Fall prep previews: Eagle Valley cross-country

Devils believe boys team has chance to be its best ever

Jake Drever (right) opened up his 2022 campaign with a win at the Central Warrior Invitational on Saturday in Grand Junction. Drever leads one of the deepest EVHS cross-country squads ever into the 2022 season.
Melinda Brandt/Courtesy photo

Is it ironic that on the weekend of the Husky Invitational, the preview for Eagle Valley’s cross-country teams is front and center? Maybe it’s just the Devils’ way of saying, “hey, don’t forget about us.”

“Oh totally,” junior Ellie Shroll answered when asked if the chatter in the Devils’ post-run ice tub ever includes the their up-valley rivals. “It’s friendly competition, but there’s definitely some, ‘come on guys, we really got to show them up this week.’”

“In past years, the articles always kind of focus on that side of the valley.”

If things go according to plan — the boys achieve their goal of becoming the program’s best ever and the girls successfully rebuild in the post-Blair era — the publicity needle could bend in a westward direction come November.

“They want to be the best team in Eagle Valley history,” head coach Melinda Brandt stated of her boys team.

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“With a front runner or two and a solid pack that includes our speediest group of guys to start the season, these boys are bigger, faster and stronger than their 2021 selves.”

Deep Devils’ boys squad led by Drever

On the boys’ side, the Devils’ have a tightly-knit top 10 eager to take “the biggest bite out of the competition yet,” according to their coach. The leader of the pack is senior Jake Drever.

“I definitely think this is the strongest team we’ve had in a while,” Drever said.

“I think we have a really good chance of being the best team in the Western Slope.”

Drever opened his season with a dominant win at the Central Warrior Invitational in Grand Junction last weekend. It was a good sign of early-season fitness for the senior, who has notched three sub-16 minute 5K’s in his career, including a sea-level 15:32 at last year’s RunningLane National Championships in Alabama. This year, he has his eyes on the altitude school record (16:03), breaking 15 minutes at sea-level, and making a name for himself statewide.

“Being in the top-five of 4A state would be awesome,” he said. “I want to be considered among the top runners in the state — not just ‘oh that kid’s pretty good.”

Brandt praised him, saying, “Jake has a work ethic that makes those around him want to elevate their efforts.”

“He is anxious to help the team pick up right where we left off.”

If the boys team’s hopes begin with Drever, who finished fourth at the National High School Trail Championships in Salida this summer, they certainly hinge on the team’s depth, bolstered by two newcomers with a recognizable last name for MileSplit addicts.

“We lost Ferguson (St. John) and Lukas (Bergsten) — some big seniors from last year — but I feel like we just keep getting better, and Dylan and Tyler Blair are absolutely a part of that,” Brandt said in reference to both her departed 2021 captains and the two incoming freshmen twins — younger siblings of Sam and Joslin, stalwarts for the girls’ program for the last six years.

“They add to the mix a ton.”

At the Central Warrior Invite, Dylan was the team’s second runner, crossing the line seven seconds ahead of Cooper Filmore in 16:28. Tyler ran 17:27.

“They just work so hard; what they’re going to bring to the table is just an added competitiveness to a group of guys that are already so hungry,” Brandt said of the two freshmen, the class CHSAA rankings prognosticators often overlook.

“I can’t think that any team has two freshmen better than Dylan and Tyler.”

Filmore, a junior who finished 18th in the region meet last year, is another key cog.

“Cooper has this natural speedy endurance that develops rather quickly in the season,” Brandt said. “It is amazing what kind of workouts he can turn out.”

Jackson Filmore will also be in the mix. The sophomore gained valuable postseason experience last season and is “looking to be a more regular presence on the varsity line-up.”

Charlie Schafer, who joined Drever on several summer base-mileage runs, will provide veteran leadership as the next fastest returner. The three-year varsity runner “fights for his goals and helps teammates do the same,” according to Brandt. Junior Armando Fuentes was between Schafer and Tyler Blair at the season opener, and is the glue guy.

“He is just what every team needs — a huge, light-hearted smile and love for his teammates,” Brandt said. “Mando is a guy who will lay it out at practice and then have everyone laughing on the cool-down run.”

