Huskies, Devils are ready for state meet in the Springs | VailDaily.com

Huskies, Devils are ready for state meet in the Springs

Miles and miles, lots of sweat, and a ton of aches and pain have gone into this.

But Saturday is finally the state meet, the time to make it all worthwhile.

Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley head to the Norris Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs with the gentlemen running at 9:20 a.m. and the ladies at 10:40 a.m. on Saturday.

The Huskies and Devils know the course well — it's the traditional opener of the season as well as the state site. It's just a matter of getting everyone in the right place for that 16 to 22 minutes of racing, which is easier said than done.

We're No. 1, or not

Battle Mountain's girls are ranked No. 1 in the co.milesplit.com poll over Air Academy. The vote went, 5-4, in favor of the Huskies over the Kadets. Since we're in a season of political intrigue, here's some more — Battle Mountain coach Rob Parish was one of the four votes for Air Academy.

Recommended Stories For You

While you put your jaw back in place, here are the coach's thoughts.

"It's nice to get the nod on milesplit," he said. "In my mind, we are the underdog. Air Academy beat us last year (at state). They took our best punch, and still came out on top (at the season opener). They beat us handily. At that time, we didn't have Naomi (Harding), but they did beat us handily."

Call this a combination of the truth and motivational technique. (One can assume that the Kadets are taking No. 2 in the poll as the latter as well.)

The Kadets beat the Huskies, 60-77, at state last year. To put that into perspective, Battle Mountain's 77 points last fall would have easily won the state title in 2014 — Palmer Ridge was on the top step with 127 that year. Air Academy is an outstanding team, and Parish is acknowledging that.

The Kadets reminded the Huskies of the gap with a convincing 59-122 win in this season's first race at the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede.

Now, of course, everyone rooting for the Huskies will point out that Naomi Harding was out after her misadventures on a bike the week before that race, a valid argument, but Parish is essentially baiting his team with the general concept that Air Academy is better until his charges prove otherwise.

The Kadets have the better top-tier runners in Maria Mettler and Tatum Miller than the Huskies. Those ladies went 1-2 in the Stampede with Liz Constien and Lizzie Harding finishing seventh and eighth back in August.

Step one is Constien and both Hardings, Naomi and Lizzie, to close the gap with Mettler and Miller.

Step two is depth. Battle Mountain's depth has proved invaluable this season in both producing fierce competition for the varsity seven and generally stomping the heck out of a lot of teams during the regular season. The Huskies third, fourth and fifth runners, whoever from the Constien and Hardings isn't No. 1 or 2, and Alex Raichart and Kaela Fahrney need to beat their Air Academy counterparts to make up the points lost against Mettler and Miller.

And don't forget about Grace Johnson and Berit Kirchner. Theoretically, they are the Nos. 6 and 7 runners, and don't score for the Huskies. They could have great days, and pop into the scoring. (Parish wouldn't object.) If either one of them can find a way to finish ahead of Air Academy's fifth runner, then that might go a long ways toward the Huskies first ladies championship since 2005.

The gents

Both Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley have their boys teams running. If you run the virtual meet on milesplit.com, then the Huskies will take fourth and the Devils 14th. And since teams have been using that website as motivation since Al Gore invented the internet, there are the goals.

The Huskies want to be in the top five, while the Devils are shooting for the top 10.

Eagle Valley's gents are back in the dance after a one-year absence. The Devils had qualified as a team from 2011-2014.

To crack the top five or 10, depending on the respective teams' goals, one of the keys is handling the start. Both the Huskies and Devils boys teams have experience at the state meet, but state starts even faster than a veteran thinks.

"I think our kids are well-prepared to run at state," Devils coach Melinda Brandt said. "It lends to the grit of our team. We've been running courses like this all season. We clearly live in the mountains. We've trained hard up here and we have the grit to keep pressing."

The course at Norris Penrose has undergone some changes in the last few years. The hill known as "Big Willis" is not longer part of it. Huskies and Devils alike didn't like that because, as Brandt said, "We clearly live in the mountains," or the more hills and the steeper they are, the merrier.

On the positive side of the course changes, the bottleneck from the start is now 1,000 meters, as opposed to the farmhouses at about 400 meters.

All this said, Norris Penrose is not like the old Delta course, site of the former regional course for the Western Slope, or the Anna Banana in Grand Junction, where school records go to be smashed.

Norris Penrose lies somewhere in between Delta or Anna Banana and the torture-fest that is Beaver Creek, Battle Mountain's home meet.

"It's a hard balance," Brandt said. "You can't get left behind because you're not going to pass 50 people later. Our boys have done well on starts this season. They have the maturity to know how to go hard, but not drop (all of their energy)."

Along those lines, Battle Mountain's boys have always gone to big Front Range meets and their Eagle Valley counterparts have modified their schedule this season to gain this exact experience.

For the Huskies, the teams to watch are Palmer Ridge, Silver Creek, Air Academy, Widefield and Durango. The Devils in their quest for a top 10 need to tackle Central, Centaurus, Green Mountain and Greeley West.

Joslin and Avery

Not to be forgotten, Eagle Valley will also be represented in Colorado Springs by Joslin Blair and Avery Doan, who qualified as individuals during last week's regional meet.

It's difficult task to run as an individual, or in this case, as a two-person team, at state.

Yes Blair's a freshman, and Doan's a sophomore, but they haven't run like underclass-people this year.

"They're focused on their races," Brandt said. "They know the privilege it is to run at state. At the same time, they're focusing on what to do to stay relaxed and keep the enjoyment factor."

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