Brooke Grissom's hopes for the state meet figure into both the individual and team races. Photo by Alan Versaw.
Some might argue that this series of articles arrives too early. Why now instead of two weeks from now? There are a couple of reasons for this. Number one, I have a lot more time right now than I figure to have two weeks from now. Number two, if some team or some individual finds that extra bit of drive and motivation from reading this article (whether that team and/or individual feels slighted or properly recognized for the first time), better that the extra drive and motivation should arrive now than two weeks from now when the door of opportunity has swung mostly shut.
Clearly, in 2A as in other classifications, there are favorites and underdogs. Not talking about those statuses won't make them go away. We overcome challenges in life by facing them, not fleeing from them. I trust that this article, and those that follow, will be read in that light. I wish the best to all competitors at the state meet, and I look forward to many exciting races.
We are now in our third year of 2A cross country. Nobody but Rocky Ford and Nederland has won a team title thus far, but that could change this year. Once again, the fields will be small for the 2A races at the state meet, but expect some good competition, especially at the individual level, for both races.
2A Girls Individuals
This past weekend, Erin Kelly dealt Kelsey Corbin her first defeat of the season. It was a 40-second gap, indicating that the Mancos senior will have her hands full dealing with the experienced runner out of Crested Butte. While Kelly hasn't raced a lot this season, she did run in the Pat Patten Invitational and got a solid dose of big-time competition there.
Birdie Hutton got off to an outstanding start the first two meets of the season but hasn't been seen since. Such is the way of running injuries. If Hutton is able to come back, she's probably lost a step or two from the form she showed out of the gate. But, if anyone in this field can afford a step or two, it just might be Hutton.
Custer County's Valerie Stark is another one who figures to have a say in the final outcome. Although Stark finished well back in 19th at state last year, a solid summer of training has launched her directly into the mix for the state championship this fall. Highlights of Stark's season to date are a 4th at the Arapahoe Invitational and wins at the Florence and Pueblo Central (large school division) Invitationals.
Melissa Roberts of Lyons comes down from 3A this year to throw her hat into the 2A ring. Wins at Broomfield and RE1J indicate that Roberts is a credible candidate for the title.
Brooke Grissom of Rocky Ford has posted a string of meet titles, but hasn't won the meet titles against larger school competition that Stark and Roberts have. Still, Grissom is a fighter and can be dismissed only with peril.
And that would bring us to Kelley Robinson and Rebecca Hermann of Nederland. But why Hermann? Hasn't Robinson been at the front for Nederland every time she's run? Perhaps, but orders within a team do not always stay as they have been from time out of memory. Every once in a while, someone forgets how the order is supposed to go and things are never the same again. Maybe Hermann develops a lousy memory, who knows? Either Robinson or Hermann is capable of winning the state title under the right circumstances.
The hilly nature of the state course must be taken into account as a wild card in the state race. The expected order of finish on a flat, fast course might very well be dramatically different from what it will be on the state course. A course with lots of hills, however, probably tends to favor the runners from higher elevation. In this case, that doesn't narrow the field a great deal.
2A Boys Individuals
Ty Williams threw down the challenge with a second-place finish at the Lori Fitzgerald Invitational, almost 20 seconds ahead of the next 2A competitor. That challenge hasn't been answered yet, but the pack does appear to be drawing ever-so-slightly closer.
Nick Baca of Peyton, the next 2A competitor at the Lori Fitzgerald Invitational, has been quietly enjoying a solid season, winning meet titles at Lamar and Fountain Valley, and finishing second at Fountain-Fort Carson.
Eric Lewis of Mancos has been chasing Williams all season but always seems to finish behind Williams. Maybe Lewis is growing weary of the established order of things.
And, honestly, the rest of the pack may be in medal contention but could likely only close the gap on Williams in the event of a minor miracle. Realistically, it's a three-man affair for the state title.
2A Girls Teams
Nederland. The budding dynasty.
The strength of this year's edition of the Nederland program is obscured by the fact that they have rarely run their complete team in the same meet this season. The strength of the Nederland program is further obscured by the fact that they have typically run in meets against larger schools and had to score four, and sometimes five, runners in those meets.
This is a very good team. This is a team that would thump most 3A schools and regularly beats a bunch of 4A schools in larger meets.
It's not that there aren't other good 2A girls teams. It's that Nederland is a fair piece ahead of the chase pack and time to close that gap is dwindling rapidly.
Sargent, Rocky Ford, Lutheran-Parker, and Mancos, four teams that figured in the preseason as contenders, have struggled to put all the pieces in place. All four figure to be in the top 10 at state, but all four also need one or two runners to step up in a big way for their teams to join the inner circle of the 2A elite.
If there's a team that can close that gap on Nederland, it would seem that team is most likely to come from the group of Crested Butte, Lyons, and Fountain Valley.
Lyons may have the best chance of all. Olivia Raspotnik has shown steady progress in the #3 position for Lyons. A big race for her at state could conceivably erase Nederland's advantage. The first two for Lyons are certainly capable of keeping things close.
Although scoring only three runners makes for a lot of volatility in team standings, finding the third runner who can finish in the top 10 to 15 at the state meet has proven to be the #1 challenge faced by most 2A programs. Nederland has won two state titles thus far largely by virtue of being untouchable at the third runner. As long as that trend continues, the Nederland dynasty will continue to build.
2A Boys Teams
Like Nederland, and like most great small school programs over the last 30 to 40 years, Telluride has mixed it up with larger schools. You don't see Keith Hampton filling his team's schedule with small school meets. And, Telluride has given the larger schools on the western slope all they can handle, and frequently more than they can handle, this seaon--even when scoring five runners.
Make no mistake about it, adding a little potency to your schedule is a big piece in the puzzle of building a small school powerhouse. Come the end of the season, Telluride may have proven itself to be the best 2A boys team yet.
Fountain Valley, Del Norte, Lyons, and Rocky Ford are all decent enough teams, but none has yet approached the standard that Telluride has set this season. While that's not to say the state championship is a done deal, it is to say that knocking off the Miners is going to be a tall order for anyone.
Del Norte may be the strongest entry of the four schools listed above, but their schedule hasn't provided them the kind of battle testing that Telluride now owns. Rocky Ford and Lyons have a lot of tradition working in their favor. But, while tradition never graduates, it's also true that tradition doesn't dress out on meet day. Fountain Valley has been on a steady curve of improvment throughout the season, but the margin of error for the Danes is precariously thin and the timetable alarmingly short.