The Dark Horse: Girls 5A Pre-Season

Emma Stutzman (Pomona)

A year ago Stutzman opened her season at Liberty Bell, finishing fourth in the Division 2 race in 18:36. While her high school debut was impressive, what came in the following months is what really showed her potential. 

Stutzman flew under the radar through much of September, but upped the ante each time she toed the line. 

She won Pat Amato over a a competitive field, running 18:11. A week later was perhaps her most-revealing performance to date - a third-place finish at the JeffCo County Championships behind Valor Christian's Brooke Wilson and Taylor Whitfield. She ran 18:34 with much of the race chasing Wilson and Whitfield. 

A week later she captured her biggest win yet - the 5A Region 3 title in a raging kick over Elizabeth Schweiker

Her finishes at the JeffCo County Championships and Regionals indicated she could be a Top-10 finisher at the State Championships.

And that's just what she did.

Stutzman went on to finish fourth on the biggest stage in Colorado, sandwiched between Wilson and Whitfield - two runners who broke 17:50 at Liberty Bell. 

Addison Price (Cherry Creek)

Cherry Creek has more than one star (the other being defending state champ Riley Stewart), and that's Addison Price. 

Price ran under the radar throughout much of the 2019 season, though she showed subtle hints as to what she was capable of. 

Her high school debut was a victory in the freshmen/sophomore race at the Arapahoe Warrior Invitational where she ran 19:24. The varsity race was won by her teammate - Riley Stewart, who ran 18:03.

A week later she ran 18:51 at Liberty Bell and was Cherry Creek's fifth runner. The performance showed promise, but didn't exactly hint at a Top-10 finish at State. Three weeks later she made a jump, finishing 11th at Roy Griak, and was Cherry Creek's second runner.

And then one of the sharpest curves of improvements took place.

She finished fifth Centennial League Championships, 49 seconds behind race winner Ava Escorcia. Five days later she finished sixth at the 5A Region 1 championships, 31 seconds behind Escorcia. 

Nine days later she dropped her biggest performance to date - an eighth-place finish at the state championships. She ran 18:46, which was two seconds behind Escorcia, and 34 behind her teammate Stewart.

The performance put her among a slew of Sub-18 5kers, and she got her chance to join the club a few weeks later, running 17:47 Team Regionals. 

Ella Johns (Fort Collins) 

Ella Johns finished within the top-three of every race she competed in Colorado last year eight out of nine times. 

That's some legit consistency. 

The Fort Collins sophomore's high school debut was a 19:19 runner-up finish at the Rocky Mountain Lobo Invitational.

The lone "fast course" she ran on came perhaps to early to see how fast she really could run, however. Johns' season best came at Liberty Bell, where she finished third in the Division 1 girls race in 18:30 - a solid 23 seconds behind Elizabeth Schweiker's winning time of 18:07.

Johns' first victory came a week later at the Wolverine XC Invitational, where she ran 18:53. She picked up two more victories - the Thornton Invitational, and the 5A Region 4 title. 

Her rise was very, very gradual, however. When scanning back there wasn't any one specific race that hinted at what she could do - only her consistency hinted at that. 

And it all came to fruition at the State meet, where she finished ninth in 18:58 - seven seconds in front of Schweiker.

BONUS: The Avas - Ava Escorcia and Ava Mitchell (Arapahoe)

If you haven't noticed yet, there's a trend here - the incoming sophomore class is just that loaded. 

Ava Escorcia and Ava Mitchell are two more from the Class of 2023 who opened their season over 19 minutes, and went on to nearly crack 18.

Escorcia and Mitchell went 1-2 to open their high school career at the Windjammer Invitational, running 19:06 and 19:09

Most of the season went in similar fashion - The Avas finishing within a place or two of each other. 

Mitchell's season best came at Liberty Bell, where she ran 18:09 to finish 11th in the Sweepstakes race. She was 54 seconds behind Riley Stewart's 17:12.

Escorcia's best came a month later at the Cherry Creek Lohman Invitational, where she ran 18:05. The time was a minute behind Stewart's winning time of 17:05.

Escorcia and Mitchell finished over a minute behind Stewart again at the 5A Region 1 championships nine days before the state meet. 

As consistent as they were throughout the season, they clearly made The Jump together on the right day - State.

Escorcia and Mitchell finished sixth and seventh, both running 18:44 - 32 seconds behind state champ Stewart.