As story lines go, they don't get much bigger than Brie Oakley vs. Lauren Gregory. Photos by Alan Versaw.
As a caveat, there's only so far in-depth you can go about a meet with 92 teams unless you aim to write a book. I have no intentions of writing a book here, though it may seem like a credible start before I'm finished.
We'll break this down by race as a means of managing the load, and I'll go in the order that the races will be run on the streets, trails, and then streets again of Littleton.
Division 4 Boys
These are, allegedly, the small schools. But some of the schools in this race aren't that small. I'll tap Holy Family as the boys team favorite, though it will be interesting to see how well Faith Christian can hang with an old, familiar rival in this race. Much of Faith Christian's ability to hang with HF, though, likely depends on whether or not Cole Sprout is ready to run. He is entered, but that necessarily mean he runs on race day. Moffat County and University are two other teams that could potentially contend here. Peyton probably doesn't figure for the Division 4 crown, but they could still easily send a message to the rest of 2A with a big performance here.
Individually, take Sprout if he is at 100%. Anything less than 100%, though, suggests Jerald Taylor might be your favorite. Taylor is a proven hill runner, but his track season says he does pretty well on flat surfaces, too, and maybe even courses with a net downhill aspect.
Division 4 Girls
If you missed Annie Hughes' debut at the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede, she's coming back to the Front Range for Liberty Bell. Interestingly, though, if Hughes wins she will only be tied on her own team for number of Liberty Bell individual titles. Whitney White was once a winner of this race as well.
Honestly, I don't see anyone running Hughes off the tracks here, but the battle for second could get interesting between White, Jessica Peters, Kyra Hanson, Sam Schaffer, Shannon King, and Grace Skinner.
Team-wise, Holy Family probably figures to stand tallest in the field, but watch and see how things play out for Resurrection, University, CSCS, Colorado Academy, and Kent Denver.
Division 3 Boys
D'Evelyn comes into this one with a bit of a target on their backs. That's the distinction that comes with beating everyone but Arvada West at their home meet and then taking top honors at Lake County. We'll see how the Jaguars respond to the pressure. If they win here, they'll have a whole lot of people looking at them in an entirely new light. We could be back to a 2003 kind of aura for this team in a hurry.
Doing their level best to keep that from happening will be teams like Scottsbluff (always a tough team at the Bell), Frontier Academy, Evergreen, and Glenwood Springs. As a matter of fact, this just might turn out to be the most competitive team contest of the entire afternoon. I honestly don't have a call on a favorite to win this one, though I suppose if you twisted my arm behind my back, I might blurt out something that sounds a little like Glenwood Springs.
Individually, I don't have a good read on the Scottsbluff boys, but there have a history of bringing speed to this meet. The lay of the course tends to favor the more track and field types, and that suggests Brandon Swenson and Weston Donati-Leach of Evergreen are ones to be seriously reckoned with. If one of those two can't pull it off, I'd be inclined to go with Rifle's Jack Rubalcave.
Division 3 Girls
Whereas D3 boys is likely more interesting from the team perspective, D3 girls is likely more interesting from the individual perspective. Think of Keely Jones, Madi Kenyon, Sarah Wagler, Hannah Ellis, and Addi Iken as your short list of probable contenders. Coming into the season, you probably would have gone with Iken as the favorite, but it's tough to ignore what Wagler and Ellis have done already this season. Jones and Kenyon are certainly fast enough to threaten as well.
I do not see a clear favorite in the team derby, but Valor, Roosevelt, Steamboat, Evergreen, and Frontier Academy all figure to make their cases.
Division 2 Boys
We are now getting into the realm of certifiably large schools.
And, honestly, this gets very interesting. Who do you like between Laramie, Silver Creek (still without Logan Simington running varsity), ThunderRidge, or someone else? Laramie is traditionally very strong. Silver Creek has developed a take-no-prisoners attitude very early in the season. ThunderRidge has their best team in years, maybe in school history. Looking up and down the list of teams, I don't see any other teams getting in the way of these three but a couple of painful experiences in my history with cross country around these parts tell me to never, ever take Broomfield too lightly.
