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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Battle Mountain Cross Country finished up its season this weekend with the state meet. Both teams had strong races and finished in 6th place, while sophomore Alexis Aguirre recorded a 9th place finish as an individual and in the process earned his first All-State honor.
Cross country starts are always exciting when 200 athletes are trying to get good position. The state course offers a little more excitement with a barn taking up half the course about 400 meters into the race. Runners can either go through the barn or off to the left, but both options can be a tight squeeze. Then just after the barn there is another choke point as the runners run down through a stream and out onto the course. Coaches in Colorado are split on whether it is a good set up for a meet that is so important, but it certainly is unique and adds to the importance of a good start.
The boys raced first for the Huskies and apparently the barn and giant mass of elbows and legs was not exciting enough. One-hundred meters into the race Josh Braun, Ricardo Arreola and Jake Borel got tangled up with runners from opposing teams and hit the deck. Officials fired a second shot to restart the race.
“Three of the four coaches were up on the ridge above the creek so that we could see the start and then get out on the course to give instructions and cheer the guys on,” said assistant Coach Jonny Stevens. “We had talked a lot with both teams about how important it was to get a good start, because it’s difficult to pass people the first half of the race on a course this narrow.
“The guys started and we were all thinking ‘Where is the yellow? This is a terrible start’, then the second gun went off and we see Ricky and Josh climbing out of a pile back near the start line.”
The Huskies picked themselves up, wiped the blood off their legs and hands and headed back to the start. This time there was no call back. Runners made their way through the barn and the creek without any problems.
“The guys 2nd start was great,” said head coach Rob Parish. “I think Josh was pretty banged up but he and the rest of the guys were able to compose themselves and 6 of 7 were exactly where they needed to be in that first mile.”
Cameron Moore led the charge the first mile coming through in 18th place followed closely by Alexis Aguirre in 21st.
“Cam and Alexis both knew where they wanted to finish the race and knew that if they were in 40th at the mile it would be almost impossible to move up to the top 15 by the end. There is so much congestion on this course and everybody at the state meet is a good runner. They needed to be in striking distance to have a shot.”
Ethan Pence and Josh Braun were next — both around 40th place through the mile — followed by Ty Willoughby in 51st, Arreola in 72nd and Borel in 81st.
As the runners made their way to “Big Willis,” the large hill around the halfway mark, the Huskies surged ahead. By the two mile mark Moore and Aguirre had moved up to 12th and 13th while the rest of the scorers held position.
“The guys were running so tough, but it was hard to tell where they were scoring as a team. Palmer Ridge is such a good team, and the next five teams were all so close it was hard to keep track,” said assistant coach Max Van Dyke. “Durango would have three guys run by and then we were trying to figure out if they were next to Niwots 4th or 5th runner, if our 5th was battling Thompson Valley’s 3rd or 6th guy. It was very competitive.”
So competitive in fact that 3rd through 6th place were separated by only 24 points.
The Huskies had a great second half of the race as Aguirre moved up to 9th by the end and Cameron Moore, who with 800 to go was in 17th was able to outkick a large pack as they entered the finish stadium and hold on to an 11th place finish.
“The guys individually made some huge jumps from last year to this year,” said Parish. “Cameron was 82nd in 2013 and 11th this year, Alexis went from 108th to 9th, Ricky from 151st to 60th, and even Borel, who didn’t score for us, still dropped 60 places. The team should be incredibly proud of because they were right there contending for a top 4 spot after finishing 16th last year.”
Indeed the Huskies improved even from the Pre-State meet in September. They closed the gap between 3rd place Durango to only 43 seconds for their team composite times after being soundly beaten at the first meet.
With Aguirre and Moore in the top 11, strong finishes by Pence in 42nd, Braun in 55th and Arreola in 60th nearly put the Huskies in the top 3. It was the slimmest of margins for the boys 4A race as just 6 points separated 6th from 5th, 3 points from 5th to 4th and 15 points from 4th to 3rd.
It was the 4th time the Battle Mountain recorded a top 10 finish at the state meet and the first time since 2008.
“Improving 10 places at the State meet in one year is very difficult to do. And the guys were close to improving 13 places. It was a great accomplishment for them as a team.”
Individually, Moore and Aguirre added themselves to the list of All Time Greats for the Battle Mountain program. Only 3 other male runners (Jonny Stevens ’05,’06,’07, John O’Neill ’07, and David Shearon ’09 and ’10) have finished in the top 11 at the state meet. Aguirre’s finish puts him even with Coach Stevens mark for the highest finish by a Battle Mountain Sophomore at the meet.
The 4A girls race also had a pile-up to start, but thankfully none of the Battle Mountain runners were involved. In fact, the restart may have worked in the Huskies favor.
“The girls 1st start was not nearly as good as their 2nd. I think they responded really well, especially after seeing the carnage in the boys race,” said coach Stevens.
“Rychelle (Denardo) especially had a strong start and was mixing it up with some of the best girls in the state early on. Our next 4 had a strong pack ¾ of a mile into the race and they did a good job closing throughout the race.”
Battle Mountain was in a unique position of not being a favorite heading into the state meet. In the last 3 years they have been 4th, 4th and 3rd, but this year after losing 3 of their scoring 5 from last year they were coming in under the radar.
“I think it helped the girls. Last year the team was going for the win and came up just short, which was hard. This year there was no pressure and they ran really well.” said Coach Van Dyke.
The girls finished 6th in a loaded field and recorded their 9th top 10 finish in the last 11 years.
And they did so without Hannah Gaylord scoring for the team. Gaylord has been the top finisher for the Huskies all season long, including at the region meet where she finished 8th overall. Saturday was a rare off day for her, but Denardo, Kaela Fahrney, Anabel Johnson, Megan Rossman and Alex Raichart stepped up to the plate and battled.
“Hannah didn’t feel great, but our other girls stepped up big time. Rychelle and Anabel have been here before and they showed it by staying composed and focused on running hard even when they saw Hannah was out of place towards the back.” said Parish.
“Kaela and Alex are freshman and raced like veterans despite some nerves before the race. And Rossy was unbelievable. She is a gamer for sure. She went from not being in the top 7 last year and having just an okay track season, to dedicating herself all summer and scoring for a great team. She was one of our most consistent runners all season, both in racing and training, and it showed when it counted most.
“The girls came together, nobody was worried about the order of runners, just that people were running well. Several of the girls said that Hannah knew she was having a bad day and was urging them to go by and race hard. A lot of credit goes to our captains Lily McMurrain (who was an alternate) and Izze Calabrese. We have a very young team and they are on the path to be contenders in the next couple of years.”
Six of the top 7 girls are returning next year, which looks good for the Huskies. Denardo finished 23rd, Fahrney in her first state appearance finished 31st, Johnson 45th, and Rossman and Raichart finished 47th and 66th for their state debuts. That’s 5 scorers returning with Hannah Gaylord as a potential low stick as well. Watch out, Colorado.