Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jocelyn Rowley

Cross Country Preview: Niwot teams in the hunt for Class 4A title


August 25, 2018

Jocelyn Rowley

The 2018 cross country seniors have set their sights on a state title. From left: Caroline Richards, Aidan Peairs, Maggie Smith, Benjamin Bi, Ares Reading, Mallory Finley, Layla Roebke, Jack Volf.

The Niwot cross-country teams found their way back into the Class 4A top-10 in 2017, and now they’re ready to take it a step further.

“Their goals are a state title and to go to Nike Nationals as a team,” third-year head coach Kelly Christensen.said. “Those are the goals they set, and that’s the work we did in preparation for that.”

Both teams started charting their course to the Class 4A championship immediately after last year’s state meet. Since then, they’ve endured weeks of grueling indoor training, the spring track and field season, and a challenging summer program, all in service of taking their place at the top of the podium later this fall.

“It’s there. The work has been done to win a state title,” Christensen said. “So now it’s staying healthy and taking care of the little things, and also making it through the season.”

Physically, neither team should have any trouble making it through the regular season. The 2018 boys squad features an abundance of highly talented athletes, including five of seven 2017 state qualifiers. Leading them will be celebrated junior Cruz Culpepper, who had an extraordinary spring track season, highlighted by his 4:11 mile at the Texas Relays in April. He will be joined by senior Ares Reading who is ready for a breakout season, after an underwhelming performance at state track.

Also returning are seniors Benjamin Bi, who finished 28th at state last year, Jack Volf, and Caleb Bishop. Contending for one of the remaining top seven sports are Jack Kenkel, Ethan Jiang, and Luke Robinson, as well as freshmen Joey Hendershott and Zane Bergen.

The girls will be paced by senior Maggie Smith and sophomore Taylor James, who won the last year’s regional cross-country meet at Lyons, but finished a disappointing 28th at state. She redeemed herself at state track, where she picked up an individual title in the 800-meter and a relay title in the 4x400. Joining them are Joelle McDonald, Layla Roebke, a senior transfer from Coronado, and Samwrit Dishon, who had a tremendous track & field season, as well as a highly effective off-season training program.

“She’s super, super fit,” Christensen said of the junior. “This completes her first full year of running, but it’s amazing to see the development and how much mileage she can handle compared to a year ago. She’s ready to go.”

There is no questions the teams are in peak physical condition, but there are some lingering questions about their “teenage brains.” In the past two seasons, both teams have been strong regular season performers, but the post-season has been a different story, especially for the boys. In 2017, they finished fourth overall at the state meet, and both the coach and his competitors felt they underperformed. Last year’s state track and field season ended in similar fashion, with just two Niwot individual medalists in the distance runs.

“It’s frustrating at the time you do the work, and kids get disappointed,” Christensen said of his team’s recent shortcomings. “However failure is the greatest motivator. Having failed and come up short, there’s more confidence, they’re hungry, they know what they did wrong, and they’ve owned it, as far as the psychological components.”

Christensen said their quest for redemption has produced an unusually strong team bond among the boys, which became evident over the summer.

“The culture piece is better than it’s ever been anywhere I’ve been,” he said. “They were super committed—six days a week with over ten guys that really needed to do the work. They guys that needed to do the work did the work.”

The challenges are a little easier to diagnose on the girls’ side: lack of depth and experience. The Niwot girls had only two runners with state meet exposure last year, and it showed with a disappointing sixth-place overall finish.

“Reflecting back on it, they all know,” Christensen said. “We’ve had that conversation, and they’ve really owned how the pressure got to them and how they didn’t show up mentally the day of the race.”

Christensen said he’s also made some changes to the team culture hoping to address some of these psychological stressors.

“There’s some things I’ve changed as far as my vocabulary with them,” he said. “Because it’s a much different group than I’ve coached in the past. Their feedback’s been good, and my message to them is going to change.”

The Cougars kick off the 2018 season on Aug. 25 at the Vista Nation 2-Mile Invitational, an early test against some of the strongest teams in Colorado.

“We’re going against Peak to Peak, Mountain Vista, all those big schools,” Christensen said. “It’s a chance to see where we’re at. It’s not our focus, and if we fall short, I’m ok with that. It’s a long season, and there’s a lot of pressure.”


Reader Comments


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019

Rendered 11/14/2019 10:56