Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley XC should star in fall
And they're off ...
The football game — Eagle Valley at Battle Mountain — is Nov. 8. The volleyball teams meet Sept. 26 and Oct. 17. The local derby in soccer is on the 10th — both in September and October.
But the best matchup in all things Battle Valley and Eagle Mountain will come on the trails. We have a rivalry in cross-country, particularly with the ladies.
The Huskies are the defending champs — eight regional/ye olde Western Slope League titles. The Devils are the challengers, who have the sister power in Joslin and Samantha Blair, the former, now a senior, the best women’s runner the school has seen, certainly, since Eagle Valley has moved to 4A, and the latter, a sophomore, will likely challenge for the title by the time she’s done.
Depth vs. aces?
Battle Mountain has the history, and we’re not just talking mystique. The reason the Huskies have won eight-straight regionals and gone second, first, first and second at the cross-country state meet the last four autumns is that tradition has produced a pipeline.
Huskies coach Rob Parish has built a program. Unlike a lot of teams at all four schools, it is exceptionally hard to crack the varsity seven. Let’s take the 2017 state championship team — Liz Constein, Lizzy Harding, Alex Raichart, Naomi Harding, Grace Johnson, Brogan Murray, and Megan Bamford did the deed.
Johnson, then a sophomore, a tremendous talent in her own right, was fifth on the team. Murray and Bamford didn’t even score for Battle Mountain — the team’s top-five goes toward the total —though they would have scored for the 24 other 4A squads at state.
Battle Mountain had a pretty decent freshman who would have made most varsity squads that year, Elliott Pribramsky. She was JV. (In fact, there have been meets where the Huskies have rested their varsity, and the JV has gone out and more than acquitted itself against varsity competition.)
But are there years that Battle Mountain’s juggernaut is more vulnerable than others? Is this the year?
Yes, we write this often. After graduating Constien and Raichart before last year, we wondered if the Harding sisters were going to be able to step into leading roles. The answer was an emphatic yes.
But every year is a new one, so the spotlight shifts to Johnson, Pribramsky and Emma Reeder. Do they make the jump from supporting cast members to leading ladies? Who are the people who fill the Nos. 4 and 5 spots? Does Battle Mountain have the usual spectacular depth that will make this transition seamless?
What makes this issue more pressing is what is happening in Gypsum. Joslin Blair’s creds are firmly established. She’s gone 14th, 7th and sixth at state cross-country. She was the regional champ at EagleVail last fall.
Then here comes Samantha Blair. By all accounts, she may be more of a mid-distance runner, but in her second varsity race last fall she finished second at the Liberty Bell — apparently, the big stage didn’t freak her out — with a time of 17 minutes, 36.30 seconds, taking the school record from some girl named Joslin Blair.
Samantha was third at regionals and ninth at state, better performances than Joslin her freshman year.
Battle Mountain’s Johnson and Pribramsky may step up into their teams Nos. 1 and 2 spots, but can they match the Blairs? That’s a big ask.
At Eagle Valley, depth is also going to be the big question. Gabby Fuentes replaces Avery Doan as the Devils’ third. We’ll just assume that the Huskies find Nos. 4 and 5 because history is a pretty reliable indicator. If the Devils can find a little more depth in those spots, they may challenge the Huskies’ reign.
Don’t sleep on the guys
As has been the case for the last few years, the boys have taken a back seat to the ladies, given how good the girls have been on both sides of the rivalry.
A word of warning, though, Battle Mountain’s boys might be one of the breakout teams of the fall. The Huskies finished seventh at state last fall, which again got overshadowed by all of the ladies’ accomplishments.
But … most of this team is returning. For all the obsessing we’ve just done about the Battle Mountain-Eagle Valley showdown on the girls’ side, we just might be talking about the lads in October.