Game on: Regional XC meet in Gypsum on Thursday
This year, it won't be over until it's really over
The CHSAA Class 4A Region 1 Cross-Country Meet is always dramatic as months of training come down to 15-20 minutes.
Now imagine holding it during a global pandemic. Super dramatic.
“Let’s just say it’s not how I pictured our one opportunity to host this event,” Eagle Valley cross-country coach Melinda Brandt said jokingly.
While, of course, the whole point of competitive running is social distancing, this year’s regional meet on Thursday — boys at 5 p.m. and girls at 5:45 p.m. — at the Gypsum Creek Golf Course has a different format and rules as the host Devils, Battle Mountain and 11 other teams gather to fight for state berths.
A runner’s score is his or her place in the finishing order. Eagle Valley’s Samantha Blair finishes first, she scores one point. One adds up the places of the top five Eagle Valley finishers and that’s the team score. This is our annual reminder that lower is better in cross-country.
Normally, each school — in this case, Battle Mountain, Central, Conifer, Eagle Valley, Evergreen, Glenwood Springs, Golden, Grand Junction, Green Mountain, Mullen, Palisade, Steamboat Springs and Summit — enters nine runners and the top five score.
With COVID-19, regional teams are only six deep, so the selection process for Thursday’s race was more excruciating than usual.
Traditionally, the top four teams out of Region 1 plus runners from non-qualifying squads in the top 15 make the state meet. This year, only three teams make state and just the top two individuals not on a state-qualifying squad make the dance.
Yep, this just makes everything a little more tense, which was surely needed given how mellow 2020 has been.
Yes, this is not surfing, but a cross-country meet. To mix it up even more, there will be four waves of runners in each race to space out the competitors. The races within the race are 25 runners, 25 more runners and two packs of 14, each separated by 1 minute in starting.
Runners are seeded by 2020 times only, meaning that if an athlete didn’t get a chance to run a flatter course — and both Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley, by nature of their location, run hillier courses — said athlete will be in a “slower” heat at regionals.
Thus, pretty much every team, with one notable exception, will be running in different heats with no idea how they are doing in the race as a whole or where their teammates are in the race.
“This should be interesting” is a nice way of putting it.
The virtual meet
Milesplit.com is the website of choice for running. Coaches and athletes alike have heard of the internet and run the site’s virtual-meet function. It is quite the motivational tool for all involved.
According to milesplit, the Huskies girls will win their race, followed by Golden and Eagle Valley qualifying for state. The sound you just heard was the 10 other teams in the meet hoping to make a mess of that scenario.
For the gents, Central wins, according to the computer, followed by Conifer and Battle Mountain. Eagle Valley is slated to finish fifth and should not go to state.
Here’s a simulation of Battle Mountain coach Rob Parish addresing his boys’ team: “The computer thinks you guys, the defending regional champions, are on the bubble. You might not make state. How do you feel about that?”
And here’s a hypothetical Brandt: “We’re running on our home course and everyone thinks you can’t make state. Let’s go show them.”
It’s worth noting that regional meets never finish as the computer predicts.
Battle Mountain’s girls have won nine straight regional/league titles and are looking for No. 10 on Thursday.
The Huskies ladies are that one team that has all six of its runners — Elliot Pribramsky, Milaina Almonte, Lily Whelan, Hayley Brewster, Lindsey Kiehl and Lindsey Whitton — in the first wave, at least by qualifying time, the fastest heat.
Advantage Huskies on that count.
On on the other side of the ledger, this is a younger team than usual at regionals for Battle Mountain. Pribramsky and Bewster are the seniors, while Almonte and Whelan are sophomores. The Lindseys are freshmen, staggeringly talented froshes, but froshes, nonetheless.
So can they ten-peat or deci-mate the field?
“The streak is probably more important to people like you and me,” Parish said of himself and the author. “Lindsey and Lindsey are still trying to figure out how scoring works in cross-country. They don’t have the historical perspective. The girls are in a good spot with a good blend of veterans and youngsters.”
Trivia: Who holds the course record for the ladies at Gypsum Creek?
Clue: It isn’t a Blair sister, which means you all are fresh out of guesses.
Answer: It’s Basalt’s Samantha Bower with a time of 18 minutes, 7 seconds in 2019.
More trivia: Who’s won the last three Region 1 individual titles for the girls?
Clue: This includes Blair sisters.
Answer: Battle Mountain’s Naomi Harding in 2017, Eagle Valley’s Joslin Blair in 2018 and Samantha Blair in 2019.
And that means Eagle Valley junior Samantha Blair has some work to do on Thursday. She wants to defend her title. She wants to bust the course record. She ran an 18:11 at Gypsum Creek last month.
“She and Ella (Johnson) and Sophia (Connerton-Vein, both of Glenwood) got to race each other at our home meet,” Brandt said of the Eagle Valley Invite on Sept. 19. “Samantha won it in a great battle and she’s ready for the rerace.”
What, me worried?
Parish is normally a pretty chill guy. Heck, he’s only the principal of a high school during a global pandemic, so there’s not much on his plate these days.
He, however, does sound concerned about his guys on Thursday. Yes, the Huskies are the defending champs, but Battle Mountain is split up by the aforementioned waves. Sullivan Middaugh, Jorge Sinaloa and Kaden Williams are in wave No. 1, while Ari Dennis, Porter Middaugh and Will Bruner are in the second.
“This is a strategic challenge we’ve never faced before,” Parish said. “Without giving away all the strategy — we’re going to be having our boys’ goals meeting today — Ari, Porter and Will need to race together as long as they can. They have to focus on racing the clock and know they are virtually racing other racers in other waves.”
Nos. 4 and 5
While it’s always awesome to have a stud at the top of the lineup and the Devils and Huskies do in Blair, Pribramsky, Gage Nielsen and Sullivan Middaugh, regional races often come down to the fourth and fifth runners on every team.
More than Blair, Pribramsky, Nielsen & Sullivan, which sounds like an esteemed law firm, the fours and fives are where the real racing will be, which is why we give you the full team rosters.
Porter, Will, Jorge froshes
Ferguson St. John
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