Armando Fuentes and Tyler Blair compete in Saturday’s Central Warrior Invitational in Grand Junction.
Melinda Brandt/Courtesy photo

Drever said the team is “well connected” despite the age range. “Even past the varsity list — we all have very good chemistry,” he said. He also knows that between Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley, Summit and Grand Junction — the main regional competition — it’s probably going to come down to runners 4, 5 and 6.

“I’m trying to put an emphasis on staying together and remembering that as a pack, we’ll be much stronger than being all separated,” he said of his leadership focuses, adding that part of his job is “helping the younger guys understand courses and the different aspects of racing.”

“I really want them to understand the true feel of what a solid race should feel like and everything behind that,” he explained.

“I think we have a lot of hidden daggers on our team.”

“It should be a dog fight for those top four regional spots and our boys want to bring home some hardware,” Brandt concluded.

Eagle Valley girls team begins new chapter

“It is no surprise that after six years of Blair sisters racing at EVHS, 2022 will look a little different without Samantha (and Joslin),” Brandt stated.

“The Blair sisters have left their mark and it is our job to carry on their hard working, gritty racing selves that we have all come to know.”

Samantha and her sister Joslin at the start of the 2019 Junior World Mountain Running Championships. The sisters provided Eagle Valley High School with six years of continued excellence, ending last spring with Sam’s graduation.
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The Devils saw four seniors who were mostly lifetime varsity placeholders depart last year. That left little room for newcomers to learn the ropes. “This year will be the year of the newcomers for the ladies at Eagle Valley,” Brandt said.

The team brings in five new freshmen, one new sophomore and one new junior. Clara Broius, Olivia Ingoldsby, Julia Borejszo and Ginger Riley will be athletes to watch as the team takes shape, as well as Ava Bergsten, a regional competitor returning in 2022.

Up front, the Devils are led by junior Ellie Shroll, who placed 19th at regions last year, missing the individual state qualifying honor by just nine seconds and four places. She admitted that race has sat in the back of her mind during summer training sessions on the track. Her injury-preventative focus on form and speed — while still logging the necessary cumulative miles — took place under the watchful eye of her dad, Jeff, longtime Eagle Valley track coach.

When asked if he ever tries to persuade his spring soccer-playing daughter to come out for track, she laughed and said, “It was quite the argument at first, but we got it all balanced out.”

As far as a top-15 finish at the 4A region 1 meet on Oct. 20?

“That’s definitely a goal,” she said. “I think I can do it if I really train hard this season.”

But her individual goals — to run in the low 20s for 5K — are just one facet for the team’s top runner.

“For the team, I just hope we can keep rebuilding and not just give up on the girls team because of how many athletes we lost that were kind of holding us together,” she said with an optimistic tone.

“I think we’re all going into it with a pretty positive attitude; just ready to start fresh and be there for each other and supporting each other no matter what our times are.”

Not having stalwarts like Blair, Jordan Neifert, Anastacia Baker, Lucy McCann and Alden Wyatt around for workouts has forced Shroll to approach the daily grind with a fresh perspective.

“I think in terms of me growing as an athlete, it’s forcing me to be self-motivated and confident in myself,” she said.

In addition to Shroll, Brandt will rely on the senior leadership from Addison Marsh, who is “eager to contribute even more” after earning a varsity letter as a junior. Fellow senior Samantha Boeke also returns from an injury-plagued 2021 campaign. Though Shroll is just a junior, Brandt said she “has a keen eye for noticing all of her teammates, gives her all and is excited to find ways to continue our welcoming and hard-working team culture.”

“I want to be there, I want to keep everyone strong,” Shroll said.

“I’m just excited about this year. I mean, coming into it, it was a little discouraging, but I think with the attitude that we’re going into it so far … everyone’s ready to be there, they’re dedicated, pushing themselves in every practice,” she continued.

“I’m proud of the girls. I’m really proud of everyone who came out because we all knew — it was no secret that we were going to have to seriously reconstruct everything — but they still came out and are showing up every day and I’m super thankful for that.”

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