With Brie Oakley just out of view, Lauren Gregory attacks the final hill on the state course. Photos by Alan Versaw.
It was close. It was close twice over. In fact, you could make a very good case that this one was so good it should have been the concluding event of the entire state meet.
The individual title didn't come down to a race between three as anticipated, but it did come down to a very good battle between two.
It would be fair to call Lauren Gregory a slight favorite going into the 5A girls race. From conversations I had with fans and other coaches before the race began, it seemed to be fairly widely understood that Allie Chipman was a little nicked up and probably not running at 100%. And, Gregory had beaten Brie Oakley in their lone meeting during the invitational season. Added to all that, Gregory was the grizzled veteran in the group, the one who had been to state and won before, not once but twice.
But, for all Gregory's accumulated perceptions of advantage, once the racing started she never could shake Oakley. And, the longer Oakley hung on, the more those of us watching held our breath and waited to see what would happen next.
At the all-important creek crossing, Gregory held an advantage of perhaps five or six seconds. While not a prohibitive lead, neither did Gregory seem in imminent danger. It's well known in track circles that Gregory can turn a pretty mean 400, and the margin seemed comfortable enough to sustain the Fort Collins junior against any late charges.
Apparently, though, Oakley had never read any press clippings of Gregory's 4x400 splits and gave chase, anyway. The entire crowd inhaled and pursed their lips as the pair entered the stadium and bore down on the finish line.
In the end, Gregory would manage to hold off Oakley by about 1.5 seconds, 18:15.7 to 18:17.2, but this one she earned in a fashion she had no need of in either of her two previous state titles.
The race for the individual title did, indeed, live up to all expectations, and Oakley solidified her status as the 5A newcomer of the year. Chipman would end up in fourth at 18:34, with Catherine Liggett nailing down third between Oakley and Chipman.
The team title would take a few moments longer to develop.
According to expectations, it would be Cherry Creek, Broomfield, and Mountain Vista battling for the team title. But, without a formal invitation, Fairview crashed the party and made it a four-way battle for the top spot.
Mountain Vista opened the scoring among the presumed contenders with a 4 and a 6 from Allie Chipman and freshman Caroline Eck. It was a strong start, but not entirely unexpected, for Mountain Vista.
Fairview was next to respond with Maya Browning in seventh. Cherry Creek and Broomfield followed in short order will Lillian Markusch and Emily Mitchem. Mitchem's presence in the top ten was not at all a sure thing, and Broomfield coach Greg Weich (see interview linked below) rightly noted the importance of Mitchem's finish to her team.
After a brief respite of finishers from the big four, and beginning with Devon Peterson's 18th, the contenders began trading places at the finish line in a fashion that defied quick analysis. Had it been only two teams in the hunt, one might possibly have been able to keep approximate track, but it was not just two teams and there was no relief from the constant back-and-forth of colors of singlets. A listing of the scoring orders of the four teams manifests some of the confusion:
Cherry Creek: 7-15-28-31-39
Mountain Vista: 3-5-26-47-51
On screen, it's easy enough to track the rising and falling of each of the four team's hopes with the successive places, but things aren't nearly that easy as runners are crossing the finish line mixed in with athletes from other schools.
And, a little quick arithmetic reveals Broomfield as perhaps a bit of a slight upset winner. Broomfield had defeated Cherry Creek previously this season, but not a fully-loaded Cherry Creek squad. This time, the Eagles got the job done against the best team Cherry Creek could put on the course.
Eight points separated the Eagles from the Bruins, with another four between the Bruins and Fairview, and eight more between Fairview and Mountain Vista.
Showing up well above their latest ranking in fifth was the team from Coronado--a team that could become a member of the 5A circle of power as early as next season, if only Coronado stays in 5A with the new classification system. It does appear more likely than not, however, that Coronado will remain in the ranks of 5A.