EAGLE COUNTY - Stipulated, Mandy Ortiz, Gregg Salaz, David Suarez and Chantal Willoughby are outstanding runners.
But, ladies and gentlemen, Saturday's state meet in Colorado Springs for both Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley isn't about the aces. Of course, the Huskies and Devils need their studs and studettes to shine. But every school that will assemble at the Norris Penrose Event Center has an Ortiz or a Salaz.
The state meet always comes down to the fourth-seventh runners on every team. As good as Erika Ghent was for the 2005 Battle Mountain state champions, Leslie Peterson, that team's fifth runner, was the key. The 2007 Huskies boys, led by Tony Crisofulli, John O'Neill and Jonny Stevens, needed Mario Gonzalez as their fifth to ice back-to-back state titles.
So whether it's Battle Mountain gold or Eagle Valley read-and-white starburst - both schools change their jerseys for state - team depth is the focus.
The ladies are in the hunt for the school's first state title since 2005. And they are a veteran crew. Ortiz is a senior. Sydney Gaylord, Val Constien, Christina Shearon, Bridgett Courtois and Jenai Denardo are all juniors. Only freshman Rychelle Denardo is a state newcomer.
The Classical Academy, which has won seven straight 3A titles before moving up to 4A this fall, is probably favored. But it's hard to tell because TCA and Battle Mountain haven't crossed paths this year. Thompson Valley is also in the mix. The Huskies and Thompson Valley are 1-1-1 in their three meetings. (In answer to how there was a tie in running, Both schools were in different divisions at the Liberty Bell meet, had comparable times, but did not race head-to-head.)
"At the state meet, anything can happen," Huskies coach Rob Parish said. "There's always a favorite who doesn't do well. And there's always a second-tier team you don't expect who emerges. The key to a great state meet is all five runners having a good day on the same day."
And don't forget Nos. 6 and 7. If the Battle Mountain ladies were to run in their traditional order, the Denardo sisters also play a big role. If they are able to finish ahead of, say, TCA's or Thompson Valley's fourth or fifth runner, the Denardos push up the scores of their competitors.
David Suarez is the only Battle Mountain guy with state-meet experience. Joe Barrett, Ethan Pence, Ethan Cotton, Josh Braun, Cameron Moore and Brinton Barry are making their state debuts.
"The guys are back at state, but we're not just happy to be there," Parish said. "They have specific goals. The guys had a good regional race, but not a great one. We've taken this group down to the Front Range for two or three races. I think that will serve both the boys and the girls well."
Twenty-five teams qualified for state last year, including the Devils. The Eagle Valley boys, as state newcomers, finished 25th. There was absolutely no shame in that. Everyone at state is a good and a lot of teams don't get to go.
It is also motivation.
"I think the boys are really hungry," Devils coach Melinda Brandt said. "They're going for a top-10 (finish). They have the experience from last year and the big meets they've been in this year."
The Norris Penrose Event Center is hillier than past state venues and that's a good thing for the Devils. The main climb is midway through the course, but there is also an incline in the final stretch. Don't be surprised to see Eagle Valley reel in some people there.
Gregg Salaz, Hunter Burnham, Nathan Maddox, Rafael Gurule and Carson McQueeney all have been to the dance last year. Sophomore Will Thrasher makes his first state start, while Michael Niemeyer, now a sophomore, was an alternate last year.
Brandt wants to see Salaz, Burnham and Maddox in the top 30 and her scoring five in the top 100.
The Eagle Valley girls are making their first appearance at state as a team. They are Gabrielle Avila, Chantal Willoughby, Nikki Cunning (who's been as an individual) Samantha Maddox, Tyler Beckum, Megan Muehlethaler and Briana Young. Cunning has been coaching the team on the state experience.
Eagle Valley will have a state tunnel and the traditional escort Friday from local law enforcement and fire crews.
"Everyone in Gypsum and Eagle will know we're going to state," Brandt joked.
The boys race at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, while the girls go at 12:30 p.m.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.