Huskies girls XC is back on top of heap | VailDaily.com

Huskies girls XC is back on top of heap

COLORADO SPRINGS — Get your Queen on, people.

"We are the champions, my friends."

Battle Mountain girls cross-country retook its place among the elite of Colorado running, capturing the 4A state title on Saturday at the Norris Penrose Events Center in Colorado Springs.

The Huskies (89 points) not only outdueled vaunted Air Academy (114), the defending state champ, but held off Palmer Ridge (118) and Pine Creek (120).

"Man, it's kind of beyond words," said Alex Raichart, who finished 17th in 18 minutes, 55 seconds. "I couldn't be prouder of everyone on this team, even the people who didn't run today. I'm so happy."

Not only did the Huskies bring home the big trophy, but, in a microcosm of their entire season, they overcame a blow that likely would have felled most teams. Battle Mountain's Lizzie Harding, hobbled all week by an ear infection and a cold, ran courageously and was in seventh place at the 2-mile mark, before collapsing with 400 meters to go.

Recommended Stories For You

The Huskies ended up winning sate with just six runners finishing, instead of the full seven.

"It's a great lesson in teamwork," a jubilant Huskies head coach Rob Parish said. "It's been a great lesson in rolling with the punches. This has been such a strong group all year, from beginning to end. The strength of the team was the group and the depth."

Liz Constien finished second in 18:59.7, followed by Naomi Harding in third at 18:59.8. Constien recorded the highest finish by a Huskies harrier in school history. Harding matched the highest finish by a previous Battle Mountain runner with third — Jen Bowles in 2005.

And, by the way, that was the last time the Huskies ladies hoisted the state hardware.

Bill Belichick?

While the Huskies obviously wanted to dethrone the Kadets, the theme of the day was the aforementioned NFL coach's mantra: Do your job.

"All week, we talked to the kids, 'Do your job,'" Parish said. "'You don't have to do anything extra special.'"

And that's because all the miles during the spring and summer and all the training during the fall came into play on Saturday.

Air Academy's Maria Mettler won the race, but the Huskies were peaking at the right time. Constien and Harding ended up taking second and third, negating Mettler's finish.

"We were just kind of trying to stay on the heels of the top girls," Constien said. "We weren't trying to beat all the Air Academy girls or take the individual win. But it just turned out we were right behind (Mettler), which was pretty cool."

Fair or not, Constien has been following in some big footsteps. Her older sister, Val, blew through Battle Mountain, setting every record in sight and now runs for CU-Boulder.

Nonetheless, Liz and Val are rooting each other on.

"We have a good relationship," Liz said. "My sister's super supportive. When I get a (personal record), which to my sister is slow because she's a college athlete, she still is saying, 'Wow. That's amazing I'm so proud of you.'"

And let the record state that it is Liz, not Val, who gets her name on a state trophy. And while there can be some fun family joshing with that, it also illustrates another point about Huskies cross-country. This has been building for years with multiple families with siblings who have gone through the program.

Since 2011, the ladies have finished fourth, fourth, third, sixth, second and first at state.

Sister act

The Harding sisters have had quite a year. It started with Naomi crashing her bike about a week before the first meet back in August.

She thought that was it for her season.

"I was so devastated on that day," Harding said.

While Naomi did everything she could do to stay in shape while recuperating, it was her sister Lizzie who took over her spot at the top of the team, along with Liz Constien. (One really could use a genealogy course to keep up with the Huskies.)

Despite all the public proclamations that Naomi was out for the year, she was coming back. But even Parish didn't expect her to come back like this — third in the state.

"There are no words to express how I feel," she said. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without my coaches, my fellow runners and my family. They helped me through it all."

And then in a supreme twist of irony, Lizzie, exhausted by an ear infection, a cold and still managing to run superbly for the first two miles, went down with 400 meters to go in Saturday's state race.

