Get to know this face, because Jenna McCaffrey is the newest member of the Niwot shock-and-awe team. Photo by Alan Versaw.
It should be a doozy. I count at least 10 schools with a legitimate shot at winning this thing--some better than others, of course, but 10 with a legitimate shot.
From Loveland come Thompson Valley and Mountain View. Kevin Clark's Mountain View team got the better of the last two meetings between these two schools, but I haven't seen any podcasts of Thompson Valley making concession speeches and urging all their adherents to vote for Mountain View. So, we'll assume there's a live contest on between these two programs. Both teams are loaded in talent.
Just a little south of Loveland is Niwot. Team Green has been running very well of late and simply dominated 4A Region 3. There may not be a better front three in 4A than the trio of Elise Cranny, Christa Boettiger, and Jenna McCaffrey. What happens at 4 and 5 is likely to be the determining factor for the Cougars.
Evergreen dominated 4A Region 1 and figures to be coming into state with a nice head of steam. These Cougars haven't grabbed as many recent headlines as the Niwot Cougars, but they are dangerous nevertheless. And they might just be a little more hill-hardened than Niwot.
Battle Mountain dominated the western slope region. The Huskies are probably still stinging over the end of last year's season and have something to prove about the quality of their program. Nobody, but nobody, who knows anything about Colorado high school cross country doubts that Battle Mountain has worked a few hills over the last four or five months.
Durango also comes out of the western slope region with some credentials of note. They came up short to Battle Mountain at regionals, but they are talented and they are in the state meet. Last I checked, those were two pretty important criteria.
Cheyenne Mountain took control of 4A Region 5 in Pueblo with a strong showing from the front two of Greta Sloan and Madison Lambros. Coronado was back a ways in second at the same region but Coronado knows the state course as well as anyone and returns as last year's state runner-up.
Out of 4A Region 2 come Air Academy and The Classical Academy. One point separated these two Colorado Springs north-enders at the regional meet. They return as the #3 and #1 teams, respectively, from last year's state meet. Nothing of the significance of what's before them is lost on either team.
You can run, but you can't hide. To win this thing will take near-perfect racing for any of the teams involved. There's simply too many teams too close for anyone to figure they can absorb an off day or two. It's highly likely nobody will know the outcome of this race until it is announced--visually scoring a meet with this many closely-matched teams is pretty much on the far end of impossible.
Individually, it came down between Elise Cranny and Katie Rainsberger last fall. Cranny took the win by the absolute narrowest of margins. But, honestly, I'll be stunned if it's that close this fall. It's not that both individuals aren't back (they are). It's not that both individuals haven't improved over last year (they have). It's that Elise Cranny has found a zone of her own. If Cranny is healthy, she is the favorite.
Just getting into the top ten will be a major accomplishment. Lining up behind Cranny and Rainsberger are names like Van Calcar, Deitsch, Constien, Larson, Leidig, Cooney, Offerman, Boettiger, McCaffrey, Hamilton, Evans, Sloan, Lambros, Leonard, Maloney, Morales, Till, Schmitt, Reed, and on and on and on it goes....
If you're counting, you know you've run out of fingers. Some of these will not finish in the medals, period. When has 4A girls ever been this deep? Where does the train stop? We might need a full CPR team at the stadium--not for the runners, they can handle it, but for the fans and coaches.
Anyone up for a prediction contest? If you're a brave soul, go ahead and post your predicted top ten on the comments to this article. Teams, individuals, or both!