Colorado Year In Review: Blazing At The Bell

It's that time of the year!

Over the next nine days we'll be unveiling Colorado's Top Storylines of 2022 - at 8 a.m. every day.

So, make sure to tune in every morning with a warm cup of coffee or cocoa, because we've got some fiery stories on tap. And given how incredibly cold it is on this particular day, we'll all need the warmth...

Alright, let's dive into it!


Every year that blazing course at the Liberty Bell produces a jaw-dropping performance. 

Sometimes two. 

But the 2022 edition of the meet was bananas. 

Among the girl's race there were four of the top-eight performances, including four sub-17 minute finishes, while the boy's saw nearly the same stat, with four of the top-eight performances, including four sub-15 performances (and it was nearly five!)

If anything, Liberty Bell was a bit of a hint of what we'd see out of Colorado athletes nearly three months later.

But that's for another day...

While no course records fell on this day in September, you could say that it was a record-breaking day in terms of the quantity of stellar performances that took place.

Excerpt from Clawing To Victory At Liberty Bell:

Emma Stutzman's eyes turned into two big blue circular oceans when she saw the clock.

The Pomona senior had just kicked away from the most competitive field to date in the girl's Sweepstakes race at the Liberty Bell Invitational. While a win over such a loaded field was enough, the time was the icing on the cake.


(And then she found the lens of my camera snapping every second of the moment.)

The time is the third-fastest ever run on the course, a Colorado No. 1, and - a US No. 1

Yes - you read that last line correctly. Stutzman's 16:45 from Liberty Bell - run at 5,466-feet of elevation - is currently the fastest time run in the country.

Adding to the impressiveness of her performance, note Stutzman's progress on the Liberty Bell course over the years:

18:36 as a freshman. 17:37 as a sophomore. 17:24 as a junior. And - a 16:44 as a senior. 

Oh yeah - and that's a straight-up 5k personal best for her. In other words - not just a Colorado PR, but a PR, PR. And - that's the second-fastest time run in Colorado ever behind Melody Fairchild's 16:36 from 1990, and Brie Oakley 16:44. 

Editor's Note: Stutzman's time is actually tied for second.

She's in good company...

And Stutzman wasn't the only one running a PR, or setting a school record - those were plentiful. Saturday morning's cooler weather was ideal for racing, and nearly everyone took advantage of it. 

A staggering four girls broke 17 minutes on a course that had only seen it done three times before. If that already isn't making your jaw drop, add that the top-two times in the country - and four of the top-six - came from this meet.

Editor's Note: My apologies for the camera work - it turns out that it's quite difficult taking photos and filming at the same time.

Hot on Stutzman's heels was Ella Hagen. The Summit sophomore is clearly a front-runner for the 4A state title, as she was just a second back in 16:45. That's a massive PR for Hagen. I write "massive"  as in over a minute PR for her. 

If you missed the second line in the previous paragraph, I'll repeat it - Hagen is just a sophomore.

Onwards with all the fireworks...

Eight-seconds back was Cherry Creek's Addison Price, and eventual 2022 5A state champion - Valor Christian's Brooke Wilson, who were clocked at 16:53.3, and 16.53.6.

The performance was Price's third-consecutive third-place finish.

Coming in just on the other side of 17-minutes was Fort Collins' Ella Johns, who had a big Colorado PR of her own, running 17:15.0, while the Arapahoe duo of Emily Lamontagne and Ava Mitchell came in a stride back in 17.15.4, and 17:18.

This year's Liberty Bell was quality and quantity.

And  in the boy's race, Christian Groendyk came out on top.

Groendyk raised his finger towards that sky in the universal Victory salute. 

The Fort Collins senior had just torched the final kilometer of the boy's Sweepstakes race, and he had shed nearly everyone except for Cherokee Trail's Hunter Strand, who was just a stride back and quickly running out of real estate. 

But this day belonged to Groendyk.

The Fort Collins senior made a massive statement, running 14:48 - that's the third-fastest ever on the course behind arguably two of Colorado's greatest distance runners, Parker Wolfe, and Cole Sprout - both of whom have had insanely impressive collegiate careers so far.

As of this writing Groendyk's time is a US No. 7, and a PR PR. In other words: an any-elevation PR. 

And he wasn't the only one making a statement. 

If you don't know who Hunter Strand is, you should by now. 

The Cherokee Trail senior proved his Vista Nation XC 2-Mile Invitational victory was just the tip of the iceberg. Strand was the only runner in the field who nearly went stride-for-stride with Groendyk over that final 1k. He finished a second back in 14:50.

Valor's Dane Eike and Erie's Evan Kraus also dipped under the coveted 15-minute marker, running 14:54 and 14:58 - both are big PRs.

Meanwhile Mountain Vista's Benjamin Anderson ran 15-minutes on the nose, running 15:00.3. But the silver lining is that it's a Colorado sophomore class record.

Brennan Draper finished sixth in this insanely competitive race despite taking a fall earlier in the race. The Chaparral senior junior finished in 15:06 with quite a few battle wounds and a muddy singlet.

Before Saturday morning five runners had broken 15 minutes on this course over the years. By noon Saturday that number jumped to nine, as Groendyk, Strand, Eike, and Kraus had joined the club.

For everyone's efforts, they collectively made for one of Colorado's Top Storylines in 2022.

Editor's Note: Groendyk went on to claim the 2022 5A state cross country title just off the course record a month later.

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