It will be a new set of legs going by next fall, but it's still the same sport scored the same way. Photo by Alan Versaw.
It can be dicey business trying to guess which teams on the Colorado scene will be "loaded" next fall, but someone has to do it, right? Then again, maybe it's better to simply suggest that certain teams will be entering the season next fall with targets on their backs. Here's a look at who those teams might be.
Of the top 28 individual finishers at state last November, 19 were seniors. That implies some serious reordering of the overall team standings for next year.
Coming out looking the best seems to be a familiar face--Dakota Ridge. Austin Appel (14th) will return for his senior year and Danny Carney (16th) will return for his junior year. Anyone who thinks Dakota Ridge can't contend doesn't have a very good memory. With a little improvement in the lower order of the lineup, this year's 10th-place team figures to be a major player in next year's state title race.
Cherokee Trail, Regis, Boulder, Cherry Creek, and Fairview all take major hits to graduation. With these programs, expect them to be solid entries again next year, but they may be able to start the season without the burden of wearing the mantle of favorites.
The losses for Smoky Hill, Monarch, Palmer, and Chaparral are not quite as severe, but still telling. Each team will need to bring up reinforcements, just perhaps not quite as many as the aforementioned teams. Editorial note: Mark Weeks, a very knowledgeable observer of things cross countryish across the state sent me an analysis of returning runners for next fall that suggests Monarch is the leader among 5A boys. I'll find a way to post his analysis to this site before too long. Look forward to that--it's intriguing.
One very tantalizing possibility as a player in next year's state title race is Fort Collins. After a meteoric rise late in the season, the youngsters from Fort Collins faltered a little at state but figure to be older, wiser, and faster next fall. The Lambkins could be staring at company from Heritage, another very young team at last year's state meet. If Palmer can find some company for the brothers Goodman, look for the Terrors to be a top team as well.
Finally, if recent trends mean anything, Mountain Vista should have a very capable team on the course next year, led by junior Stephen Chipman. Green hasn't exactly been a favored color for boys state title teams of late, but maybe that changes next fall.
Okay, so Fort Collins loses Viger, Follett, and Chilson. And, it's been a long, long time since Chris Suppes didn't have a Follett in his lineup. So what? Fort Collins will be back in the mix next fall. You aren't doing too many things wrong when you finish up third in the nation.
That's not to say Fort Collins won't have company. Boulder brings back the kitchen sink--and there's more where they came from. Boulder goes to the front of my class as favorites to win it all next year, but I would advise against ordering the banner for the gym just yet. There are too many teams with too many possibilities to make this anything like a foregone conclusion.
Pine Creek and Highlands Ranch are both just a couple of cogs short of a full set of gears. If either team has one of those magical freshman classes, the aforementioned teams in purple could have serious cause for concern.
And, as was the case with the boys, Mountain Vista is primed to make a serious run at things on the girls' side. This year was the shot over the bow. Next year, be prepared for live fire. Arapahoe and Monarch both looked very good at times last fall and bring back some heavy artillery. Palmer seems forever destined to finish somewhere around fifth. I'm not sure why that is, but it's beginning to look a lot like a jinx. Loveland returns most of a very good young team and the rumor mill is working overtime concerning the incoming freshman class at LHS. Be wary of girls wearing red and black next fall.
Where have all the Spartans gone? Gone to 5A, all of them. That leaves a gaping hole at the top of 4A boys. Since the third-place team has also levitated to 5A (completing the extirpation of Sabercats in 4A), that more or less makes Cheyenne Mountain the team in the catbird's seat--or the hot seat, depending on your perspective.
The Indians return a very strong lineup. They were only 20 points out of first in November and the next returning team was over 100 points in the rear-view mirror. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a favorite.
Mullen, Niwot, and D'Evelyn have some restocking of the pantry to do before state rolls around next year if they are to return as contenders. On the other hand, Thompson Valley, Pueblo West, and Moffat County figure to be part of the show again.
Thompson Valley is the most intriguing of the lot. Long overshadowed by the girls team at TVHS, the boys have been on a steady rise for a few years running. Maybe Gus Waneka takes the reins of leadership in a serious way and pulls this team to a new level of accomplishment.
Evergreen was a young team that underachieved a little at state (and not without valid reason). The fact that Evergreen had only six finishers at state should suggest something important. Keep the Cougars on your watch list even if you don't think #13 teams at state can contend for state titles the following year.
What? Both 4A titles have been vacated by change of classification? Say it ain't so!
It is so.
The number two team, Thompson Valley, lost a lot to graduation. It's happened to the Eagles before, though, and they know how to deal with the situation. If they didn't, they wouldn't have finished second this fall. The hits to graduation were even more severe in 08-09. On your list of perpetual contenders, please write in "Thompson Valley."
But, let's not forget about the team that came into the state meet as the prohibitive favorite--Evergreen. Their returning lineup looks a whole lot like last fall's lineup. A little more gas in the tank at the end of the season, a little less of the injury bug, and this team could be prohibitive favorites once again. Maybe the girls are cheesed off enough about the result this fall to make sure it doesn't happen again next fall.
Keeping Evergreen and Thompson Valley company at the top will be Cheyenne Mountain, a program that loses only one to graduation. Moffat County, Montrose, and Greeley Central each have potential to contend with only a little measure of added depth. Discovery Canyon, which will move up from 3A next fall, figures to have the weapons to make their presence felt. Beyond that, however, it seems most schools will be looking for that magical freshman class.
