Mandy Ortiz of Battle Mountain passes Jessica Kleven and Sam Skold at the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede. Battle Mountain has been passing lots of folks lately. Photo by Alan Versaw.
If you like team races with lots of intrigue and a multitude of possibilities, you're going to love 4A this fall. Let's take a closer look at what has been revealed in the first two weeks of the season.
Cheyenne Mountain - The Indians came into the season with high expectations. They've done nothing to diminish those expectations. A win in one of the 4A races at the Stampede and what appears to be a calculated effort to have their top six (Zach Kuzma, Josh Fowler, Tristan Pelto, Ben Fox, Alex Baer, and Tristan Myers) all pace through at about 17:30 at the Cherry Creek Invitational lend credence to the theory that this team is ready to roll. While allowing that Cherry Creek is a faster-type course, there aren't any other 4A teams with six guys clearly at 17:30 or better.
Broomfield - Of the teams we've seen so far (more on that issue as we move through the schools), Broomfield has shown very well. Broomfield has a win at the Stampede and a top showing among 4A schools at the massive St. Vrain Invitational to their credit. Ethan Gonzales has looked very sharp in the early going, including a 16:30 at St. Vrain to take fourth there. Daniel Alvarez-Chao looks to be the newest promising member of the roster in Broomfield. But, the Eagles need to close on Cheyenne Mountain at 4 and 5 to become a bigger factor in this race.
Coronado - The addition of Bailey Roth has taken this team up a notch. Coronado has been a team of some reputation for a long time running now, so "up a notch" means something more in this case than it might otherwise mean. The Cougars lost a tie-breaker to Arapahoe at the Arapahoe Invitational and steamrolled the field at the Lake County Invitational. It's safe to say that the Arapahoe result means more in the great scheme of things, but this is clearly not a team to be trifled with. Along with Roth, Dan Egger has been running very well, and younger brother Adam Egger has stepped up very nicely into a key role for the Cougars. A key date on this team's schedule is their home invitational at Monument Valley Park on September 20. Figure that if there's anything more to learn about this team, that's a likely place for them to be showing it.
Pueblo West - The Cyclones didn't run a complete team at the Stampede and so managed to slip out of view in the team standings. They did, however, bring a complete team to Lake County and ran second to Coronado. Wyatt Swanson and Corban Pagnotta will be keying a lot of things for this team. The roster is young and figures to get better as the season moves along, so early impressions probably fall on the side of conservative.
Durango - The Demons ran 7th at the Arapahoe Invitational, well behind Coronado, but--at some point--have to get a little credit for a seven-hour trip to run in that race. Against a much less competitive field, Durango conquered the Joe Vigil Open over second-place Evergreen. Joe Maloney is the real deal at #1 for the Demons. If the next five guys can close up ranks behind Maloney, this should be a very competitive team.
Eagle Valley - A convincing win at the Battle Mountain Invitational earns you some hill credentials, and that's exactly what Eagle Valley came away from Avon with. Eagle Valley had five of the top 12 and three of only five finishers to complete the course in under 20:00. In any case, it was a far superior performance to what Gregg Salaz and company turned in at the Stampede. Things are looking up in Gypsum.
Palmer Ridge - After a nice showing at the Stampede, where the Bears took second by a mere eight points to Broomfield, Palmer Ridge came back at Widefield and thrashed the field on Friday night. Eric Hamer, Jordan Deitsch, and Nate Mills went 1-2-3 at that meet and have the Bear Express going places in a hurry. The Widefield Invitational didn't provide quite the kind of test these guys are ready for. Those tests will be coming soon, and we should get a clearer picture of what to expect from this team.
Air Academy - Danyon Anderson and Andy Boyle looked extremely sharp at the Cheyenne Mountain Invitational and then sat out the meet last weekend at Widefield. Air Academy was clearly sitting out a lot of their top talent on both sides at Widefield, so we're not going to read anything into that. Up front, Air Academy is as good as anyone in this field. The Kadets, however, need to see some develop their depth further down the roster to become a bigger factor in the race. Ryan Helzer showed well at #3 at the Stampede, but a big gap followed from 3 to 4.
