Niwot Is All For One, And One For All

"How many repeats?" Lex Bullen asked. 

Her hazel eyes were shaded over in darkness as the sun was hiding behind the brooding clouds to the west. A snowstorm was brewing on the horizon in Colorado Monday evening. But also on the horizon for the Niwot girls was Team Cross Country Nationals this weekend. 

And on this Monday evening, despite the twilight hour and swirling winds, there was still work to be done. 

"Six-to-eight," assistant coach Katie Rainsberger said. 

"But take your time between them," Coach Kelly Christensen added. "Two-to-three minutes."

Bullen, along with nearly a dozen Niwot athletes, milled around at the bottom of the grassy hill that mirrored the hill at the end of the Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland. The hill that undoubtedly has made quite a few races over the years. 

Under the cover of darkness the Niwot girls capped the day's workload, which included drills, a progression run, and six-to-eight six-second-ish hill repeats. 

While the temperature dropped with the sun, not gone were the occasional laughs between repeats, as all things come easier with company. 

There's warmth in camaraderie. 

They sprinted upwards, popping off their toes one-by-one to the orange cone at the top of the hill. 

The irony of running to the top of a hill the Monday before the biggest race of their young careers isn't lost - the Niwot girls have spent years running up that proverbial mountain. 

And now they've finally caught a glimpse of the top, as they head to Portland ranked No. 3 nationally.

The ranking mirrors their 2019 performance, where the squad finished third despite leaning on an At-Large Berth to qualify.

But this year's squad is quite different, even when compared to last year's team, which ended the season a US No. 2

Niwot is coming off a victory at the Team Southwest Regional, which they won with 67-points, and a 1-5 spread of just 34-seconds, despite having a slight off-day.

What's made this year's squad different and dangerous on the course is not just their interchangeable line-up, which has seen four different runners lead the team this season, or their impressive depth, which has seen four break 18-minutes, and seven run under 18:20 - in Colorado's thin mountain air.

Add that this year's squad not only tied their record-tally of 20-points to claim the 2022 4A Colorado State Championship title in dominating fashion, they ran a 1-5 average of 18:20, making the 2022 squad Colorado's fastest ever.

Oh yeah, and they had a 1-5 split of just 39-seconds. 

For historical comparison, last year's US No. 2 Niwot squad averaged 18:30 at State, and had a 1-5 split of 47-seconds.

Sure, the numbers don't lie - this year's squad is on another level. 

But perhaps the real difference is that this seven-piece, tessellating squad has an exquisite taste in music, and loves to dance.

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