It gets a little uncomfortable talking about your own classification, so let's start by talking about something relatively safe--the new kid on the block. The new kid on the block is Alamosa. They didn't have a very satisfying finish at the 4A state meet last fall but they were very young and they were there. Those two facts alone should send a chill breeze of caution over the 3A ranks.
Salida returns as the state champions and returns three of their four scoring runners. #3 was Drew Johnson and his 10th-place state finish will be hard to replicate. The Spartans will be tough once again. And, this time they could pull off the double--Josh Noriega has to be figured as the early favorite for the individual title since Ryan Poland graduates and Amos Bowen has run out of eligibility.
The Classical Academy will be back. The state lineup from November was deceptively loaded with seniors. Look for a junior-laden team next fall with lots of guys running in the 17s. If a few more can dip into the 16s, they become a little more serious of a contender.
Faith Christian was last year's hard-luck team at state. Barring transfers and such, there's only one gap to fill in the lineup for next fall, so pencil the Eagles in as contenders. Speaking of contenders, Gunnison just might wear that cape fashionably next fall. Things came together well for a young Cowboy team last fall and there just might be a fire burning in Gunnison (a welcome thing where winters are as cold as they are in Gunnison).
Colorado Academy and Bayfield have huge holes to fill, but recent history suggests these teams are usually capable of filling holes.
Two darkhorse teams poised to make a move upward next fall are Basalt and Colorado Springs Christian. Both teams got a little glimpse of what things could be like late last fall.
The good news for everyone else? The Classical Academy graduates three of their top four finishers from the state meet. The bad news? They were a deep team last fall. The Titans will be contenders yet again, but it will definitely be a year of transition. How TCA handles that transition will be crucial in sorting out the contenders at the state meet next fall.
There would be another piece of bad news for 3A girls. Alamosa is moving down from 4A and bringing their state championship trophy with them. Alamosa will feel the loss of Lauren Martin and Shelby Rushing, but it's also worth noting they only have to score four in 3A versus five in 4A.
So, clearly maroon is a favored color in 3A girls. But, so is purple. Purple as in Estes Park and Salida. Estes Park has been getting better ever since the arrival of Bill Ruth. Don't count on next year being an exception. Kim Hansen will return for her senior year and Bobcats have a way of putting up a good fight. Salida loses team mainstay Lauren Policky to graduation, but this was a solid team last fall. The pipeline is now flowing to the point where Salida can replace runners lost to graduation. And, Kaiti Davis's run at state left nobody with the impression that Salida will be hurting for team leadership.
Cracking the top four in 3A girls will be a tall order, but the best candidate to do it is another team in maroon--Brush. After the Beetdiggers, CSCS, Middle Park, and Pagosa Springs make the most compelling cases.
In case nobody else noticed, the Rocky Ford boys are on a run of three consecutive state championships. And the last one wasn't courtesy of Victor Montoya. That's a little dynasty budding down there in the lower Arkansas Valley. Once again, the Meloneers take some hits to graduation. Can they make it four? Certainly, nobody should be discounting the possibility.
The stiffest challenges figure to come from Boulder County in the form of Nederland and Lyons. Nederland because they return most of a solid team that finished second this fall. Lyons because they get to come down to 2A after doing battle very nicely with much larger 3A schools for the last umpteen years. Lyons will have to find some support for Zach Pfeifer in their lineup, but this year they'll only need three scoring runners instead of four. It seems like a doable proposition for a team with as much tradition as Lyons.
The list of interesting possibilities goes much deeper than Nederland and Lyons, however. Add Del Norte (the heir apparent in the San Luis Valley), Mancos and Telluride (who should battle for western slope supremacy), and Fountain Valley to the list of "interesting possibillities."
2010 should be the most competitive year yet for 2A boys cross country.
Nederland has been not-so-quietly building a dynasty of their own in the mountains west of Boulder. This year, that dynasty could meet its stiffest tests yet. Kat Robinson will graduate. But Kelley Robinson and Rebecca Hermann provide the nucleus of a strong team again next year. And rumor has it there's a pretty strong junior high program in the shadow of the Indian Peaks. It doesn't figure to be a down year for the Panthers.
So, what's to prevent Nederland from making it three in a row? Maybe another sister act? Maybe a nearby sister act? Maybe as close as Lyons? With Melissa Roberts getting help from a younger sister, Lyons could become a player. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.
Mancos should not be overlooked. A solid second place in 09, but much improved from 08, Mancos needs to make another leap to get to the top in 10, but it doesn't seem wholly unreasonable to think that could happen.
Most of the rest of the 2A girls field was very young last fall. Great freshman seasons don't always translate into great sophomore seasons, but schools in Telluride and Sargent (north of Monte Vista a little) have reason to be optimistic. The Colorado Springs schools appear to be headed in divergent directions--Fountain Valley looks to return all three scoring runners while Vanguard is blasted to smithereens by graduation (or so it seems at the moment).
Outside of Lyons, none of the new arrivals to 2A figure to be instant contenders, but perhaps the prospect of scoring only three runners wakens a dormant program or two. In any case, a handful of new schools should add substantially to the depth in the 2A girls ranks.