With Ben Forsee closing the gap on 4A's top talent, Broomfield is emerging as one of the top teams in the classification. Colorado Track XC file photo.
I will begin this as I did the last piece, by laying out a few caveats. One, I have only a little bit more inside information than the average high school cross country fan in Colorado. Like the rest of you at this time of year, I'm constantly learning new things that have potenial bearing on how the cross country season will play out. In what follows, I do not propose to be anything remotely resembling a king maker. All that follows is one man's educated guesswork.
If a few teams find some extra motivation in their place of inclusion on (or omission from) this list, so much the better. Motivation is a great thing.
With that said, here are my hunches for how 4A will stack up come late October:
1. Cheyenne Mountain - The most difficult state championship to win is the second one.* The die that shaped the dynamic of the first state championship is broken and cannot be reproduced. There is a very subtle tendency to begin thinking along the entitled lines of all-we-need-to-do-now-is-show-up. The newness of it all that sustained the team's energy through the run to the initial title is gone. Staying on top shares nothing of the effortless feel that characterized the journey to the top. Such are the challenges that face Cheyenne Mountain this fall. Those challenges aside, Cheyenne Mountain still looks to me like the best team going into the season, but not by much. Dani Grossman led this team for years, but the Indians must now find a new personality to set the pace and the tone. Sophomore Greta Sloan looks to be the heir to that role, but settling into new roles is always a delicate operation. Nell Crosby didn't run track in the spring but figures to occupy a prominent role nonetheless. Liz Stageberg, Hannah Van Horn, and Sierra Kenyon each enjoyed solid track seasons. This team will be a serious obstacle for anyone wishing to contend for the 4A state title.
2. Thompson Valley - Eagles are both predators and scavengers, and they aren't especially particular about how they get their meal so long as there's something to eat. Karina Ernst and Lauren Anderson lead this pack. While Ernst is more of a middle distance type in track, her range extends easily to the cross country 5K. Lauren Anderson looked very sharp in the Valley 5000 a couple of weeks back. Natalie Howard appears to be in mid-season form. Thompson Valley always seems to find a way to be hanging out around the top.
3. Evergreen - The Cougars are another team that knows their way around to top floor of 4A girls cross country. Their second-place finish last fall indicates that they were able to exorcise at least of few of the state demons that had plagued them in the past. Between Maura O'Brien, Sam Skold, and Erin Dobey, the talent is in place to make a serious run at a state title. Like both Cheyenne Mountain and Thompson Valley, Evergreen would love to have a few breaks go their way. The battle at the top is tight enough that it could very easily come down to the fall of one or two breaks for each team.
4. Centaurus - A brilliant season last fall was mitigated somewhat by some frustrations on the track this spring. Paradoxically, Erin Twaddell, who was more or less a #4 or #5 for the Warriors in cross country, had the best track season for the group--at least in terms of distance events. Centaurus needs to turn around the frustrations of their track season in a hurry. Their cross country season from last fall says it can be done, but they are a very tentative fourth in these rankings. If Halle Peterson, who ran sub-20 at least four times last fall, refinds the magic, that will be the first big step in the right direction.
5. Mullen - Do not be fooled by last year's finish for the Mustangs. After a solid start to their season, injuries nipped at Mullen's heals throughout the latter half of the fall campaign. Meilyn Weege, in particular, missed a bunch of last season with an injury. If she runs healthy this fall. it will mean a lot to the fortunes of the Mustangs. Joining Weege up front for Mullen is Caroline Braun, who had a very solid season of her own in 2010. While the remainder of the Mullen returnees had passable track seasons last spring, they will need to be taking a step forward this fall or the Mustangs may find themselves being overtaken by some of the hungry teams behind them.
1. Thompson Valley - I'm not sure if it's a good thing to be labeled the preseason favorite in this group, but I'm going with Thompson Valley, anyway. There really aren't a lot of questions about the front three of Gus Waneka, Daniel Lara, and Kevin Baldwin except for "How fast can they go?" It gets more interesting when you start thinking about who will nail down the #4 and #5 positions for the Eagles this fall and how fast they will go. But, every team comes in with a few questions. It just so happens that Thompson Valley seems to have fewer questions than most. On account of that, we give them the honorary white shirt with the bright red bullseye on back.
2. Broomfield - This team is now mature--and dangerous. Ben Forsee is the obvious leader, but Kory Skattum and Ethan Gonzales are looking like true competitors right behind him. Gonzales has been coming along nicely and is only a sophomore this fall. These Eagles may also have clearer answers at #4 and #5 than the Thompson Valley variety of Eagles, but the front three goes into the season looking just a step or two behind the front three of Thompson Valley. Broomfield and Thompson Valley should see a lot of each other this season, so it could get very interesting very soon.
3. Coronado - The Cougars have been hanging around the top of 5A and, more recently, 4A for several years now. Their story, however, has fallen something along the lines of "always a bridesmaid, never a bride." Year after year, things have fallen apart for Coronado at the most inopportune of times. And state is the most inopportune of times. Once again, Coronado appears to have the guys to make a serious run at the title. Dan Egger, Ryan Mott, Drew Stimson, and Daniel Mathews have a lot of speed and experience between them. If they find a way to keep everything moving forward all the way to the state meet, they are capable of toppling both Thompson Valley and Broomfield on the right day.
4. Moffat County - The Bulldogs have a potentially explosive lineup. Anyone at the state track meet last spring is not likely to underestimate Alfredo Lebron. The brothers Molina, if they can survive the rigors of doubling between football and cross country, should provide excellent support at the second and third scoring positions. Johnny Landa and Dale Nakai look like good entries at #4 and #5. But, barring the impact of a surprise freshman, the Bulldogs could be operating once again on a razor-thin margin. One injury, such as happened last fall, takes Moffat County from a title contender to an also-ran unless there has been some strong development over the last 10 months.
5. Cheyenne Mountain - The mighty may have fallen, but probably not far. Last year's state scoring five are gone--completely gone. But, a great program is never just five guys. We should learn very quickly just how ready Philip Meyer, Tristan Pelto, Josh Fowler, and Zach Kuzma are going to be. And, speaking of Zach Kuzma, am I just kidding myself or is there a little name recognition going on here with a certain Air Force and WCAP 800 meter runner of about 10 - 15 years ago (as in Jeff Kuzma)? Keep a very close eye on this group. It's far from out of the question that these guys are contending for a state title by the end of the season. If that happens, figure on the requests for Stan Lambros to be speaking at clinics to spike sharply.
* - This particular bit of wisdom does not originate with me. I was first given this insight into the way things work by the man who was principal of The Classical Academy in the fall of 2004. The words turned out to be eerily prophetic.