Individuals? Jerod Kuhn showed very well at D'Evelyn. Laramie's Philip Henry gets a look because we all recognize that surname by now. Brock Dykema at Silver Creek figures here. Thomas Chaston's time has come at Cheyenne Mountain. At this point, I'm inclined toward Kuhn or Henry, but there is a lot of rising talent here that has to be just itching for a showcase even like Liberty Bell to make a breakthrough. Keep a careful eye on what happens here.
Division 2 Girls
First place? Broomfield, any questions...? Good.
Second place? How about Highlands Ranch? The Falcons have had a couple good outings already and are a much more competitive team this year than recent history would indicate. At the very least, this would be a wonderful setting for HR to post a big result. Centaurus, Thompson Valley, and Wheat Ridge all come in for consideration here as well.
The individual race figures to be interesting, though I'm thinking Madison Mooney makes a good favorite candidate. After taking over the lead midway-ish through Centaurus last week, Mooney didn't have a great finish, so she could very much have redemption on her mind this weekend.
But, there are people in this field who can contend. Some of those would include Kenadi Krueger, Lauren Offerman, Stephanie Carrasco, Shae Henley, and Tiya Chamberlin.
Division 1 Boys
It's time for our annual reminder about Albuquerque Academy. Adam Kedge's crew has won this race more times than anyone in Colorado cares to count. They would have won it one additional time but for a DQ a couple years ago. Don't get caught taking this team lightly.
Fighting to keep the Red Army out of the winner's circle will be Rock Canyon, Fort Collins, Arapahoe, and Fairview. Rock Springs may have a pretty good entry here as well, but it's harder to tell the status of that team with so little information yet from this season. Historically, Rock Springs has run well at the Bell.
Albuquerque Academy pounded the field at last weekend's UNM Lobo meet. And, they are a mature team unlikely to self-destruct with careless mistakes. Rock Canyon jumps into the crucible with something to prove. They've shown well in two early meets but haven't hit the big breakthrough yet. Fort Collins is probably stinging a little after last week. Arapahoe is another team looking for a breakthrough.
Individually, contenders include Chris Theodore, Jordan Lesansee of Albuquerque Academy, Cam Dimas, Harrison Scudamore, and Kyle Moran. There should be plenty of mutual respect to go around in that circle.
Division 1 Girls
From a national perspective, all eyes are on the showdown between Brie Oakley and Lauren Gregory. Oakley easily got the best of Gregory in track this spring, but Gregory was far from all the way back in May. Her recent races indicate that, at the very least, she is more closer to being back to 100% this fall. Gregory puts a two-year winning streak here on the line on Friday afternoon. I won't pick a favorite except to say we should get a great race with national implications.
Behind the big two, Aubrey Frentheway of Cheyenne Central has been running in Colorado all season and doing well. She'll be one to watch out for. Sydney Teslow of Fossil Ridge is a decided serious entry. Jackson Hole's Anna Gibson posted a big result at last week's BYU Autumn Classic. Shannon Osoba is probably better suited to hillier courses, but should not be taken lightly here even so.
Team contention takes an interesting turn. With Broomfield sequestered in D2 and Mountain Vista making off for St. Vrain, this becomes a wide-open affair. The Albuquerque Academy girls probably aren't quite at the level of the boys, but they must be considered here nevertheless. Cherry Creek is a team waiting to break through. Grandview dominated a lightning-shortened meet on weekend one, and the Wolves would love to make a statement here. Fairview has looked solid in the early going. Fossil Ridge and Cherokee Trail look to live up to some preseason promise with a big showing here. Since we lack a clear team favorite here, lots of teams should be stepping to the starting line with high hopes of working a little magic.