Niwot cross country running steady
August 30, 2023
“Go out steady . . . gradually pick up the pace . . . and sprint to a strong finish.” Sounds like a great strategy for an individual cross-country runner. It’s also the approach Niwot Coach Kelly Christensen uses to sketch out the blueprint for his team’s entire season.
“We kind of travel to the beat of our own drum,” Christensen said. “We take a slower approach to our season than you might normally see. We’re a team that goes very late into June with our track athletes and a lot of the other teams don’t. While we’re still racing track in late June, these other teams are building up for the cross-country season. We just take a longer, slower approach to it.”
That strategy revealed itself Saturday in the first meet of the season as five of the top boys and six of the top girls on the varsity teams sat out the Vista Nation XC 2-Mile Invitational at Mountain Vista High School. But don’t think for a minute that the remainder of the team thinks about anything other than winning when they don those green and white jerseys. That’s exactly what both the varsity and freshman/sophomore boys’ teams did at Vista Nation . . . win.
Led by newcomer Cole Mazurana, the Cougars’ varsity ran away with the Vista Nation title, outdistancing host and perennial 5A power Mountain Vista in the eight-team field. Mazurana, a junior who transferred from Windsor this year, finished in fifth place overall in his first race representing Niwot.
“Cole is a really, really good young athlete who just didn’t have some things go his way for a lot of reasons last year,” Christensen explained. “So, our goal was for him to just see where he’s at and what we need to do to help him improve.” There’s a lot of pressure whenever you make a move and you’re trying to impress people at the new school, and he did great. You could just see that he was composed.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Wow that was the best race ever,’ but it was a lot better than he had done in the last year of racing. So, we took a big step forward with him and I think that’s all we needed.”
Mazurana was joined by fellow juniors Sammy Jackman (8th), Evan Kear (9th), Kye Toothaker (11th), and James Anthony as the points contributors to the Cougars’ first-place finish.
Another newcomer to Niwot, freshman Quinn Sullivan, opened his high school career with a second-place finish in leading the Cougars to the team victory in the Freshman / Sophomore event. In the race, Sullivan, whose family moved this year to Colorado from Austin, TX, got his first taste of running competitively at altitude.
“We told him not to lead in the first half of the race but he’s a very confident kid and he went out fast,” Christensen said. “He was first after the first half of the race and then dropped all the way back to sixth. He kicked all the way back to second so just seeing that kind of fight in him was really exciting.. It’ll just take him a while to get used to racing at altitude. We just don’t have the oxygen up here, so you can’t make those mistakes early in races at altitude.”
The other top finishers for the Cougars were sophomore Hunter Robbie (6th), freshman Garrett Sherrard (10th) and sophomores Duncan Atherton (11th) and Gabriel Marshall (12th).
While running without six of their top varsity girls kept the team from contending for the meet title, the five-time defending 4A state champions still had several bright spots during the Vista Nation meet.
Senior Kendall Madine finished 16th in the varsity race and junior Maelie Vanpe (23rd), and seniors Lucy Thompson (27th) and Viola Alessandrini (28th) all finished in the top 30 in the 58-runner event.
Christensen also saw a great deal to be excited about from his youngest runners in the Freshman / Sophomore race, especially freshman Elise Hagen, who finished fourth, and classmate Scarlett Parks, who crossed the finish line in sixth.
“We asked a lot out of our freshman girls,” he said. “We sat three of our top sophomore girls and just wanted to see what we could get out of our new freshmen. And Elise Hagen was a great, great surprise. Though our plan was to be conservative in the first half of the race, I think they all got too excited about wearing the Niwot jersey. They went out too hard and paid for it a bit. But it was as good or better than we thought we would do.”
Joining Hagen and Parks as top finishers in the 94-runner field were freshmen Elsza Bergen (11th), Eloise Boyd (17th), and Charlotte Stauch (21th).