Cross Country Preview: 5A Boys

Last year, the 5A boys classification was Wheat Ridge's show, from start of the season to finish. The juggernaut might have advanced to Portland for NTN nationals had not an unfortunate injury slowed one of their top runners. This year, however, it won't be Wheat Ridge's show. Wheat Ridge has departed to 4A, leaving a pile of hungry teams to compete for the gold trophy.

The individual race could be just as interesting. While the names of Evan Appel and Bobby Nicolls jump to mind whenever anyone starts talking about the individual race, there are several others who--with a little leap in performance--could be nipping at their heels:

Top returning athletes:

Evan Appel, Dakota Ridge – 2007 Foot Locker finalist, 5A state champion at 1600 and 3200 meters. Expectations ride on Appel’s broad shoulders.

Bobby Nicolls, Regis Jesuit – another 2007 Foot Locker finalist, third at 1600 meters, and second at 3200 meters in the state track meet. Nicolls carries expectations on his shoulders as well.

Clif Campbell, Fort Collins – has been slowly creeping toward the top of the distance runners since entering high school. Unfortunately, however, he may be part of the strongest class of distance runners ever to pass through Colorado’s high school ranks.

Walter Schafer, Cherry Creek – no more running in the shadow of Charles White. The leadership of the Bruins now passes into Schafer’s capable hands

Alex Balsiger, Chaparral, Kyle Lyons, Arapahoe, and Alex Weinheimer, Fairview – last year’s eleventh, twelvth, and twenty-first place finishers in XC ran mostly 800s in track. Among them, Weinheimer had the most success at 800 meters (and also dabbled in the 1600 with reasonable success). It will be intriguing to see how they adjust back to 5K cross country.

Danny Nicolls, Regis Jesuit – Bobby’s younger brother returns for their last high school cross country campaign together.

Austin Appel, Dakota Ridge – part two of the other high-profile 5A brother combo package, finished 26th at state last year.

Matt Bell, George Washington - came on in a serious way by the end of track season, should be someone to be reckoned with in cross country this fall.


Last year’s powerhouse teams:

Wheat Ridge – departed to 4A with most of last year's team returning as an early Christmas present for that classification

Arapahoe – I overlooked this team in the 5A state track preview. Never again. The Warriors have the horses to contend again in cross country. Two seniors graduated off of last year’s team, but there is depth in this program and they are flourishing under the new coaching.

Cherry Creek – a perennially-deep program. The loss of Charles White will hurt, but a little more strength at the last couple of scoring positions could more than make up for the loss.

Fairview – Weinheimer should be able to step into the shoes of the graduated Trevor Blackman, but the Knights will need some depth to step up and fill the lower scoring positions

Regis Jesuit – one question, can they come up with a solid 3-4-5 to complement the 1-2 of brothers Bobby and Danny?

Loveland – maybe the strongest returning team of all of last year’s powerhouses. Mason Mitchell shared the leadership role with Jed Morgan last year; this year should be Mitchell’s opportunity to shine.

Rampart – faltered at the state meet and took big hits to graduation, but the nucleus of a competitive team remains


Waiting in the wings:

Dakota Ridge, Fort Collins, and Smoky Hill – each of these perennial contenders came in a little behind their accustomed positions at the state meet last fall. Though each had graduating seniors, it’s not difficult to see how any or all could be substantially better this fall than last. Each has at least one runner capable of being a solid front runner. Depth, or lack thereof, will tell the tale for these teams by season's end.

Monarch – surprisingly good for as young of a team as they were last year. This is a team that could make a huge competitive leap forward

Liberty – Welcome to a new classification! If any team can survive the transition to 5A while remaining competitive, it would seem to be Liberty. After sitting out track season due to an injury, Neil Bishop looks to lead the Lancers’ charge.


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 mostly similarly placed.


Key questions to be answered:

Can a single dominant team emerge from the mass of contenders or will this be a tight race all the way to the state meet?

Which of the dominant seniors will demonstrate the best team leadership? Can Appel, Nicolls, or Campbell bring their teams along with them to the top?

Loveland has been quietly getting better over a period of years. Is this their year to reach the top?

Will a succession of hard-surface courses and high-stakes races (Cherry Creek, Liberty Bell, John Martin) take its toll on runners’ legs, leaving a few of the early contenders out of the picture by the end of the season?

Liberty moves up to 5A this year after being a fixture in the top five at 4A. The Lancers have always run against a lot of 5A competition. Can they carry over the success they’ve had at 4A into the 5A classification?

If you believe in luck, you have to admit that Rampart has had of lot of it (bad, that is) at state the last few years. Can they change that pattern?