In its 37th year of honoring the nation's best high school athletes, Gatorade today announced Riley Stewart of Cherry Creek High School is the 2021-22 Gatorade Colorado Girls Cross Country Player of the Year. Stewart is the second Gatorade Colorado Girls Cross Country Player of the Year to be chosen from Cherry Creek High School.
The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field, distinguishes Stewart as Colorado's best high school girls cross country player. Now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Player of the Year award to be announced in February, Stewart joins an elite alumni association of state award winners in 12 sports, including Lukas Verzbicas (2010-11 & 2009-10, Carl Sandburg High School, Orland Park, Ill.), Megan Goethals (2009-10, Rochester High School, Rochester Hills, Mich.), Jordan Hasay (2008-09, Mission College Preparatory Catholic High School, San Luis Obispo, Calif.) and Chris Derrick (2007-08, Neuqua Valley High School, Naperville, Ill.).
The 5-foot-11 senior raced to the Class 5A individual state championship this past season with a time of 17:20.9, leading the Bruins to second place as a team. The state's returning Gatorade Player of the Year in girls cross country, Stewart also won the Region 1 championship and broke the tape at the Eastbay Midwest Regional Championships in 16:54.4. She crossed the line in fifth at the national Eastbay Cross Country Championships and took third at the national Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships in 16:28.4, earning All-American honors at both events.
A member of her school's Student Athlete Leadership Council, Stewart has volunteered as a Central City Opera House Association Flower Girl, part of an initiative to support the association's community-outreach programs promoting cultural and artistic activities throughout the state. She has also donated her time to trail-restoration projects performed by the Cherry Creek XC program. "Riley has not been beaten by a Coloradan in a cross country or track race since the spring of her freshman year," said Ethan Dusto, head coach at Cherry Creek High School. "I don't know if I've ever seen a string of success quite like Riley's."
Stewart has maintained a 4.11 GPA in the classroom. She has signed a National Letter of Intent to run on scholarship at Stanford University this fall.
The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track & field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport. The selection process is administered by the Gatorade Player of the Year Selection Committee, which leverages experts including coaches, scouts, media and others as sources to help evaluate and determine the state winners in each sport.
Three-time winner Stewart joins recent Gatorade Colorado Girls Cross Country Players of the Year Quinn McConnell (2018-19, Peak to Peak Charter School), and Jenna Fitzsimmons (2017-18, Mountain Vista High School), among the state's list of former award winners.
Gatorade has a long-standing history of serving athlete communities and understands how sports instill valuable lifelong skills on and off the field. Through Gatorade's "Play it Forward" platform, Stewart has the opportunity to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national organization of their choosing that helps young athletes realize the benefits of playing sports. Stewart is also eligible to submit a short video explaining why the organization they chose is deserving of one of twelve $10,000 spotlight grants, which will be announced throughout the year. To date, Gatorade Player of the Year winners' grants have totaled more than $3.5 million across more than 1,300 organizations.
Since the program's inception in 1985, Gatorade Player of the Year award recipients have won hundreds of professional and college championships, and many have also turned into pillars in their communities, becoming coaches, business owners and educators.
To learn more about the Gatorade Player of the Year program, check out past winners or to nominate student-athletes, visit playeroftheyear.gatorade.com or follow us on social media on Facebook at facebook.com/GatoradePOY, Instagram at instagram.com/Gatorade and Twitter at twitter.com/Gatorade.