Grace Johnson could be a big threat on the course this fall.
[The Dark Horse is a series I'll be running over the next two weeks. While we know the big name favorites, this series will take a look a little deeper into each class, shining a big spotlight on some of the names who have been lurking in the shadows in previous years, and could likely rise to the ranks of Colorado's elite this fall.]
The girl's 4A field is loaded. That's about as simple as I can put it. And because of this fact, it was difficult to decipher who's a "Already-Known-Favorite," and who is a "Dark Horse" - because nearly everyone within the Top 15 of last year's state meet has had some huge performance. Unlike other classes where there's a clear line in the sand, the girl's 4A landscape is a bit of a blend, given that it's that talented.
The following is a subjective look at a few individuals and teams that I'll currently dub Dark Horses, at least in terms of pre-season.
Editor's Note: The following outlook is based entirely on stats from the 2018 cross country season, and the 2019 outdoor track season. It's likely there are other Dark Horses out there that will rise this fall. Unfortunately my powers do not include the ability to foresee what happens on that quiet trails over the summer.
Grace Johnson has very quietly been making huge gains in the shadows of the now graduated Harding sisters. But she appears prime to take over the reigns of the Battle Mountain squad this year as a senior.
A year ago she finished eighth at the State meet in 18:57 before dropping a 17:47 personal best at Nike Cross Regionals. She went on to finish 86th at Nike Cross Nationals.
She made gains on the track this past spring, running 5:10 in the 1,600 and finishing 10th at State in the distance. Though her biggest performance of the spring came at lower elevations at Arcadia, where she ran a PR of 10:47 in the 3,200. She went on to finish sixth at State in the distance.
Given her consistency on the track over the past two years, and her breakthrough on the cross country course last fall, Johnson could be a real threat to an already stacked 4A field this fall.
Madeleine Burns enters this list with a bit of an asterisk, since typically to be a "Dark Horse" you'd need a slate void of state titles. But what sort of puts her in this limbo between "Dark Horse" and "Already-Known-Favorite" is her 2018 cross country season where she put together a solid fall, but wasn't a big front-runner - yet.
Burns capped her 2018 season with a 14th place finish at State. Her season-best of 18:04 came at lower elevations at Desert Twilight, and she finished 61st at NXR.
At this point she holds all the qualities of a Dark Horse, which is someone yet to emerge. But that changed during the track season.
Burns had perhaps the best track season of any returning 4A distance runner, excluding Taylor James.
She finished third in a stacked 1,600 field at State in 5:00 PR, though it was her performances in the 3,200 that really push her from "Dark Horse" into the land of "Already-Known-Favorite."
She won every 3,200 she competed in, which included a state title, and she broke 11 every time. Her 10:36 at Chandler was a huge PR.
While her 2018 cross country season was more of subtle hint, her 2019 track season was anything but. Clearly, she's ready to burn through the 2019 cross country season.
Lucca Fulkerson is a new addition to 4A, having competed for Dawson - a 2A school - last fall. Though, in her one season at Niwot, she's gone to another level.
A year ago - in 2A - she finished fifth at State in 20:24. She cracked 19 for the first time at Nike Cross Regionals, winning the smaller school division in 18:24. Little did anyone know at that point, (cue a timely cliché) but that was just the tip of the iceberg.
After transferring to Niwot she went into beast-mode.
The (incoming) junior ran massive PRs of 5:05 in the 1,600 at State to finish sixth, and she backed that up with an 11:03 3,200, once again at State, to finish fourth.
Given her rapid ascension to the mountain tops of the 4A landscape during the track season, it's likely we'll be seeing much of the same on the cross country courses this fall.
While Fulkerson won't appear on any "returning" 4A lists since she competed in 2A, she's clearly someone to keep an eye on.
BONUS: Kenadi Krueger
A year ago Kenadi Krueger hinted at how good she can be. The Thompson Valley (incoming) senior finished fifth at State in 18:51 before going on to run 18:12 at NXR.
She backed that up with PRs on the track last spring, running 5:10 in the 1,600 in Colorado, and 10:55 at Arcadia down low.
Next Page: Teams