Lindsey Smith fights her way up Powerline Climb at last year's state meet. She'll have a bigger hill, literally and metaphorically, to climb at state this year. Photo by Paul Jaeger.
Do you remember this cover photo from the annals of Colorado Track XC? Seven diminutive girls, mostly freshmen, from the upstart program at Mountain Vista, turned aside all challengers on a demanding course at the Air Academy Kadet Invitational. The team title at the 2009 Kadet Invitational was a high water mark for the program up to that point in time and an early indication of the kind of competitive performances we would come to expect from Mountain Vista on a weekly basis.
The MV girls have come a long way since then, but the cast of characters has remained remarkably stable. Four of the six finishers on last year's state team were from the magical freshman class of 2009: Karlee Schwartzkopf, Lindsey Smith, Brooke and Brittany Mackay. I don't know what happened to Laura Londono at the state race last fall, but, for whatever reason, she was unable to finish the race.
Even with taking a hit from Londono's absence among the finishers, Mountain Vista still finished a very strong third.
This, then, would be the season of the final opportunity for Mountain Vista's cross country class of 2012. This is the year they get to write the script of how they will be remembered.
Karlee Schwartzkopf and Lindsey Smith were the clear leaders of the pack last fall. And, it was a tag-team kind of deal. Somethings Smith, sometimes Schwartzkopf, but always fast. Both ran well into the 18s. Indications are that they'll be setting the tone on the team once again this year.
Laura Londono, Brittany Mackay, and Brooke Mackay are the remaining representatives of their class with sub-20 credentials. In fact, all three are 19-mid kind of runners on their best days (and it should be noted that Mountain Vista tends to run more challenging courses, resolutely bypassing speed courses like Liberty Bell). Brooke Smetanka is another senior who is on the cusp of being in the top seven. Smetanka's 12:32 3200 from this spring suggests that a sub-20 cross country 5K is well within the bounds of reasonable for her as well.
Last fall, freshman Delaney Fitzsimmons worked her way into the middle of the group of seniors. At times, it seemed she was the only non-junior running in the varsity races, but that could be solely an exaggerated personal perception on my part. Fitzsimmons returns as a sophomore this fall and will be counted on heavily to continue, and even improve on, the kind of contributions she made last fall with a season-best time of 19:36. Ashlee Johnson and Molly Reicher are two more coming back from last year's squad with considerable varsity experience. Reicher is the only one of the entire group without a sub-20 performance to her name, but Reicher did run at state last fall and posted a season-best mark of 20:27 at the state meet, finishing 46th overall.
The Golden Eagles' track season revealed no developing weakenesses in the foundation. To the contrary, Smith, Schwartzkopf, Londono, and Reicher each ran below 5:30 in the 1600 in the spring. Better still, Mountain Vista had a whopping total of 13 girls who posted at least one time below six minutes in the 3200. Depth isn't one of the bigger concerns in this program.
The worst thing about being part of the Mountain Vista girls cross country team is that you can be very, very good and still be shut out of varsity. From a coaching perspective, that mind of situation is often a delicate one to manage.
In the 5A team race, Mountain Vista figures to be a player. Ahead of them last fall were Monarch and Fort Collins. Neither of these schools got any weaker since last November. So, the challenge ahead of Mountain Vista is easy enough to figure. The Golden Eagles, even as good as they are, have to get better to make a serious run at the state title this fall. 18-highs have to become 18-mids. 19-mids have to become 19-lows, or even 18-highs. If that happens, Monarch and Fort Collins will have all the trouble on their hands they can handle.
Any of these three teams has the depth to absorb an injury or two, if necessary. So the 5A girls title race will almost certainly come down to the development of the top runners between last October and this October. At this moment, Mountain Vista looks like a bit of an underdog, but it may not be a good idea to keep reminding them of that status.