The matchup between TCA and Fort Collins was supposed to be a good one. It did not disappoint. Photo illustration by Alan Versaw.
At TCA, we hold Fort Collins in high esteem. They owned us last year when we went head-to-head: at NXN SW, and again at NXN. And whatever they lost to graduation last year, they have more than made up in new blood and improvement of the returning runners. As good as they were last year, they're better this year.
It's no secret we were looking forward to having Fort Collins come down to our meet. There is no thrill to rival the thrill of going up against the best.
While the matchup was a classic, it would be absurd to claim either team left the course with a flawless set of races. While some of TCA's girls ran the best races of their high school careers, so, by any reasonable estimation, did some of the Fort Collins girls. But both teams had members with disappointing races as well. Teammates pulled up the slack for both teams. Thus, both teams leave knowing there is potential for more when it is next needed.
Lead pack places shifted throughout the first two miles of the race. Gradually, however, competitors dropped off the torrid pace at the front, leaving only Maddy Jourgensen of Moffat County, Allie Morgan of Discovery Canyon, Caroline Hine of Chaparral, and Lauren Policky of Salida to space the places between the purple-clad Lambkins and the maroon-clad Titans. By 1.5 miles, it was clear the final result would be close. Neither Fort Collins nor TCA showed any signs of letting go.
Kaitlin Hanenburg had opened a solid and insurmountable lead, but there was nothing determinative taking place behind her. And, no matter how big the gap Hanenburg opened on the field, she could do no more to reduce her contribution to the team's overall score.
With a little under a half mile to go, TCA's Emily LaValley made the move that would arguably prove to be key in the final standings. LaValley broke away from Moffat County's Maddy Jourgensen (the two had been running nearly stride for stride the entire race up to that point) and overtook Fort Collins's Rachel Viger. That two-point pass would be double the final margin of difference.
But who is to say it really was THE margin of difference? Two seconds here or there could easily have made the difference in other places as well. Margins of error are ridiculously thin in contests such as these. In fields of different composition, the result could easily have swung in either direction.
How fast was the girls race? Every one of the top 20 finishers, including six each from Fort Collins and The Classical Academy, finished under 20:00.
As coach of The Classical Academy, I am honored by the level of effort our team left on the course today. I could talk at length about special contributions several team members made, but this is not the place to do that. As a team, we are honored to have shared the course with Fort Collins. They are a class act, a fabulous team, and I am certain that neither we nor anybody else have heard the last from them.
As exciting as the girls contest was, the boys race was very nearly as good.
The Chaparral boys have quietly been having an excellent season. What most people were not expecting, however, was a solid performance from a bunch of young men from Fort Collins High School. The Fort Collins boys have been inching toward serious credibility all season long and today's performance should push them over that edge.
In the end, however, a 1-3-9 finish for Chap's top three (Keegan Vargo, Curtis Doubet, and Brenden Burt) gave the Wolverines more than enough margin for the team title.
Both Vargo (16:17.7) and Hanenburg (18:05.8) established new course records on the day. And both appeared as if they could have gone faster if pushed.
One additional note worth mentioning concerns the performance turned in by the Salida boys, a team due to move up in the rankings this week. Salida finished fourth overall in the field laden with large schools. Josh Noriega led the charge for the Spartans with a time of 16:33 and an individual fourth place.