Battle Mountain Huskies XC finishes the season at No. 3 — in the USA
Nike Cross Nationals
1. Manlius, New York, 89; 2. North Naperville Illinois, 94; 3. Vail Valley 162; 4. Keller Texas, 205; 5. Bozeman, Montana 210; 6. Denver (Mountain Vista), 232; 7. Wayzeta, Minnesota 235; 8. Temcula, California, 237; 9. Claremont, California, 245; 10. Broomfield 245
55. Naomi Harding, 18:48
58. Liz Constien, 18:49
65. Alex Raichart, 19:00
73. Lizzy Harding, 19:06
92. Grace Johnson, 19:14
101. Brogan Murray, 19:27
169. Megan Bamford, 20:30
PORTLAND, Oregon — No. 3.
One, two, three.
Three is a little number for such a huge accomplishment.
The Battle Mountain girls cross-country team, aka the Vail Valley Running Club, took third place at the Nike Cross Nationals on Saturday, Dec. 2, in Portland, Oregon.
In all of the schools in all the towns in all of the United States, Battle Mountain finished the 2017 cross-country season as the No. 3 team in the country — every single state, every school.
“I’ve tried pretty hard to wrap my mind around it,” Huskies/VVRC senior Elizabeth Constien said. “I haven’t come to grips with it.”
This is also a good time to remember that school size doesn’t come into account in the non-Colorado postseason. Battle Mountain, whose student body is 940, is a medium-sized school for Class 4A in the Centennial state.
Nike Southwest Regionals and Nike Nationals have no regard for school size. The Battle Mountain Huskies finished one place ahead of the Keller, Texas, Indians, whose student body is 2,645.
“It’s crazy to think that we’re third out of the whole nation,” Battle Mountain’s Alex Raichart said. “For us, it felt like another race. It wasn’t something super-different.”
And, yes, the Huskies, known as the VVRC to be in compliance with CHSAA rules for non-state competition, took down their 5A Colorado rivals Mountain Vista and Broomfield again.
“It was one of the most incredible things I have every experienced,” Battle Mountain’s Megan Bamford said. “It’s truly breathtaking.”
While the Huskies are still figuring all this out, even coach Rob Parish was a little flabbergasted by his charges.
“I was talking about this with (my wife) Kelli and thinking about the old days, when we would have 10 kids on the team and we were trying to figure out if we can fill a full team,” the coach said. “All of us who have coached have had a great time doing this, and it’s nice when success follows. I don’t think any of us expected to become a national powerhouse.”
It’s OK to be 50-something
When the Huskies have run races in Colorado this season — by the way, they repeated as 4A state champions in October — they lead the race. Anyone watching the Region 1 Meet in Frisco could see Battle Mountain was winning because the gold jerseys led the pack.
An adjustment for the VVRC in at Nike Regionals and Nationals is that there are actually runners from other teams with similar ability, not to mention racers not involved in the team competition who are just speed merchants.
For example, the Huskies’ scoring five was separated by 26 seconds, another astounding stat. However, Naomi Harding at 18 minutes, 48 seconds, finished 55th, while Grace Johnson at 19:14 was 92nd on Saturday. That’s how deep the talent was Saturday.
Having learned from regionals in Arizona two weeks ago, this was the message — don’t be alarmed if you aren’t in the front of the pack. This is a hard message for racers like Constien who is the 4A Colorado state champion.
“I actually had to do visual exercises for a few days,” Constien said. “I’m used to being in the top group of a race. It’s a pretty strange thing not to be. Those exercises really helped me with being 50th as opposed to 10th.”
The thinking was that you may be the 55th in the overall race, as was Naomi Harding, leading the Huskies, but that performance is only in the 20s points-wise for the team competition.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that weather was bad. This is one of the great ironies of this entire process. Battle Mountain had to block out the grueling conditions of 75 degrees and sunny in Casa Grande, Arizona, two weeks ago, but mid-40s and rainy in Portland was just perfect.
This is a mountain team.
“It was probably the best weather we could have had,” Raichart said. “We’re so used to it. It’s the weather we run best in.”
As they discovered in Arizona, the Huskies know that big meets are hard to figure. The Huskies are in strange uniforms — this time orange. There are unaffiliated runners near the top of the pack. And no one knows who anyone is in a national high school race.
That Battle Mountain fans were watching on the webcast, and the internet had instantaneous results. Thus, Parish, in Oregon, was getting texts from people watching in Colorado that the Huskies were in second place after one mile and in third after two.
“As a coach, it was strange. I’m getting texts of where we are in the race,” Parish said. “And that’s when I realized we were playing for the big bucks and going for broke. I’m usually trying to do the math in my head.”
Making the math easier was Raichart. Usually, the pecking order is Constien and the Hardings (Lizzy and Naomi) all in some random order based on the day. Then comes Raichart.
However, when Parish saw Raichart as No. 3 for the Huskies as the race progressed, things were clicking into place. The route in Portland was hilly and that’s in Madame Raichart’s wheelhouse.
“We’re obviously into trail running,” Paris said. “We do a lot of it. And Alex is probably our best trail runner. This was suited to her.”
With Naomi Harding and Constien neck-and-neck, and with Raichart and Lizzie Harding right behind them, this was becoming the perfect race.
“When they came over that hill after the second mile and Gracie (Johnson) was right on our heels, that was the moment I got excited.”
Don’t go far
Everyone involved flew into the finish gate, but there would be no agonizing wait like in Arizona.
The announcement came over the public-address system, “Battle Mountain, report to the finish area.”
“I didn’t know what was happening,” Bamford said. “I didn’t know if we were in trouble or something.”
Fear not, there was no disqualification or anything of the sort. Parish had been told by race organizers to stay close. That was the clue that the Huskies were on the podium.
Only Manlius, New York, (89 points) and North Naperville, Illinois, (94) had finished in front of Battle Mountain (162). Under the category of “It’s a Small World,” the Huskies beat Bozeman, Montana. Coach Parish is an alumnus of Montana State University in Bozeman, and that team was coached by a former teammate of his.
Much to the delight of the Huskies present and past — John O’Neill, Jonny Stevens, Erika Ghent, Ethan Cotton, Tyler Thompson, Val Constien and Hannah Gaylord, all were on hand — the Huskies were the third-best team in the whole land.
“I think it’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Parish said. “This didn’t happen overnight. I think all of the athletes who have been a part of the program share in this. It’s been generations of kids pushing each other to build on the successes and inspire the current generation. This is a celebration of cross-country in our community.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.