Until the last 150 meters, the gap between Paul Roberts and Zachary Alhamra never got any bigger than this. All photos by Alan Versaw.
It didn't take very long into either the 4A/5A boys race or the 4A/5A girls race at the St. Vrain Invitational to determine who the winner was going to be. Despite the massive collection of schools, neither Cerake Geberkidane nor Katie Rainsberger (photo, right) had any peers on Saturday. Maybe they should go to the same meets more often; it seems to have worked well so far.
To the extent that there was any drama, all of that centered around the battles for second.
The girls race featured a battle for second that consisted of mostly coyotes. Monarch Coyotes, that is. At one mile (photo, below), the pack of five behind Katie Rainsberger included Claire Green, Kaitlyn Benner, Ashley Litoff, Fossil's Ashley Bock, and Pine Creek's Kaleigh Kroeker. The intimidation factor was running big for Monarch with Alyssa Reese and Elissa Mann covering the backside.
In fact, the team battle was about as entertaining as the battle for Katie Rainsberger's lead. Both had all the spellbinding power of the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Monarch's 47 points sent down Pine Creek with 86 and The Classical Academy with 107.
But, the battle for second among the individuals did linger a lttle longer. As Kaitlyn Benner made an effort to break from the pack, Kroeker and Green lost contact with the lead group. Litoff and Bock stubbornly remained within sight of Benner but were incrementally losing ground with every stride. Benner was on top of her race, was dealing well with the heat, and was not going to be denied.
As the field wrapped around the third circuit, Litoff and Bock were clearly laboring, but Benner's stride remained strong. There may even have been a hint of a smile on her lips. Or perhaps she's one of those singularly blessed people who doesn't know any other policy in life's struggles than to smile her way through. In any case, Benner owned second through the final stages of the race and finished in 19:01, 42 seconds behind Rainsberger, but 19 seconds ahead of Litoff in third.
If you were looking for wire-to-wire drama, you needed to be watching the battle for second in the 4A/5A boys race. The battle there was pitched between Paul Roberts of Lyons and Zachary Alhamra of Pine Creek.
Roberts won this race going away last year, but nobody with the name of Geberkidane was running in last year's race. Alhamra was in last year's race, but yesterday's Alhamra was a different character than the young man who finished fifth last year.
As the image of Geberkidane's backside grew ever smaller and ever more distorted by the heat, Roberts and Alhamra battled hammer and tongs for second. Alhamra was content to let Roberts take the lead, but Alhamra constantly nipped at his heels, running maybe a stride behind, making certain Roberts was within constant earshot of his breathing. Roberts would surge, and Alhamra would respond. There was nothing about this contest of wills that was going to be settled prematurely.
With 200 meters to go, it was still Roberts with Alhamra dogging his every step. With 150 meters to go, Roberts opened up hard. The determination on the sophomore's face was unmistakeable, but so also was the pain. This time Alhamra didn't have an answer. Roberts pulled slightly away, finishing in 15:57 to Alhamra's 16:01.
Meanwhile, Geberkidane, who had set a course record that may be a long time in the breaking, was almost done sweating. His race had ended 42 seconds before Roberts crossed the line.
If Roberts and Alhamra had turned around and looked back at the finish, they would have instantly known the story of the team scoring. Perhaps they knew it, anyway, but a sea of Mountain Vista green was following them to the finish line.
Andrew Walton finished in fourth, Tyler Matzke in tenth, Paxton Smith in 12th, Carson Hart in 14th, and Blake Graf in 15th. And that closed the back cover on the team team title. Mountain Vista's 51 team points easily beat the 116 for Monarch (a sharply improved team over last year, by the way). If you're taking roll, Connor Weaver was absent from this meet.
Notable in the team tally was the fact that Lyons, a 2A school, finished fourth in the 4A/5A division. They may have finished third had they bothered to run six guys in the 4A/5A race, but it's kind of automatic that you lose tie-breakers when you only run five. Air Academy took 4A honors for the meet with 147 points and third place.
Also notable from the camp of small schools was that Custer County's Corey Lewenkamp ran to seventh place in the 4A/5A race, finishing his race in 16:32 and dropping hints that he will be heard from in October.
To see the faces of the young men and women who finished these races was to see the story of relief written in human flesh. The heat definitely took its toll, and some stumbled and collapsed before the finish.