Niwot had a solid 2010 campaign with Elise Cranny leading the way, but could be even better in 2011. Photo by Alan Versaw.
4A girls was close in 2010. It could be even closer in 2011 as every team seems to lose some key element but almost all of this year's top contenders also have reason to be hopeful based on who is coming back.
Cheyenne Mountain - Literally and figuratively, 2010 was a banner season for the Indians. And this is one program which is clearly pointed in the right direction after years of misfires and close-but-no-cigars. Cheyenne Mountain loses three seniors off their state team, including team leader Dani Grossman. But Greta Sloan, Nell Crosby, and Liz Stageberg figure to be a capable front three for the Indians in 2011. If they get some solid help from next year's freshman class, Cheyenne Mountain just might even be better next year. At any rate, they should be close to the team they were this year.
Evergreen - Sammy Skold and Maura O`Brien are back. That's the good news for the Cougars. These two are battle-tested and should prove to be outstanding leaders. Filling the hold left by Bryn Haebe will be another story, however. Like Cheyenne Mountain, Evergreen figures to be close to as good of a team as they were in 2010. Improving on that status will require a break or two falling in their favor.
Greeley Central - This is one team that will struggle to return to the leader board next year. You can't lose three like Allie Parks, Janelle Martinez, and Mercedes Davila and not have an impact on your team. In a region filled with the likes of Erie, Thompson Valley, and Niwot, it's going to be a worthwhile first goal for the Wildcats to make it back to state next year.
Thompson Valley - The Eagles struggled through a bit of a trough in the cycle this year. The good news is that Matt Norton's top guns were mostly very young this year and should be smarter and better next year. Karina Ernst has one more year left and has to be itching to see the kind of success that the Thompson Valley teams enjoyed when she was a freshman. Lauren Anderson and Hayley Berg have the potential to play key roles in the restoration of the glory.
Centaurus - This was probably the surprise team of the year under new head coach Brian Mathews. Despite losing a very capable top runner from the 2009 squad, this team had a steep curve of improvement in 2010. If Coach Mathews can successfully keep pushing the bar higher, the Warriors just might find themselves among the 4A elite. Halle Peterson had an excellent junior year and her teammates mostly return as sophomores and juniors next year. If you don't have this team on your watch list, you're due for a wake-up call early next season.
Vista Ridge - The graduation of Beth Luckel will hurt. Though not among the classification's highest tier of runners, Luckel was always tough and always gave the Wolves a nice opening score. Two of the next three were seniors as well, so 2011 figures to find Vista Ridge in rebuilding mode.
Niwot - The Cougars' top three, led by freshman sensation Elise Cranny are all back for 2011. The most pressing question, however, is what Niwot will have at the 4 and 5 positions. The Cougars gave up too much ground at state at the last two scoring positions and graduation is thinning the ranks of what they had. Niwot is a team that could move either direction depending on what next year brings.
Moffat County - For a team that traveled well all season long, the Bulldogs did not travel all that well to state. Moffat County will have to overcome the graduations of Maddy Jourgensen and Nike Cleverly, but Brenna Ciesco and Sassy Murray are capable competitors. Moffat County needs a few more like these two, however, to even maintain their position in the 4A ranks.
Mullen - It was a bit of an off year for Mullen girls' cross country and a key injury or two didn't help. Figure the Mustangs won't be down for long. Meilynn Weege and Caroline Braun doubtless have an agenda to make their senior campaign a happier affair than their junior season ended up being.
Air Academy - In Kellyn Roiko and Amelia Evans, the Kadets have, arguably, the best returning top two in the classification. It all depends on what happens behind them. If Air Academy is able to add some depth in 2011, this is potentially a very good team.
Palmer Ridge - Ali Deitsch should go into the season as one of the favorites to win the 4A individual title. This year, she didn't have a lot of support. But, Palmer Ridge is still a very new school and it some times takes time for new programs to build some confidence. With the success enjoyed by Deitsch and Spencer Wenck, and with the coaching passing to someone who works inside the building, recruiting the hallways figures to be a little easier next year for the Bears. The north end of El Paso County is rich in cross country tradition. Palmer Ridge is ripe for joining, and adding to, that tradition.
Broomfield - For a young team dealing with the departure of their graduated star from 2009, this team held together remarkably well. Remember that this team is coached by the architect of the Smoky Hill dynasty. It isn't always easy to reprise the magic in a new setting, but you're just plain being foolish if you don't keep half an eye open for what's happening at Broomfield. One good, strong front runner may be all that's needed to push this team to the next level.