You can figure on finding Sam Lewis, Rachel Viger, and Kelsey Lakowske at the front of the pack again this year. Photo by Jim Lewis.
Last year, Fort Collins broke the jinx that had kept them out of first place since 1992. It was the end of a long dry spell for a cross country program that is regularly among the best in the state.
Not only did Fort Collins win it, but they won it with Rachel Viger, normally a #2 or #3 runner for the Lambkins, battling allergies and finishing well back in field. Frankly, nobody was all that close. Fort Collins went a very solid six deep where most programs were struggling to go three or four deep.
Fort Collins will be back this year. Miranda Benzel and Tati Ogan won’t be back, but Rachel Viger, Marci Witczak, and Kirsten Follett will. And so it would appear that the road to the state championship runs through Fort Collins--in more ways than one.
Store owners serving the Boulder, Highlands Ranch, Palmer, and Cherry Creek attendance areas, however, have been reporting runs on Fort Collins street maps. We could have a showdown on October 31.
In Boulder, it’s Kelsey Lakowske and Sam Lewis creating the buzz. If you don’t remember Lakowske, she’s the one who nipped Eleanor Fulton at the finish line of the state 3200. If you don’t remember Sam Lewis, you’re likely to get another opportunity or two this fall. Boulder just may be bringing the best supporting cast to the starting line as well. A couple of early-season meets should tell us a lot about where the Panthers stand.
Eleanor Fulton has been winning (almost) everything lately and that’s good news for Highlands Ranch cross country. They did find a way to keep her to sixth in the World Youth Championships 2000 meter steeplechase in Italy this summer, however. Fulton needs support from Kristen Kientz, McLane Ritzel, and at least two more yet to be named gazelles.
Cherry Creek always seems to be close to the top in cross country, and this year should be no exception. Clare Gallagher will defend her position as the top returning female in 5A. If Olivia Anderson can put up the kind of cross country season that she had in track, Cherry Creek could be right there with Boulder at 1-2.
And then there is Palmer, the school with the growing reputation for being close. Palmer returns what is essentially their entire lineup. If the Terrors can run with a little chip on their shoulders, they will live up to the name of their mascot. Senior Annie Whitford should be leading the charge this fall.
Legacy, Rocky Mountain, Green Mountain, and Fairview appear to be the best hopes among the remaining schools for cracking into the circle of the elite this fall.
As far as individuals are concerned, the best news for the field is that Allie McLaughlin graduated. As small as that hole is, it will take a monumental effort to fill it.
Early indicators suggest that it’s a four-girl race: Clare Gallagher, Kelsey Lakowske, Sam Lewis, and Eleanor Fulton.
It often happens, however, that someone finds and extra edge of training over the summer and surprises. If that’s the case this year, the reservoir of potentials includes Kristen Kientz, Dominique Gerard (ThunderRidge), Rikki Gonzales (Rangeview), Rachel Viger, Marci Witczak, and Hannah Everson (Liberty). There is certainly more talent than that out there, but it’s also a long trek to the top. These six appeat to be the closest.