Top 10 Cross Country Stories of 2016: #7

Grant Hughes became the Vanguard point man after soccer had run its course.

For the four years leading up to 2016, Lyons had dominated 2A Boys cross country. That domination came--at least in large part--by way of an exceptional blessing of talent in the persons of the brothers Such and Paul Roberts. And, though this season started with Roberts and both of the Such brothers graduated, Lyons wasn't exactly coming to the season with a bare cupboard.

Most notably, there was Isaac Roberts stepping up to start the process of trying to fill the shoes of his older brother. There were capable, and experienced, guys like Colton Jonjak-Plahn and Landon Milbrath, and another capable new freshman in Field Soosloff. 

And, in the opposite corner, there was The Vanguard School. 

Vanguard's history at the state meet has been a mostly unhappy history, one of mostly lofty dreams and bitter disappointments. Since the Vanguard girls finished second in 2011, the Coursers had endured a mostly rough go of it at State despite fielding some impressively talented teams.

A return to the ranks of 2A for the 2016 season seemed to signal some hope for a team still looking for that elusive first state title.

Only the season didn't start out so well for the Colorado Springs-based charter school.

The Coursers opened at the Cherry Creek Steve Lohman Invitational and returned home with a ninth-place finish. They ventured to Ponderosa the next weekend and got crushed in the JR/SR race despite those being the classes where the entire high end of the team's talent lay.

You might have pleaded the case that first-year (to cross country) senior Grant Hughes was absent from the Ponderosa race, but it really wouldn't have made that much difference. Vanguard was not off to an auspicious beginning.

The first solid hint that the Coursers would be for real in 2016 came when Adam Rich's crew went up to Lyons for the St. Vrain Invitational and handed the homestanding team a defeat at their own invitational. Forget for a moment that Isaac Roberts won that race; Vanguard got their first three runners (and that's what was important under the old guard of 2A scoring) in before Lyons got their #2 across. 

Vanguard was on top of things again the next weekend at Air Academy, very nearly rolling a perfect score (even using a score-four format) against the field of small-school teams and large-school JV rosters.

After a couple of weeks of strong success against small-school competition, Vanguard was a little better prepared and a little more confident in the face of large-school competition.

The Coursers traveled to Dave Sanders held their own to the tune of ninth-place in the Division 2 field. While that may not sound much better than the two opening meets of the season, it came against a much larger field of schools. Ninth of 26 teams is a lot better showing that 9th of 11 or 16. And, in the all-important (to 2A) top three finishers, Vanguard fell behind only three other teams.

It's also worth noting that Grant Hughes missed the Dave Sanders race. With Hughes running alongside the likes of Harley Morgan, Nick Lovato, and Andrew Briar, the outcome would have been considerably more favorable for the Coursers. For Hughes, the season was still a push-pull between soccer and cross country.

Two weeks later, the Coursers finished behind only 3A Salida at the Tri Peaks League meet. The week following, Hughes, Morgan, and Lovato hung a perfect score on the other teams unfortunate enough to share the regional assignment. More importantly, the soccer season was now safely behind Hughes.

So, the Vanguard locomotive was highballing it into the state meet.

But Vanguard wasn't the only team coming into the state meet with serious momentum. Lyons had won their regional meet handily on a subdued effort. The Lions blew up their league meet the week before that.

Therefore, as most suspected it would, the 2A state contest came down to a showdown between Lyons and Vanguard. Lyons came to the starting line with a history of finding ways to win. Vanguard entered with a recent history of underperforming at State.

All of Lyons' history and understanding of what it takes to come out on top was, however, no match for a Vanguard team on a mission to rewrite a tired, old script. 

Borrowing a page directly from the Lyons book on winning at State, Vanguard started out conservatively. Morgan, Lovato, and Hughes camped out together between places 10 and 20 in the early going. It only got better from there.

When the race had finished, Hughes had claimed fifth place, Morgan eighth, and Lovato 11th. In terms of team scoring, that was a 3-5-7 that totaled 15 points to 26 for Lyons. The final story was more convincing even than that. Vanguard beat Lyons at every scoring position, and by an average of over 30 seconds per scoring runner.

At least for 2016, 2A found themselves with a new sheriff in town.