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Devils welcome cross country squad

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
BM XCountry Fahrmeyer SM 9-22-07
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” The drive to practice just got a whole lot shorter for Eagle Valley cross country runners next fall.

Wednesday, Eagle Valley voted to form its own cross country team, splitting from the valley-wide Battle Mountain squad.

“It had been talked about quite a bit in our school,” said Eagle Valley athletic director Cliff Zehring. “With the cost of gas going up and kids having to drive to Battle Mountain for practice, it became an issue with finances.”

While the formation of the Eagle Valley team breaks up the talent pool for a cross country powerhouse that has won state titles in each of the past three years (one girls in 2005, and two boys in 2006 and 2007), it should give more students the chance to compete without having to worry about traveling logistics. The round-trip drive between Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain is more than 60 miles.

“There’s a great opportunity for those kids to excel,” said Eagle Valley track and field coach Jeff Shroll, who attempted to start a downvalley cross country team when he started coaching in 1997. “There have been some good distance runners (in track) ” girls who don’t play volleyball, but play soccer, and would have run cross country.”

Griffin Turnipseed, an Eagle Valley student who ran cross country for Battle Mountain, thinks a downvalley team will help.

“It’s a huge plus for the (new) team because it took a lot out traveling upvalley everyday, and it was expensive for sure,” he said. “I think it’s more of an incentive to get kids out to do the sport. It was understandable before when nobody wanted to do it.”

The majority of the Battle Mountain team was made up of Battle Mountain students, with a group of Eagle Valley students and a few others from Vail Christian and Vail Mountain.

“This is just a splitting of the program,” said Mike Gass, director of secondary education for Eagle County schools. “We’ve already had a program in play. We are just expanding it out to another other high school.

“You always run risk of not begin as competitive as you could be, but we’re giving more kids the opportunities.”

Battle Mountain cross country coach Rob Parish, who will be taking a two-year sabbatical starting next fall, is a bit sad to see the team split, but excited for more kids to participate.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “It means that the sport is growing and interest is growing around the valley. Through the efforts of a lot of people ” like (Eagle Valley coach) Melinda Brandt and Jeff Shroll, there’s a big interest in running cross country. And the community is behind this.”

Brandt, who coaches the distance runners in track, spoke at an Eagle Valley coaches meeting Wednesday morning where the sport was put up for a vote, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship cross country would have with other teams; adding sports can sometime be seen as dipping into the talent pool for other sports.

“Out-of-season kids who wanted to get in shape are more likely to participate,” she said. “In our meeting (coaches told her) they’d love to have soccer kids running or Nordic skiers running. And I think we have a really good base of kids from track who are really excited.”

Shroll thinks an Eagle Valley team is viable in large part due to Parish.

“A lot of credit has to be given to coach Rob Parish and all his great work,” he said. “He’s put cross country as a cool sport back on the map.”

Another person who helped cross country downvalley was Kelli Witter, who taught at Eagle Valley but was an assistant coach on the Battle Mountain team. Along with her recruiting, Witter diffused some of the logistical headaches by driving kids upvalley to practice.

While having two teams makes sense logistically, it will be a adjustment competitively for the runners.

“It makes more sense for them, but it’s a bit of a bummer for us,” said Huskies’ runner Charles Gladitsch. “We’re losing some huge people on our team ” like Griffin, Andrew (Hill) and a bunch of others.”

“It’ll be tough for the first couple years to get the program off the ground,” Turnipseed said. “But I think we’ll be able to put together a pretty decent team. We’ll be competitive.”

Another change next year will be on the emotional side, when former teammates can spark up a new rivalry.

“That first year will be a little tough. Those guys were a part of our team, and we’re still really good friends,” Gladitsch said.

Both teams are conducting interviews for head coaches.

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.


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