Defending state champion wins Battle Mountain Husky Invitational, but Huskies come through for the team victory

Summit's Ella Hagen won for the second straight year as Battle Mountain's Lindsey Whitton claimed the silver

Ella Hagen cruises into the finish to win the varsity girls race at the Battle Mountain Husky Invitational on Friday in Minturn.
Rex Keep/Courtesy photo

When someone as gifted as Ella Hagen puts on a cross-country clinic — like she did at Maloit Park on Friday, winning the Battle Mountain Husky Invitational girls varsity race by 89 seconds — it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of where the real race drama is taking place.

Hagen didn’t even spike up, casually strolling to a 19 minute, 39-second 5-kilometer victory (which, amazingly, isn’t as fast as her course record, 18:54, set last year) in her racing flats. When she finished, she immediately ran down the final 200-meters to cheer in runner-up, Battle Mountain’s Lindsey Whitton — and then back to the far side of the finishing chute to grab a pair of waters for her teammates.

“Yeah, I was happy with it,” the defending 4A state cross-country and 1600-meter champion said, breathing easily and perhaps preferring to log a few more miles in lieu of a post-race interview.

“It’s a hard course and it’s a hard one to stay focused on, but I’m happy with the way it went, how it felt and …yeah, it was a lot of fun,” she continued.

“The mindset for today was just to work hard, get used to being comfortable being uncomfortable and just push the hills, try and develop some strength and get better every step.”

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Summit, which entered the meet ranked fifth in 4A as a team, placed three in the top-7. Battle Mountain, last year’s state runner-ups but ranked ‘just’ eighth in the state, were guided by Whitton, who bravely went out with Hagen in the first 800 meters and ran solo the rest of the way.

Battle Mountain Husky Invitational results

Team scores

  1. Battle Mountain – 51
  2. Summit – 56
  3. Caprock Academy – 119
  4. Prospect Ridge Academy – 129
  5. Mead  – 133
  6. Evergreen – 155
  7. Montrose – 162
  8. Glenwood Springs – 174
  9. Grand Junction – 196
  10. Eagle Valley – 226
  11. Palisade – 239

Top-10 individuals

1. Ella Hagen, Summit High School – 19:39
2. Lindsey Whitton, Battle Mountain High School –  21:08
3. Ava Mierau, Mead High School –  22:24
4. Ana Robinson, Rifle High School – 22:27
5. Kenzie Bush, Montrose High School – 22:32
6. Avery Eytel, Summit High School – 22:39
7. Lily Benbow, Summit High School  – 23:01
8. Presley Smith, Battle Mountain High School – 23:07
9. Quinn Waaler, Glenwood Springs High School – 23:23
10. Ruthie Demino,  Battle Mountain High School – 23:32

“I went out a little fast, but I’m also kind of hurt right now so I didn’t know how it was going to feel,” Whitton said of her 21:04 finish. Another 1:16 ticked away until Mead’s Ava Mierau came home in third.

“So, I’m very happy with how it went considering I haven’t been training fully. Last year, I ran the whole race with Milaina (Almonte), so, that was definitely a big difference,” Whitton continued. “But, effort-wise, I’m happy.”

Lindsey Whitton finished second overall at the Battle Mountain Husky Invitational on Friday.
Rex Keep/Courtesy photo

The Huskies graduated Almonte and no longer have Lindsey Kiehl on the roster either. As the opening paragraph alluded, however, the fight for team supremacy didn’t occur up front.

400-meter specialist Presley Smith showed she is rounding into form quickly, placing eighth in 23:07. The Huskies third runner, Ruthie Demino (23:32), looked confident as she sliced through the field to 10th. Senior Kira Hower remained composed in the later stages, holding onto 14th and securing key points from the Tigers, whose fourth runner finished 17th. Finally, Husky sophomore Snow Swihart (24:31) leaned past her teammate Bella Williams (24:31) for the team’s fifth spot as the pair finished 21st and 22nd, respectively.

“I’d say the biggest surprise was Snow,” head coach Rob Parish said. “For her to be fifth — she’s got a lot of talent and we’ll see how the next two months goes for her, but she could work herself into being a key piece.”

In the end, Battle Mountain tallied 51, narrowly edging Summit (56) for the team win.

“I think we did really well,” Whitton said of her team’s effort. “We had kind of a rough week last week and I think this was a good comeback. Everyone felt pretty good about how they did.” Having graduated Almonte and without the services of Lindsey Kiehl, the Huskies have had to forge a new identity this fall.

“Every team is different and every team has to evolve from the year before,” Parish said.

“We definitely had a good week of progress, mentally and physically. I was excited to see Lindsey and Presley reestablish the confidence and aggressiveness we’re looking for. So, I’m seeing good signs for sure.”

The varsity girls race takes off at Maloit Park on Friday.
Rex Keep/Courtesy photo

Eagle Valley’s top runner, Ellie Shroll, didn’t race on Friday, but Ginger Reilly (23:56) posted an impressive 15th-place finish in the 67-runner field. Hailey Ehman (27:35), Lucita Stowell (27:40), Jada Cobb (28:47) and Ky Hower (31:40) rounded out the Devils scoring.

At last year’s region championship, Summit finished second to the Huskies, who won their 12th straight. Come October, Hagen and company will be hungry to end the streak.

“We’re looking good, looking strong,” the Tiger junior said of her team. “We’re working hard, working together and I think we’re really excited for what’s to come. It’s going to be a good season.”

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