Colorado Track XC athletes of the week: September 8 - 14

<h3 style="text-align: center;"> celebrating top performances week after week...</h3>

Liberty Bell is arguably the state's biggest showcase, and Zachary Alhamra and Lauren Gregory came up big on the big state. Photos by Jeff McCoy.

Tough competition, fast times, and huge PRs--these are the promises of the Liberty Bell Invitational.  This year proved to be no different and, as expected, the Colorado Track XC athletes of the week represent the male and female finishers of the prestigious invitational.
Lauren Gregory dominated the field this year, taking the top spot in a time of 17:16. The sophomore from Fort Collins High School smashed her old PR and also ran the second-best all-time female mark on the course.
“From the start, everything was just unexpected,” Gregory said. “You never know who to count out and who to count in. I had a time goal instead of a place goal so I knew I had to push it from the start and keep pushing no matter what. I really didn’t expect myself to be alone, especially because the state is so talented.” 
This was Gregory’s first time competing at Liberty Bell.  With much unknown and little in the way of expectations, Gregory found it all to be a very exciting experience. “I had no idea what to expect so I wasn’t extremely nervous,” she said. “I was more excited to see what it’s all about because you hear about this race all the time. I wanted to see what all the hype is about. Now I get why everyone talks about it."
From the very beginning, it was Gregoy’s race. With her goal in the back of her mind, she set off in the front at a tough pace, continued to extend her lead, and finished 35 seconds ahead of second place. “I didn’t even know I was that far ahead,” Gregory admitted,  “I thought people were close behind me so when I finished I wondered where everyone was. From the start I was leading--I just started and never looked back.”
As a sophomore, Gregory is comparatively new to all this, but her running resume in no way refelcts that. She is the defending 5A cross country champion and most recently placed 1st and 2nd in the 3200 and 1600 last spring at the track state championships. Every race, she toes the line against older, more experienced runners and still comes out on top. “It honestly doesn’t feel much different being younger than everyone else because we’re all just runners,” Gregory said. “It just happens that they’re seniors and I’m a sophomore, but we’re all athletes who know what we’re doing. I just try my best. The times don’t care about your age.”
Gregory’s sophomore season is off to an amazing start and undoubtedly she will continue to make even more of a name for herself in the season to come. With her eyes on a repeat individual state title and another trip to Nike Cross Nationals with her team, things are looking great for Gregory.  
On the boys side, Zachary Alhamra put on a very impressive show at his last Liberty Bell race. The senior from Pine Creek High School won his division by 27 seconds in a sweet time of 14:58. 
Alhamra was clearly the best in the field on Friday, taking out the pack fast through the first mile and then leading all the way through the last half.  “I wanted to establish a lead early on,” Alhamra explained.  “I had some pretty good competitors in the race--Marcelo Laguera, William Mayhew and Joshua Joseph were all close by for the first mile.” 
Blazing through that first mile in 4:41, Marcelo hung on for a little while longer but it was Alhamra’s show throughout the second half. “From then on I wasn’t just fighting for the win because I had rehearsed my whole mind through the race and that I would go under 15 minutes,” Alhamra said. “Once I was alone I knew I needed to be mentally strong and couldn’t let up.”
This marked Alhamra’s second Liberty Bell Invitational win.  He ran away with the title last year in a time of 15:31. One year later, and Alhamra is still on top yet impressively over 30 seconds ahead of where he was this time last year.
“This year, over the summer I trained so much harder,” said Alhamra wh,o at his peak, put in 70 miles a week this summer.  “I’m in ten times the shape I was in last year. Winning this year wasn’t a huge concern for me--I knew I had it unless I was gonna blow it, which I knew I wouldn’t because I’m too strong for that.”
Already smashing his PR and setting a Colorado state-best time, Alhamra is clearly at his best.  “It feels great so far, but I don’t want to get satisfied because I know there’s so much more to accomplish this year, and I feel like this is only the beginning,” he said.  “If I stay focused and stay diligent, this will be just the beginning.”
Alhamra has some big hopes for this year including a 5A state title (he finished second to Cerake Geberkidane last year), a win at the Southwest Nike Cross Regionals, and hopefully a top-five finish at Nike Cross Nationals (he placed 20th last year).  
Alhamra is also planning to compete at Foot Locker Regionals and hopefully at Foot Locker Nationals as well.  It looks as if Alhamra may have some difficult and busy months ahead of him but his time is now.  “I always tell myself, trust in the training I’ve done and if there’s someone who has the opportunity to beat me, all I’m going to do is make that incredibly difficult for them to do that,” he smiled. 
Alhamra has consistently been one of the best in the state since he began as a freshman.  It looks as if he’ll be ending his high school career on some big highs and he obviously has many great college options in front of him.  Up first are trips to visit University of Texas and Georgetown, and Alhamra reports that he has many more schools on his list.  “There are so many doors open right now and so many opportunities,” he said.  “It’s a lot to deal with right now, but I have peace of mind about it.”
But of course, Alhamra’s main focus is on his goals for the final season ahead. “I want to prove myself to my coaches and ultimately just make them proud because they’ve helped me so much over the past four years. I want them to remember me when I’m graduated and tell the other athletes about me and my work ethic.”
Congratulations to Lauren Gregory and Zachary Alhamra on being selected as the Colorado Track XC athletes of the week!