Fall in February: HS Challenge Races

Anna Shults wasn't likely the pre-race favorite of many for the girls High School Challenge race, but she delivered the win nevertheless. Photos by Alan Versaw.

There were a few high schoolers bold enough, and sharp enough, to run 6K (girls) or 8K (boys) on Saturday, but most were content with the 4K of the High School Challenge races. For most high schooler distance runners, February is a couple months either direction from prime racing season.

For a few young athletes not quite yet in high school, however, apparently February is prime time. And, why not? It felt for all the world like a fall morning yesterday in Boulder.

The first lead of 2015 fell to Pine Creek's Kaleigh Kroeker. Perhaps Kroeker felt a little of the pressure of running before what will soon be a hometown crowd for her when she matriculates at the University of Colorado this fall. Or, perhaps she was just taking her accustomed position at the front of the race.

Kroeker appeared comfortable leading through most of the first K, but there was a persistent crowd on her heels she couldn't shake. And soon, that unshakable crowd yielded a new leader in the person of Delaney Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons, too, led for a little over a K, but the same diminutive chase pack that dogged Kroeker's heels refused just as stubbornly to turn loose of Fitzsimmons as well.

Having worn down the lead of two of 5A's best runners this fall, Peak to Peak Middle School phenom Anna Shults took over the lead and brought her victory home in 15:14. The victory was perhaps all the more sweet in that Shults had missed this fall's Middle School State Championships on account of an injury.

Evidently, all is healed now.

But, the younger-than-high-school set was far from done making their statements. Rolling up in second was Alayna Szuch, and in sixth was Mackenzie Moss. If you were hoping graduation would thin the ranks of elites in Colorado high school girls cross country any time soon...

By the way, Shults' middle school teammate Riley Geldean was down at the Air Force Academy Saturday, lapping the field a couple times in their two mile event. Shults' other middle school teammate Quinn McConnell was sick in bed. Each of the three has now earned a Colorado Track XC cover photo--no small feat for a single middle school cross country team.

Kroeker would eventually settle to seventh, while the 3, 4, and 5 positions would be taken by Fitzsimmons, Jenna McCaffrey, and Sierra Tucker.

The boys race did have a few lead exchanges of its own, but none that involved competitors of less than high school age.

In a scene vaguely reminiscent of last fall, the early lead went straight into the hands of a Palmer Ridge runner. With Eric Hamer registered for the Junior Men's Championship, the onus fell to Tommy Herebic to fill--but not for long.

By 1K, a triumvirate of Ben Dingman, Luc Hagen, and Paxton Smith had assumed leadership.

Eventually, Smith would work his way to the front of that crowd, but not without mishap. Somewhere between 1 and 2K, Smith's right spike went AWOL. Smith handled the departure well, but eventually there is a price to be paid for running shoeless on one foot.

Dingman continued the pursuit of Vista Nation's one-shoe wonder and eventually overhauled Smith. In the end, however, it was a late charge from Dominic Carrese that wrested the lead--and the win--from the 5A representatives.

Both Carrese and Dingman finished in under 13-flat, Carrese at 12:53 and Dingman at 12:56.

A team visiting out of Long Beach, California, claimed places four and five.

If you're trying to run a scouting report on the day's racing, this first thing you'll note is that several familiar cross country schools were nicely represented in the race results. Schools with multiple competitors in the High School Challenge and Junior Championship races included Broomfield, Air Academy, Lyons, Palmer Ridge, Mountain Vista, The Classical Academy, Arapahoe, Monarch, Chaparral, Central, Fairview, Niwot, and perhaps a couple more. And most of those figure to be teams well worth watching this spring and into next fall.

Meet Results, Photos, and Video