick in a cross country race. The individual title went to Colter…this time. Both girls ran under 18:00 completing the 5k course in 17:56 and 17:59 respectively. 
Not to go unnoticed is that Gregory understands what she had done. “This was the closest I have ever gotten to her (Colter), and by far the best competition I have raced in my running career.” 
Her coach (Chris Suppes) was pretty excited as well. “With Monarch, Creek, and us all going for a title with identical teams…this could be the best state meet in years.” Also, it should be noted that Lauren Gregory’s time of 17:59 is the fastest time posted at the John Martin Invitational by a Ft. Collins female runner in school history. Ponder that one!
It would be an injustice not to mention any of the rest of the unbelievably talented field. The top 10 individuals consisted of Emma Gee of Legacy, Devon Peterson of Creek, Abbey Ervin of Ft. Collins, Riley Cooney of Mountain View, Erin McLaughlin of Boulder, Ashley Bock of Fossil Ridge, and Devyn Miller of Ft. Collins. It is amazing that a meet (not the state meet) has this many of Colorado’s top competitors in a single field. It was truly the “Who’s Who” of Colorado XC without a couple of the usual suspects in TCA, Monarch, Fairview, and Mountain Vista. 
This was truly a spectacular mid-season showdown.
If the individual race wasn’t enough to get your heart pumping, then you must have needed to stick around for the Division 1 awards. The team race literally came down to the thinnest of margins. Ft. Collins must have eked out a few spots here and there as their 5-point margin of victory had the fans wondering who the winner was all the way up to results being posted. Both Ft. Collins and Cherry Creek had nearly identical team averages and top five times, within a few tenths that is. 
We can all hope that the state championship holds the same sort of excitement.
The girls team race was rounded out by a contingent of state championship caliber teams in Thompson Valley (4th), Legacy (5th), and Mountain View (6th), which should be gaining notice as transfer Abby Stewart finished second in the Open race and would have propelled the Mountain Lions to a 3rd place finish had she not been in the middle of serving her sub-varsity time under the CHSAA transfer rule. 
Nevertheless, the 4A team battle now recognizes yet another contender.
Not to be outdone by the ladies, the boys Division 1 race was also quite the show. Powerhouse Laramie, WY, came, saw, and conquered the John Martin Invitational. 
The Wyoming completion just took a blow to the midsection, as Laramie took on, and dominated, the likes of Cherry Creek, Boulder, and Ft. Collins. On the other hand the boy’s 5A race got very interesting. Minus a juggernaut Mountain Vista team Creek, Boulder, and FC are primed to contend for a state title. All of these teams are pack heavy and are locked and loaded for October. A mere two points separated these three teams at this meet.
The individual race featured Jonah Henry of Laramie coming in well ahead of second-place Shane Rhodes of Cherry Creek. Once again, a long list of familiar Colorado XC talent made its way through the chute. Rounding out the top ten were Joshua Joseph of Thornton, Daniel Book of Creek, Chris Henry of Laramie, Paul Miller of Poudre , Sean Paiz of Thornton, Jake Link of Centaurus, Satchel Caldwell of Boulder, and Jake Fisk of Niwot. All of these young men fought incredibly hard for their places.
The final race of the day included a very good Wheat Ridge Farmer girls team, Berthoud, Laramie, and Windsor. Kiah Leonard dominated once again, continuing her reign in the smaller school races. Her performances this season demonstrate that she should be considered one of 4A’s top contenders. 
After Leonard came a slew of Farmers in Sophia Fernald, Amy Leasure, Eliza Van Wetter and Emily Gallegos-Francksen in spots 2-3-7-9, thus proving how scary this team could be at the 4A level. Windsor’s Ally Bronson and Tori Thomas also had very nice showings finishing only four seconds from one another.
The buzz around the coaching circle was that, due to the inability of so many teams to get to Liberty Bell, the John Martin meet was the biggest, most competitive meet of the year for many teams in attendance. It is no secret that the top contenders have arrived and showed their hands while some are still bluffing their cards a little. When it is all said and done, it is safe to say the 2013 John Martin Invitational was highly competitive and the premier meet of the season for many. 
Count yourself lucky if you were there to see the show.

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