Scott Prieve cruised by orange-tipped trees that appeared to be on fire.
He peered through the wireless bottoms of his glasses while his forehead tightened in concentration. The Palmer senior ran on, watch-less through the colors as each step brought him closer to the mile-marker of the 4A Region 2 Championships.
Various hues of oranges and yellows and greens lined the course at the Northwest Open Space in Northglenn, while just over 70 runners - in three waves 25 or less - drifted between this parted sea of color.
Prieve led the way through the opening mile, and it was a scene that wouldn't change throughout the remainder of the race.
The Palmer senior soloed the majority of the race, and went on to pick up his fifth victory of the season.
As impressive as his performance was on the course, add that he dropped a season-best time of 15:57 over a much-more difficult Northwest Open Space course compared to previous years - the once smooth, hard-packed surface through the opening and final mile was now jagged and uneven, soft in some spaces leaving runners the brunt of the work to stride from one to the next.
Either way, the day proved who's ready for next week's Big Dance in Colorado Springs.
While Prieve was content with a solo-run early on, behind him a pack battled across the majority of the 3.1-mile course.
Maline went to work on the second-mile, however, and gapped Schultz and Engstrom.
Heading in the final mile it appeared that Maline was a solid No. 2, though Coronado's Engstrom raged over the final five minutes of the race to not only catch Air Academy's Maline well before the finish line, but he brought Schultz along for the ride.
The trio entered the final straight with Engstrom leading the way.
The Coronado junior took explosive strides that sprung him to the runner-up spot in 16:20 - the time was a season-best and a Colorado personal record by one second.
Two seconds later Maline and Schultz came tearing in. Schultz took third in 16:22.7 to Maline's 16:22.9.
And then the team race was on.
It didn't take long to see where this one was going - Palmer Ridge put two in the top-five with Jake Bach crossing fifth. Lucas Bossinger and John Clawson joined their two teammates in the top-10, finishing seventh, and 10th.
Palmer Ridge tallied 45 points to claim the 4A Region 2 title. Air Academy took second with 82, while Palmer took the third and final state-qualifying spot with 92 points.
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