The face of 4A boys cross country is as much changed as any classification in the state. Battle Mountain is back to defend its repeat state championship, but the odds against it seem long. Traditional power Liberty has departed to 5A, but for anyone looking to take advantage of Liberty's departure, there's the troubling little issue of Wheat Ridge coming down from 5A. Nature, we are told, abhors a vacuum.
For teams willing to pay their dues (and the first installments of those dues should already be paid out in the form of summer base work), there is opportunity aplenty: there are no unbeatable teams this year. There are several very solid teams, but no team that has the look of a prohibitive favorite at the start of the season.
Individually, this is a classification overflowing with talent--even allowing for the departure of Kevin Williams. It's plausible that the two best runners in the state will come from this classification (although it's equally plausible the top two will come from the 5A classification).
So, fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the season. Here's a sneak peak at some things to look forward to:
Top returning athletes:
Wes Rickman, Falcon – Rickman’s reputation is founded, in large part, on his solid second-place finish at state XC and a lights-out indoor season in early 2008. Last spring’s track season was somewhat anticlimactic by way of comparison. Still, he should be among those who make a run at the best cross country time in the state this fall.
Joseph Manilafasha, Denver North – Manilafasha demonstrated what everyone already knew at the Bolder Boulder this last May—the ability is there. If he can reestablish the consistency of his sophomore XC season, Manilafasha is capable of giving Rickman a run for his money.
Henry Cowhick, Scott Fauble, and Dart Schwaderer,
Andrew Berberick, Mullen – Berberick is seemingly more comfortable at middle distances, but he remains a very capable cross country runner, as evidenced by his fifth-place finish at state last year.
Kevin Johnson, Falcon – Living in the shadow of Wes Rickman probably isn’t easy, but Johnson would be the lead runner at almost any other school
Tom Owen, Alamosa – transitioned smoothly from 3A Monte Vista to 4A Alamosa last fall. Track season was more of a struggle, however. If Alamosa is to contend as a team, a great season from Owen would go a long way toward making that happen.
Alex Paul, Niwot – never quite seemed to hit on all cylinders in cross country last fall, but brought things around in time for a solid track season
Shawn Dubbs, Woodland Park, Ryan Haebe, Evergreen, Joe Kappes, Rock Canyon, Tim Muller, D’Evelyn, and Christopher Ganem, Castle View – potential a mile deep in this group, but also many questions (including whether Ganem will run cross country this fall—he does not appear in last fall’s state XC results). Surely, there is a least one solid contender who will emerge out of this group. The time is now for this group.
Last year’s powerhouse teams:
Niwot – could be a much improved team this year as the top runners return, and you have to figure Alex Paul for a better season than last year
D’Evelyn – at first glance, the loss of Kevin Williams seems catastrophic, but look again. There is a nucleus of solid runners returning from last year’s team with a year of state experience. The Jaguars will be on the prowl.
Rock Canyon – Dan Davies’ team took fairly significant hits to graduation. But, the team knows what it’s like to be close. If the returning runners form a core of solid leadership, you won’t want to count this team out.
Cherokee Trail – departed to 5A
In line to fill the void of power from last year:
Alamosa – Forget for a moment that they finished in the top 10 last year and didn’t graduate anyone off their state team. Name another team that ran three freshmen at state—you can’t. Look for the Mean Moose to make a bigger showing this fall.
Evergreen – a program with a proud tradition that might have underachieved just a little last year. Don’t count on it happening two years in a row.
Thompson Valley – The girls have been leading contenders for several years running. The guys just might have the pieces to put in place this fall. If the team jells, the Eagles could surprise as a team to be reckoned with.
Falcon - It's a long shot for a school to go from not qualifying a team for state one year to being a contender the next, but if Rickman and Johnson can produce any sort of coattail effect, this would be the year for it to happen.
What changes will we see this fall?:
It’s a new mix of teams and faces:
Key questions to be answered:
Is it the appointed time for the glory years of D’Evelyn to return?
After two consecutive years of coming close, can Niwot put everything together this year?
How high can Alamosa, possibly the smallest school in the classification, rise? Will there be a synergy between the boys and girls teams, as both are attaining levels Alamosa hasn’t visited in recent memory?
Can anyone catch Rickman and Manilafasha, or are the others running for third?
Is the momentum of the last two years enough to keep
Note: Pushing aside any questions about whether or not Battle Mountain means to vigorously defend its state titles from the two preceding seasons, the Huskies have hired Lyle Knudson as their cross country coach during the period of Coach Parish's absence. Lyle Knudson is perhaps best known within Colorado high school cross country circles as the personal coach of Whitney Anderson, 4A state champion and Foot Locker finalist (4th at nationals) in 2004.