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Cross Country: Niwot teams take 4th at Vista Nation


August 31, 2017

The Niwot Cougars cross country teams kicked-off their 2017 season Aug. 25 at the Vista Nation XC 2-Mile Invitational in Highlands Ranch. The small, highly competitive meet attracted many of the state’s top teams and runners, including meet host and Class 5A powerhouse Mountain Vista, as well as perennial 4A favorite Palmer Ridge.

Both Niwot varsity teams finished fourth on the day, with the girls just five points out of second place. Overall, Niwot head coach Kelly Christensen was cheered by the results, although he acknowledged the boys’ performance was “a little flat,” mostly due to a recent spate of illness and minor injuries.

“Comparing it to last year, we’re light years ahead of where we were,” said the second-year head coach. “We closed the gap bigtime on some really good teams.”

Freshman Taylor James was the fastest Niwot girl on the day, finishing with a time of 12 minutes, 25 seconds, which was good for ninth place. Junior Maggie Smith, who has been following a “conservative” training plan in order to recover from a long term injury, took 18th with a time of 12:51, while sophomore Joelle McDonald (12:54) was right on her heels in 19th place.

“The girls really, really surprised me with how well they competed,” said Christensen. “I was really excited with how much effort they were able to put into the race and run all the way through.”

Freshman Annabelle Huddle (13:07) and lone varsity senior Jeri Wilcox (13:08) were 26th and 27th, while junior Mallory Finley (14:02) and sophomore Elise Gillett (14:21) took 55th and 59th, respectively. The Cougars finished with 99 points on the day, just five behind second-place Palmer Ridge.

Over on the boys’ side, the Cougars were paced by sophomore Cruz Culpepper who finished in 10:25, earning him ninth place overall. Culpepper, whose training has been hampered lately by a severe cold and some hip soreness, ran with the leaders for most of the race, but was slowed by cramping after the first mile, and fell out of the top five at the end.

Niwot newcomer Ares Reading took 15th place, with a time of 10:37. The California transfer has also been battling illness, according to Christensen, and is still adjusting to the altitude. Senior Kenny Lang, who is “getting his running legs back” after a summer spent cycling, was 33rd (10:50). Nevertheless, the Cougars finished the day with 116 points, beating crosstown rival Silver Creek, which finished in sixth place with 147 points.

“Things didn’t really go our way, but we still ran well,” said Christensen, noting that Niwot also bested Discovery Canyon, another perennial state title contender. “Our depth really showed. That’s where I know we’re really strong.”

Calling it “the most exciting thing for me,” Christensen saved his most effusive praise for Niwot’s junior varsity squads, both of which finished second to Mountain Vista’s JV, which is every bit as dominant as its varsity.

“I love when freshman and sophomores run well after they’ve been training hard,” said Christensen. “We had guys that ran almost three minutes faster than they did last year. That’s the future and they ran absolutely lights out.”

Freshman Kiera Flanagan (14:38) led the JV girls with a 10th-place finish, while sophomore Luke Robinson (11:41) was eighth overall, behind six runners from Mountain Vista.

On Sep. 1, the Cougars head for Ft. Collins for the CSU Frontier Invitational, followed by the Liberty Bell Invitational at Heritage High School in Littleton on Sep. 8.

Niwot Individuals (boys) — 9. Cruz Culpepper (So.), 10:25; 15. Ares Reading (Jr.), 10:37; 33. Kenny Lang (Sr.), 10:50; 35. Benjamin Bi (Sr.), 10:52; 28. Ethan Steiner (Sr.), 10:53; 40. Jack Volf (Jr.), 11:06; 59. Peter LeCavalier (Sr.), 11:26; 66. Kamran Elahi (Jr.), 11:37

Niwot Individuals (girls) — 9. Taylor James (Fr.), 12:25; 18. Maggie Smith (Jr.), 12:51; 19. Joelle McDonald (So.), 12:54; Annabelle Huddle (Fr.), 13:07; 27. Jeri Wilcox (Sr.), 13:08; 55. Mallory Finley (So.), 14:02; 59. Elise Gillett (So.), 14:21


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