Thompson Valley - Wherefore art thou, Dan Lara, Daniel Bloom, and Kaleb Simington? Word is that they should be back in action this week. If so, we'll get our first good look at what Thompson Valley has in store for us this season. The Eagles are, thus far, the biggest 4A mystery of the season.
The Classical Academy - TCA probably ranks as the second biggest mystery of the 4A season to date. The Titans sat out week one, and Conner Wilburn sat out St. Vrain. A Wilburn-less Titan team finished third (behind Broomfield and Niwot) among 4A schools at the St. Vrain Invitational. Wilburn may still be out of action this weekend. So, the Titans should be competitive once everyone shows up at the same meet, but it may take a while for that to happen.
Niwot - The Cougars were second among 4As to Broomfield at St. Vrain, a meet practically in their own backyard. That was a little better showing than what they posted at the Stampede. Jacob Fisk has the look of Niwot's next big name in cross country, but the rest of the scoring lineup will need to close up ranks behind Fisk to help the Cougars make a run at things later this fall.
Evergreen - The Cougars were less than completely sharp at the Stampede, but looked to have a few more things figured out last weekend at the Joe Vigil. Jackson Sayler, Sam Sahli, and Thomas Warren make for a very competitive top three. Questions linger around scoring positions 4 and 5. The Cougars are poised to go as far as the development of these last two scoring positions will take them. And, has anyone else noticed the preponderance of Cougars among 4A's top teams?
Centaurus - We'll close out this rather lengthy discussion of 4A boys teams with a look at the reigning state champions. Chandler Reid, Jake Link, Sam Patzer, and company nailed down a second at the Stampede. The Warriors came storming back for a third (and the top 4A finish) at their own invitational on Saturday. Like a lot of other teams in this mix, Centaurus is looking for answers and 4 and 5. If answers are in the offing, Centaurus will once again be in the running.
Doubtless, I've missed a contending boys team or two, but at some point you simply make a decision that you're not going to review the entire slate of 4A teams and move on. For those keeping track, Falcon would be next up on my list of teams to scope out.
Battle Mountain - The Huskies get my nod as the top 4A team to date, but not by much. They began the season by taking it to Thompson Valley at the CM Stampede and then defended their home slope very nicely at the Battle Mountain Invitational. Last year, this was a Mandy Ortiz and Sydney Gaylord kind of team. This year, the Huskies are a, well, team (what else would Huskies be?). Add Bridgett Courtois, Val Constien, and Christina Shearon to the mix and you have the instant contender that Battle Mountain is. Sydney Gaylord was absent from the Battle Mountain Invite, which doesn't qualify as a big concern yet, but we will continue to watch that situation.
Thompson Valley - Like an illegally parked car, Lauren Anderson got a boot applied to her wheel, and that's a tough blow for this team. Still, Thompson Valley is a very good team. Kendra Larson, Megan Irvine, and Hayley Berg make up one of the best, if not the best, front three in 4A right now. In what's beginning to sound like a bit of a broken record, it's what happnes behind them--and particularly in the next two places behind them--that will determine how far this team goes this fall. Thompson Valley finished in what amounted to a dead heat with TCA and Niwot at the St. Vrain Invitational, so the Eagles are still very much in the hunt.
Niwot - You might say Elise Cranny makes a difference. Without Cranny at the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede, Niwot pleads the 5th in 4A DI. Next week, with Cranny and Christa Boettiger hammering hard, Niwot loses a tie-breaker with TCA for the top 4A finish at the St. Vrain Invitational. This Niwot team is better than anyone expected coming into the season. Niwot does deal currently with a 2-3 gap that will need to be trimmed down for a serious state title run, but this is very much a team worth paying attention to.
Durango - It's been a nice start for the Durango five. Running with Shannon Maloney tucked away in a FR/SO race, Durango finished seventh at Arapahoe, behind only Coronado among 4A schools. Last weekend in Alamosa, the Demons possessed the meet, snaring four of the top eight places and rolling to a substantial margin of victory over a good Evergreen team. Hannah Peterson is a very good #2 for Durango. The balance of the scoring five seems pretty capable. Durango runs their home meet this weekend and should pretty much have the run of the course.
