For an out-of-the-way place like Salida, they have a very successful cross country meet. You wouldn't expect that many teams, and especially larger teams, would bother to make the trip for a 3A meet. But they do.
Okay, maybe a well run 3A meet in a place like Colorado Springs or the Denver Metro area might draw some 4A and 5A teams, but Salida?!
I have to be kidding, right?
This year, Salida will be hosting teams from Arapahoe, Coronado, Durango, Regis Jesuit, and Roosevelt. That's an outstanding draw of large-school programs, all coming from two or more hours away.
I couldn't help but ask Salida coach Kenny Wilcox what accounts for the drawing power of this meet. I got an extended answer, but sometimes big magic requires bigger incantations.
"We have a very dedicated group of parents, administration and friends of the sport that have regularly helped with the meet. As anyone who has ever put on a race knows, to pull of a great meet, you need a lot of help. If you want to put on a sub par meet, you do it yourself. Secondly, I think we have learned from other races and events. As we have gone to various cross country meets throughout the years, we often talk about the things that a meet did well from how the course was set up to intriguing parts of a course to the attention to detail. For example, Coronado's dance party before the awards presentation is a nice, unique touch. Thirdly, I think our sport of cross country can learn a lot from other sports. One thing we have tried to emulate from other sports is by doing team introductions. We will put in the homework and get to know something about each team coming to our meet and then communicate it at the event when possible. I hope that every team that comes to Salida feels like they are a special part of the event."
Do teams make a big event of coming to Salida? Yes, several do. Some teams spend the night. A few years back when the meet was on a Friday afternoon, Heritage Christian Academy spent the night, then went running with Salida the next morning. This year, Durango's delegation will be looking to master the course by osmosis, camping out on the course Friday night.
The meet presents traveling trophies to team champions. If you win one year, you have to come back the next year to earn the right to keep the trophy another year. Most winners eagerly come back. Over and over. The trophies are hand-crafted locally and are like no other meet trophies to be found anywhere in the state.
And, it wouldn't be Salida without a hill to climb. Yes, the course has what Coach Wilcox calls a "hill feature." It also has a nice little mowed path along the Arkansas River. It's all part of the magic that keeps people coming back.
It's taken Salida several years and a few course iterations to get to their current venue. Previous courses were nice, but you get the idea when Kenny Wilcox talks about Vandaveer Ranch, he feels like the meet has finally found its permanent home.
Still, you can have enough magic to suspend the law of gravity and still not have much of a meet without good competition. So, what do we have to look forward to, competitively speaking?
Well, for one thing, Arapahoe is bringing their A team of boys. But, before the Warriors get any ideas of cleaning house here, they need to think carefully about how they're going to deal with Alamosa, a rapidly-improving Salida team, and a few more programs. Individually, Cody Danley, Elijah DeLaCerda, and Colton Stice are a few of those who should keep it interesting.
Denver North, always a good traveling team, should offer some challenge to Coronado, a team that never met a challenging course it didn't like, on the girls side. And, the girls side is loaded with intriguing match-ups as well. Isalina Colsman represents Regis Jesuit, Madi Kenyon comes from Roosevelt, and Laura Romero of Denver North is an underrated freshman looking for a big opportunity. This could be it.
Check back on Saturday for results! Generally, a few photos mysteriously appear out of Salida as well. They're worth a look, too.