Blair caps career with runner-up finish at state meet
Special to the Daily
Calculated and controlled – this was the secret sauce for the Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley runners who competed at the Colorado State 4A Cross-Country Championships on Saturday in Colorado Springs. The Huskies brought both their girls and boys teams, while the Devils brought the men and individual Samantha Blair. Everyone chose to be conservative early and heroic late. In the team races, the Husky boys and girls were third and second, respectively, as the Devils finished in 12th. Blair wound up in the silver medal spot individually.
“It played out really well,” she said after the race. “My coach knew that the top pack would go out super fast, so the plan was to be a little more conservative in the first mile and then catch people throughout the rest of the race.”
“Samantha executed her gameplan to the tee,” Devils coach Melinda Brandt reflected when reached over the phone after the meet. With a loaded field that featured Niwot, the top team nationally, and several regional foes who had bested her a week ago in Evergreen, it would have been easy to succumb to the usual “Penrose peer pressure” of taking the downhill first mile out blazing. Instead, Blair stayed patient, coming through the first check-mark in 16th place. Looking strong and confident the entire race, she started to turn on the gas after the halfway point. With only 650-meters to go, a 15-second gap remained to second place. Seemingly spurred on by the finality of it all, she miraculously closed the gap and nipped Mia Prok (who went out 19 seconds faster than Blair in the opening mile), to claim silver.
To stay composed, she leaned on her veteran experience and mature race tactics, saying both were “especially helpful in the second mile, when it got hilly.”
The school record holder leaves behind a challenging resume for future Devils to live up to. She hopes her faith in healthy competition and camaraderie in order to maximize potential — not the trophies — become her primary legacy. “I hope my legacy is that your goals and dreams couldn’t be achieved without the help of your team,” she said. “A team is the people that push you to be your best no matter what. Your greatest competitors push you past your limits in races. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my coaches, family, teammates, friends, teachers and competitors.”
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It wasn’t just about Blair at Colorado Springs yesterday, though. Devil junior Jake Drever, in his first state meet, ran the fastest time on the course in Eagle Valley High history, finishing in 16:41.8, good for 26th place. “He went out smart and gained valuable experience,” head coach Melinda Brandt said after the race. The team followed suit, taking the traditionally hot first mile conservatively before closing hard. After one mile, they were ranked 19th out of 20 teams. By the end, they were sitting in 12th, only 20 points out of 7th place.
The Huskies also closed hard. In the 4A boys race, all eyes were on the first full-strength face-off between nationally ranked No. 2 Niwot and No. 3 Cheyenne Mountain. Led by senior Sullivan Middaugh, who earned his first top ten finish in 16:05, the Huskies weren’t overshadowed. After starting in 5th, they crawled their way into the top three by the end. Their 136 team points were the second-lowest in team history at the state meet. The girls, facing the historical pressure of six straight Husky teams finishing either first or second, kept the streak alive, taking down formidable Air Academy and Durango squads in the process. They trailed both teams after one mile. “The girls ran out of their minds in the last mile,” head coach Rob Parish wrote after the meet. “It was the best combined day ever at the state meet for the Battle Mountain team.”
The season is not over for either squad. Both will be competing at the Nike Southwest Regionals in Tempe, Arizona, on Nov. 20, and Devers and Blair will also contest the RunningLane National Cross Country Championships in Huntsville, Alabama, on Dec. 4. “Three days off and then back to training,” Brandt said.