"I looked at (Huskies cross-country alumnus) Jonny (Stevens) at mile 1.5, and said, 'We have it in the bag,'" Parish said.

Not so fast, fellas.

When Naomi went down, the team picked it up in her absence, and when Lizzie went down on Saturday, the Huskies picked her up. The depth, which made the Huskies so strong during the regular season, when the competition was within the team, not from outside, delivered.

Raichart ran what Parish called "a tactically perfect race," the beginning of chain reaction to Harding's absence.

Go time

It's hard to figure out where everyone is at the state meet. Within a team, you know with whom you generally run, and with the Huskies, it's usually Constien with the Harding sisters in tow.

Constien and Naomi Harding were bobbing along with Lizzie, until she tailed off at 2 miles. That Lizzie even got to within 400 meters of the finish was a testament to her will. Medical personnel attended to her for nearly two hours after the race.

"A little doubt pops into your mind, but you know your team is so deep and you've worked so hard," Raichart said. "That's why our team is so amazing. 'OK, I have to push much harder because I know my teammates are doing the same.'"

And that brings the story to freshman Grace Johnson, who started the year on JV, and ended up being Battle Mountain's fourth runner at the state meet.

"I realized (Lizzie) wasn't feeling good at all," Johnson said. "I kept pushing to make up some spots. I knew it was going to be hard. I told myself that the race is almost over and the season is almost done. I just gave it my all."

Johnson jumped up to 46th overall and 34th for team purposes. Kaela Fahrney was right behind her for a photo finish.

Sign of the times

"In any other sport, you know the result immediately," Parish said. "There's a scoreboard that says, '4-1.' You don't know how the scores add up."

And you don't know if a Palmer Ridge or Pine Creek is creeping up on you. In 2007, the last time the cross-country program won a state title, a dominating performance by the boys, a series thumbs-up was the sign that the Huskies had won.

In 2016, there are cell phones, and the Huskies used the web to find out that they reigned supreme.

"We all just started crying when we first found out," Fahrney said. "We just put so much work into it. That was our first reaction."

The second reaction should come from the rest of the state. All seven of Battle Mountain runners do not graduate this spring.

There are many exciting things ahead for this crew along with Parish and assistant coach Max DeVito, Matt Felton, Erin Park, Eddie Farrell and Jonny Stevens.

Blair and Doan shine; Huskies boys seventh

Speaking of youngsters, Eagle Valley's Joslin Blair is a freshman. She finished 14th as an individual in 19:50. Devils sophomore Avery Doan was 18th in 19:59. The future in Gypsum is rather bright.

Battle Mountain's boys took seventh with 217 points, just behind Evergreen (213) and ahead of Centaurus (219). Palmer Ridge opened a can of "see ya later," winning with just 55 points.

Eagle Valley's boys took 19th.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, cfreud@vaildaily.com and @cfreud.

4A state meet

Girls

2. Liz Constien, BM, 18:59

3. Naomi Harding, BM, 18:59 (1-tenth)

14. Joslin Blair, EV, 19:50

17. Alex Raichart, BM, 19:50

18. Avery Doan, EV, 19:59

46. Grace Johnson, BM, 20:44

50. Kaela Fahrney, BM, 20:54

83. Berit Kirchner, BM, 21:37

Boys

22. Alexis Aguirre, BM, 16:47

29. Franklin Reilly, BM, 16:58

39. Aiden Branch, EV, 17:12

44. Nathaniel Badger, BM, 17:14

65. Ty Willoughby, BM, 17:36

93. Bailey Beckum, EV, 18:00

95. David Reilly, BM, 18:02

102. Gerardo Lopez, EV, 18:06

103. James Moran, BM, 18:06

107. Nick Williams, BM, 18:12

127. John Papadopoulos, EV, 18:36

134. Carter Baker, EV, 18:59

147. Jack Neifert, EV 19:40

148. Nicholas Thompson, 20:05

Go back to article