Cross Country Preview: 5A Girls

Last year's 5A state meet produced perhaps the most stunning margin of victory ever in girls' cross country in Colorado. There had been a buzz of anticipation about what Dakota Ridge was putting together, but the decisiveness of their margin of victory caught everyone a bit off guard.

The element of surprise will be missing this year for Dakota Ridge, as will state champion Alexa Rogers, but the Eagles figure to be among the contenders again this year.

Here is a quick look at what the season ahead holds in store:

Top returning athletes:

Allie McLaughlin, Air Academy – A hobbling injury put the brakes on the end of McLaughlin’s season last fall. Through the first half of the season, however, she was well on her way to becoming Colorado’s cross country queen. If anyone was writing her off after the cross country season, however, her 3200 at the 5A state track meet put a screeching halt to that nonsense. McLaughlin has been tearing up the fields in local races around Colorado Springs this summer. The motor is still running.

Kaitie Vanatta, Dakota Ridge – There are very few questions about Vanatta’s abilities. The question is whether or not she can stay healthy through the season.

Natosha Rogers, Dakota Ridge – Natosha gets one year to run without sister Alexa. She could be the key to the hopes for Dakota Ridge.

Lisa Reyna, Fort Collins – absent from track season, but apparently ready to lace ‘em up again for cross country. Reyna’s wheels kept her in every race she ran, and she won a bunch of them.

Eleanor Fulton, Highlands RanchFulton came in as an inexperienced freshman last year. She is that no longer. Her track season indicates she’s ready to run with the best in 5A this fall. An impressive set of summer races puts an exclamation point on that last claim. There are no questions remaining about her speed. The one big question here would seem to be how well her body can hold up under the schedule of racing she's keeping up since the beginning of the year.

Camille Logan, LittletonLogan returns for her senior season, one more opportunity to mix it up with the best in the state.

Tati Ogan, Fort Collins – A stellar track season suggests that her best cross country season may still be to come

Miranda Benzel, Fort Collins – yet another contender for the Lambkins, solid and reliable.

Dominique Gerard, ThunderRidge – like Fulton, a little inexperienced last fall, but poised to make a move upward this fall. Her freshman track season certainly fulfilled the promise of her first season of cross country.

Jen Bremser, Sand Creek – one more cross country season to run. Can she shake the injuries and the disappointments that have plagued her seasons up until now?

Lynnea Sjoerdsma, Doherty – Will the change in coaching produce a positive effect for Sjoerdsma, who was on the edge of being among the state’s elite last fall?

Last year’s powerhouse teams:

Dakota Ridge – still a power, regardless, but how high they reach could hinge on Vanatta’s health. Even at 80%, Vanatta is a considerable force. Rogers and Paige Lillo should help to keep the team in contention all season.

Fort Collins – if Reyna returns to form, Fort Collins may be even better than last year.

Palmer – perhaps a bit of a surprise in finishing third in the state meet last fall, but the Terrors always seem to finish strong. Look for this year to be no exception.

Cherry Creek and Chaparral – both top-tier programs but neither quite reached the preseason expectations at state last fall. Both teams should be looking for a measure of redemption this fall.

Waiting in the wings:

Rocky Mountain – a young team at state last fall, but one which showed some maturity at the state track meet. The Lobos may have found their way back among the serious contenders.

Green Mountain – The Rams looked very solid through much of the season last fall. Most of the team is back and, if experience is still a good teacher, this team could be headed for an even better season this fall. This school may be on the verge of awakening the echoes of their cross country tradition.

Doherty – call it a hunch, but this team is better than it showed last fall

Where the power lies:

Not surprisingly, the power lies in the Denver metro area. Most 5A schools are within 30 minutes of downtown Denver, and the traditionally strong programs within 5A are similarly placed.

Key questions to be answered:

Can Eleanor Fulton continue to improve as she did between cross country and track last year?

How will Vanatta and Reyna come back from missing track season in the spring?

Will Dakota Ridge hold things in reserve and try to explode at the state meet again as they did last fall?

The senior class is among the deepest this classification has ever seen. Will it be a race for the ages at state?

Can Fort Collins finally win the state title that has eluded them so many times in recent years?