* Riley Stewart stormed away with a dominating 17:18 victory.
Photo Credit: Bobby Reyes
DENVER -- Riley Stewart took long, powerful strides down the gradual paved hill. She pumped her arms and eyed the terrain in front of her while her chasers questioned to jump on Stewart's raging train or not.
They watched her shadow dance away through the first quarter of the Centennial League Mullen Invite on Saturday. This would be as close to Stewart as anyone would be for the rest of the race -- because with every stride, she was gaining.
Even this early.
"I had all this built up energy from not racing," she said after the race. "I was just so excited, I just wanted to go out and bomb it."
And bomb it she did.
Stewart raged over the three-loop course that circled Mullen. The mostly-road, part-grass, part-dirt course sat on a gentle slope, which provided the Cherry Creek junior with the canvass she'd need to paint a dominating portrait of a eager-runner, soaking up every step, not knowing when she'll get another chance.
"I was a little nervous," she admitted. "This was basically like a state race."
State race indeed.
Individually the field included four of last year's top-eight finishers from the 5A State championships, including last year's runner-up, Cameron McConnell, the Arapahoe duo of Ava Escorcia and Ava Mitchell, and Stewart's teammate Addison Price.
Team-wise it was even more competitive - the top three from last year's 5A State championships battled in the first race of the season.
There was the defending state champs - Arapahoe, last year's runner-up - Cherry Creek, and last year's third-place finishers - Cherokee Trail.
So yeah, you could say it was basically like state...
And like last year's state race, Stewart wasted no time stating her intentions.
By half-a-mile she had already shed McConnell from her shadow, and the chase pack was running their own race. Her lead was well over 100 meters by the mile, and she only stretched that through the second mile.
Stewart practically soloed the final three miles of the 3.1-mile race, running a jaw-dropping 17:18 to open her 2020 season. Her margin of victory was a commanding 1:12, or, just under a quarter-of-a-mile.
"I was pretty happy with how it went," she said.
Behind her, a team battle was brewing among last year's top-two finishers in 5A - Arapahoe and Cherry Creek.
Next Page: A Tight Rematch Between Arapahoe and Cherry Creek