Connor Ohlson and Austin Vancil went 2-3 at the 2018 Colorado State Cross Country Championships last month.
A Season Of Faith's Perfection
The last time Dakota Ridge claimed the state title Vancil was clad in white shorts and a preppy polo shirt with a tennis-racket in his hand, dreaming of becoming a professional one day. An Andre Agassi with an afro perhaps. He was nearly six years old, but he knew then, tennis was his future.
"I actually had to talk him out of playing tennis and run his freshmen year," Stenbeck added. "That really worked out..."
Additionally, the last time Dakota Ridge claimed the state title White was just learning to walk.
Ok, that last part is an exaggeration, but you get the idea, it's been a while, 12 years in fact.
The last time the Boys from the 'Ridge claimed gold at State Justin Timberlake was bringing Sexyback, Instagram didn't exist yet, and a mustached man from the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan named Borat was giving strangers across the country high fives.
In other words, it was a different time.
Despite the long-lasting void between state titles, the squad knew this could be a big, big year. But they'd had to get to the starting line first.
"Over the summer we felt that could have something special this year," Vancil explained.
When an iliotibial band syndrome threatened to sideline Morrin for the season, Stenbeck quickly pivoted and pulled the junior from the course and sent him to rehab. (The pivot proved vital, as Morrin didn't race until October 6, but rallied hard to make the State team where he would go on to be the squad's fifth and final scoring runner.)
Despite a rocky start which included a few injuries, the squad remained calm, and what became a theme, allowed the week to week grind flow.
"We had a lot more dedication," Ohlson added. "We took every run more seriously."
The more-purposeful approach gradually proved to work, and with each passing week another piece of the puzzle fell into place.
"After Dave Sanders where we had three guys run big personal bests, we started thinking, 'we can do this'" Vancil shared.
The Dave Sanders Invitational was a revealing performance for Dakota Ridge, as it was the first time they had beaten defending state champs, Mountain Vista, this season. Ohlson and Vancil went 1-2, while White, Piegat, and Abrashoff all ran then-PRs. Adding the performance was the fact they won by 34 points without a full squad.
But they were getting close.
The result rocketed the Boys from the 'Ridge to the top of the state rankings, as it quickly became evident that they had something in their back pocket all along.
Vancil and Ohlson became arguably the best 1-2 in the state, while White's rapid improvement complimented the 1-2 punch, giving Dakota Ridge the No. 1 third-runner in Colorado. Meanwhile Piegat and Abrashoff's consistency became something the team could count on week in and week out.
And then there was the return of Morrin.
Morrin returned to the course in October, and Dakota Ridge proved to not only have the firepower of the Vancil-Ohlson 1-2 up front, but an insane amount of depth that would make them a big threat, not just in the state, but across the country.
Two weeks later Dakota Ridge set the stage for state with a dominating 24 point victory over the defending state champions, Mountain Vista, at regionals.
"The excitement kept building up to State," Ohlson said.