Coronado - The story of the Coronado girls is very much the same story as the Coronado boys. Stir a Roth into the batter and an already good recipe becomes a great one. Sure, Coronado finished fourth at Arapahoe, but the teams ahead of them were Mountain Vista, Arapahoe, and Pine Creek, This year, there is no shame in losing to any of those three teams. Gabby Roth, Liz Akers, and Sylvia Hayes enjoy good support at 4 and 5, making this a very dangerous team. The Cougars didn't face too stern of a test at Lake County this past weekend, so we'll pay close attention to how this team does this weekend.
The Classical Academy - In their season opener, TCA took top 4A honors at St. Vrain by the thinnest of margins, by a tie-breaker over Niwot. Megan Brunette did drop at about the midway point of that race, which probably exerted a moderate negative impact overall on the Titans' standing at the meet. The Titans will look to get everyone finishing the race this weekend at Pueblo Central and see where that gets them. Lauren Hamilton leads the group. Maddie Mullen is showing signs of picking up where her graduated sister left off. Behind them, there are numerous possibilities as a generally young set of Titans without a lot of prior name recognition work hard for slots on the varsity roster.
Air Academy - Like the AA boys, the AA girls sat a couple of key components on Friday night at the Widefield Invitational. Those who purchased tickets hoping to see the freshman phenom duo of Katie Rainsberger and Hanna Born went home disappointed. But, if you look at the JV results from the Widefield Invitational, you learn yet another important fact about the Air Academy team. The top finisher in the JV race goes by the name of Loren Mudd. There is likely only one reason Mudd would be running in the JV race. I'll help you connect the dots by providing a link to the 2A girls state meet results from last fall. Scroll down to place 14 in the individual results. Air Academy figures to be a very, very competitive team once the transfer rule has run its course.
Palmer Ridge - While on the subject of the Widefield meet from Friday, it's also worth noting that Palmer Ridge took five of the top seven places. The only cards breaking up a straight flush for the Bears were Olivia Evans and Aubrey Till. And those are two pretty high cards in the overall scheme of things. Ali Deitsch, Heather Gentry, Kaitlin Ramsey, Hannah Capek, and Courtney Campbell give Palmer Ridge a very nice front five. Ramsey and Capek are freshmen who should get a lot better with experience. If you like worrying about other teams, this would be a good one to have on your worry list. Bears are always a problem in the fall, anyway.
Centaurus - You know Centaurus, the quiet school that sneaks up on people at the state meet. They won't be able to hide as well this year, but they still maintain a lower profile than what they deserve. Last weekend they finished third at their own invitational behind Loveland and Rocky Mountain and just ahead of a pretty good Ralston Valley team. It's a pack operation in Lafayette. Figure on Erin Twaddell leading the pack, but the next four are never far behind. And, to be successful, the Warriors will have to close down the pack even more because they don't figure to have anyone among 4A's highest placers. They're just solid, consistent, and--in a cross country sort of way--kind of sneaky.
Broomfield - The Eagles have a little bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing going on right now. On opening weekend, they plowed the field in the 4A DI race at the Stampede. Abby Gardner looks completely on top of her race. Then, in week two, they struggle at St. Vrain. And the list of names just simply aren't that different. Regan Vandepol is in second again at St. Vrain, and Kara Skattum actually shows in the results at St. Vrain. Ally Malecha runs both races. The Eagles figure to get a boost when Katie Forsee returns to the varsity roster. So, if the Stampede Eagles show up, this team can run with anyone. If the St. Vrain Eagles show up, there's a lot more in question.
It's entirely possible I'm missing something. I've been known to miss things before. But, that looks to me to be the list of top contenders in 4A girls. There's a good pack of teams not far at all behind them, however, That pack would include at least Evergreen, Mountain View, D'Evelyn, and Cheyenne Mountain.
Is 4A going to be fun this fall, or what?