Mike Cernoia returns for his senior season as the classification's top-ranked runner. Photo by Alan Versaw.
Greeley West and Castle View departed 4A and left gaping holes in the roster of top boys' teams in the classification. The departure of Chris Ganem also took away the top name on the list of returning individuals.
But, last we checked, they're still going to contest a 4A boys state championship this year, so what's to look for among the schools and individuals who are running 4A this fall?
Individually, only three of the top ten finishers from last year's state meet should be back. Those three would be Mike Cernoia (Pueblo West), Chris Zirkle (Moffat County), and David Shearon (Battle Mountain). Of those, Cernoia had the best track season in the spring and has to be considered the initial favorite to bring home top honors late in October.
But early August isn't late October. Zirkle had a somewhat disappointing track season running for Hayden High School and will need to get back on course to be a contender in 4A boys cross country. Shearon validated his cross country season on the track, but never quite reached the highest levels of the classification in track and field.
Look for people like Brandon Lange, Ed Cleary, Mitch Kasyon, and Spencer Wenck to challenge for the top tier of 4A in cross country. A few more potential contenders lurk a little further in the background, but will need to make bigger jumps to join the lead pack than these four.
The team race tilts toward Cheyenne Mountain at this point. The Indians were solidly in second last fall, behind only Greeley West. And Cheyenne Mountain returns four of five scoring runners from the state meet. That has a way of making them look like prohibitive favorites. The dominance of their 4x800 team in track suggests there weren't many chinks in the armor uncovered during track season. So, it's Cheyenne Mountain wearing the targets on their backs this fall.
Hoping to get within range to take a shot at those targets are Thompson Valley, Pueblo West, Niwot, D'Evelyn, Moffat County, and Evergreen.
Of these, Thompson Valley is deep in returning talent. Pueblo West comes back with the same issue that has plagued them for a few years running--the need to strengthen their game at the 4 and 5 positions. Niwot lost its top two to graduation but the pipeline seems to be replenishing itself reasonably well. D'Evelyn is busy working its way back to the kind of dominance they demonstrated in the early years of the last decade. Moffat County and Evergreen were both young teams last year that could show a lot of improvement this year. And Evergreen's state result was clearly impacted by Jack Hamilton's absence from the lineup.
Keep Widefield and Ridgeview Academy on the radar screen as well. Both teams have a few question marks but also the potential to make things interesting.
If the phrase "most likely to work a miracle" isn't an oxymoron, then Broomfield probably deserves the mantle. Keep an eye on the trajectory of this team. They were very young last year and figure to get an extra boost from Greg Weich's coaching. Expect a little upward mobility from this group.
Mullen's top two departed by way of graduation, but--somehow--you never quite count Mullen out of the game.
And, as a Christmas present to the entire classification, Coronado came down from 5A to join the ranks of 4A. Dusty Solis has graduated for the Cougars but didn't leave the team in a pinch for talent. In fact, if you're looking for someone who could join the list of individual contenders, perhaps Jesse Mathews is that someone.
Durango? Well, maybe. The Demons got beat up a little in 5A last year and lost a lot to graduation, but Durango has a history of solid cross country teams. Maybe this year and maybe next year, but the Demons will eventually be causing problems for people once again.
While none of the 4A regions are extremely top-heavy in teams, both region 2 (northern Front Range) and region 4 (southern Front Range) seem to have slightly more than a proportionate share of top teams.