What meets will propel teams into the spotlight? What meets will break the hopes of teams?
Last year, the Durango boys team made a major statement on opening weekend, traveling to the Front Range and winning two meets by eye-popping margins. Whether that strategy served them well at the end of the season remains a point of debate, but there can be no doubt that the back-to-back efforts boosted their confidence and put them on the radar screen of every 5A team in the state.
Similarly, opening weekend last year saw Allie McLaughlin post a 1:45 margin of victory at the Arapahoe Invitational. From the point forward, we had a good sense she'd be leading the pack wherever she went. And she did.
There are three big meets to be watching on opening weekend. Sure, there are more meets than three, but these three promise to tell us the most about who's been working hardest over the summer. Those meets would be the Arapahoe Invitational on Friday and the Delta and Poudre School District Pre-State meet on Saturday.
If the same teams as last year show up at Arapahoe, we should get telling early-season looks at Coronado, Heritage, Cherokee Trail, Eaglecrest, Castle View, Doherty, and Highlands Ranch.
Pre-State? Figure on seeing at least half of the contenders in all classifications. It was here last year that Lyons, Colorado Academy, and Cheyenne Mountain served notice of the kind of seasons that were ahead for those programs.
For the most part, the western slope schools that don't travel to Fort Collins will end up at the Delta Invitational. The course at Confluence Park has a reputation for turning out very fast times (it is certainly flat, solid, and lower elevation--some would argue it's also slightly short). Fast times or not, it will provide an interesting read on several programs, quite possibly including many of the smaller school programs on the western slope.
Lake County's Invitational used to attract more teams that it currently does. Maybe some of the luster of gasping for oxygen at 10,200 feet has worn off. It's still a good meet, however, and does tend to produce some worthwhile reads--particularly for some smaller school programs--on a strength course.
The two big meets to watch, however, fall on the Front Range.
On Friday, the Cherry Creek Invitational always brings in a very competitive large school field of just under 20 teams. Not especially big, but very competitive. A fair dose of hard surface tends to produce some very fast times as well.
On Saturday, the St. Vrain Invitational is the critics' choice, particularly for the 4A and smaller classification schools it brings in. Boulder puts in a regular appearance at this meet to represent the 5A programs as well. Given that Boulder figures to be a major contender among 5A girls this fall, that fact alone adds considerable shine to this meet.
Liberty Bell Weekend
It's not Weekend #3, it's Liberty Bell Weekend. All eyes turn to Littleton; even some out-of-state eyes.
Speaking of out-of-state, this is your chance to see the perennial powerhouse from Albuquerque Academy. This year figures to be a vintage year for the Chargers, so make it a point to come and see how the Colorado teams stack up against them. The boys team from Albuquerque Academy enjoys the marquee status, but the girls team could be very good this year as well.
Liberty Bell is all about hype, all about adrenaline, and all about fast. Nobody comes here to train through. Figure about two-thirds of the top programs in the state will be there. Figure on seeing some of the best individual races you'll see anywhere all season. That's why it is what it is.
Give some kudos here to Air Academy HS, the only school along Front Range with the temerity to host a major meet alongside Liberty Bell. Here you will find most of the schools that opt out of Liberty. And, it's a tough course.
You would think that things would take a bit of a breather after Liberty Bell weekend. And, to a large extent, they do. Meets on weekend #4 are typically smaller and a lot less intense that Liberty Bell.
A large number of meets taking place in mountain and western slope venues more or less guarantees that none of them will be particularly well attended.
The big meet of the weekend falls on Friday, and that would be the John Martin Invitational in Fort Collins. Featuring two divisions and an urban setting, the John Martin Invitational belongs to the lots-of-hard-surface-equals-fast-times variety. Schools come from up and down the Front Range and southern Wyoming for this one. Last year's meet featured entries from Cherry Creek, Laramie, Cheyenne Central, Greeley West, Falcon, Thompson Valley, Loveland, and Niwot.
Probably none of the Saturday meets will pull in as many programs as John Martin, but the three largest should be Pueblo Central, Fountain-Fort Carson, and Rock Canyon.
Pueblo Central's invitational keeps alive the tradition of running on the old state meet course on Elmwood Golf Course at Pueblo's City Park. Though still a strong meet, attendance has declined in recent years.
Much of the reason for that decline may be the Fountain-Fort Carson Invitaitonal. Just a few miles north of Pueblo, this meet has grown in attendance and competitiveness in recent years but still seems able to accept new schools. Figure on Fountain-Fort Carson making another proposal to host the state meet in the near future. If that happens, this meet offers a nice preview of what the course could be like.
On the south end of Denver, the Rock Canyon Invitational--a new meet on the landscape--should come in with decent drawing power.
For many teams, this weekend represents the last hard push before the championship season. While meets are fairly broadly distributed across the state during weekend #5, there are still a few headliner meets.
Probably the most consistently intense competition can be found at the Dave Sanders Invitational, hosted by Columbine High School on Friday, October 2. Though diluted somewhat by the last year's Lobocat Invitational, Dave Sanders still had two divisions and hosted such notable programs as Thompson Valley, Dakota Ridge, Wheat Ridge, Regis, Lyons, D`Evelyn, Evergreen, Mullen, and Chaparral last fall. Dave Sanders should enjoy enhanced drawing power this fall since the Lobocat meet is not being reprised this year.
Other meets that should be bringing in some stiff competition on the weekend include Loveland's Sweetheart Invitational, TCA's Titan Thunder Invitational, and the Mecca of small school meets, the Limon Invitational. The Sweeetheart Invitational runs on Friday, while TCA and Limon host their meets on Saturday.
One other Saturday meet of note takes place in the southwest corner of the state--the Chicken Creek Challenge, hosted by Mancos. While Chicken Creek never hosts a large number of schools (and some of the schools attending come from out-of-state), the schools that do attend are fiercely loyal to the meet. At elevations in excess of 8000 feet, with spectacular panoramic views, and contested over forest service cross country ski trails, the Chicken Creek Challenge provides a meet atmosphere difficult to duplicate anywhere.
The final weekend of the invitational season has been characterized over the last several years by the New Balance/Centerra Invitational in Loveland. Not so this year. Construction at the Centerra business site has precluded the 2009 version of the invitational from taking place.
In its place, meets like the Andy Myers (Greeley West), Pat Amato (Northglenn), Windjammer (Englewood) and Falcon Invitationals are seeing renewed and enhanced interest. Andy Myers, Windjammer, and Pat Amato should see very large fields on their fast, and characteristically urban, courses this fall. Falcon is hosting their meet on a brand new soft-surface course, hoping to draw a large representation of southern Colorado schools.
On the western slope, most eyes will turn toward the cult classic, the Chris Severy Invitational. The meet is named after the former Aspen and University of Colorado standout killed in a bicycle accident in 1997 (and immortalized in Chris Lear's Running with the Buffaloes). Although the course for this race has varied from year to year, it typically features one or two frighteningly intense hills. Nobody leaves this one untested. And, each year, a couple of teams from the Front Range venture over to test themselves against Chris Keleher's latest diabolical course iteration.