Huskies, Devils prepare for state meet
And an entire season will come down to 15-20 minutes.
This running is a strange sport. Nothing matters — not the 400-500 miles somebody’s run during the offseason, not all the grueling practices, not all the regular season races, not even last week’s big regional race in Delta — except for 3.1 miles on Saturday.
It’s the state meet — the boys go at 10:30 a.m. and the ladies at 12:30 p.m. — at the Norris Penrose Events Center in Colorado Springs. Battle Mountain’s boys and girls teams, Eagle Valley’s boys squad and the Devils’ Carly Volkmer will be competing against the best in the state in Class 4A, pursuing team and individual goals.
Everyone in Huskies’ gold or Eagle Valley red and white tie-dye has run this course during the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede, better known as pre-state, back in August. There are three key points to the race.
The first comes 400 meters from the start. The course narrows from a wide area for a mass start to a narrow width and a creek, which will be crossed. A quick start is imperative and so is elbow-running.
This is not hockey, although it can look like it. With nearly 200 runners careening toward a condensed point, getting one’s elbows out slightly to get some personal space is essential. It gives a runner room to get out to a quick start and it’s also a defense mechanism because an elbow in the ribs from another runner is the last thing one needs. (Runners can also get tied up and fall, which is not a part of most people’s strategies.)
“We’re just pumping them up for a great race,” Devils coach Melinda Brandt said of her charges. “We’re working on starts getting them out strong through the barn (by the creek). We did a great job of that last week.”
So here’s the paradox. You need a fast start or you’re stuck in the pack away from the leaders, but you can’t blow your energy getting there or maintaining yourself with the leaders.
That’s because Big Willis and Little Willis await. Big Willis is a half-mile incline just after the 1-mile mark. Little Willis is another shorter climb. (Yes, you may do your best Gary Coleman, “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”)
“We’ve trained extensively on hills for this reason,” Huskies coach Rob Parish said. “The goal of the state race is to run the hills with confidence. When I’m saying that, the last hill tops out at 1.5 miles. There’s a lot of race left. You want to finish the hills feeling good, but not spent.”
There’s downhill for the next mile followed by an uphill sprint to the finish. Do runners cruise on this mile, saving energy for the last kick or start picking off runners as others relax?
Battle Mountain’s ladies have the state pedigree. They’ve finished fourth, fourth and third the past three years at state.
That said, this may be one of the tougher challenges the Battle Mountain girls face at state. Thompson Valley is the defending champion with Mountain View and Niwot among the contenders, according to Parish.
On coloradomilesplit.com, the people who run the site mashed all the times from last week’s regional races across the state and the Huskies came out No. 1. Parish called that “very misleading.”
“They’ve set the goal of being in the top five,” Parish said.
Meanwhile, Battle Mountain’s boys are trending upward at the state meet. After not making the state meet in 2011, the boys were 25th in 2012 and 16th last year. Is there another big jump in these guys?
“We’ve been calling them the revolution group,” Parish said. “They’ve put the expectation back in our program. They are one of the top teams in the state. They need to execute the same type of plan they did at regionals when they ran with Durango. We need to have string races from our top five runners.”
Palmer Ridge, Durango and Niwot are the competition, and the Huskies would like to be in the top three.
They are not just happy to be there. In fact, here’s some good trivia: “Which Eagle County boys team has more consecutive appearances at state?”
It’s Eagle Valley, people.
It’s time to make a move, Brandt said.
“We’re looking for top 10 or 15,” she said. “We want to continue to make a good name for ourselves in the state. We’re not just happy with qualifying.”
Gino Giovagnoli, Brandon Sheard and Michael Niemeyer have all been on the state stage for Eagle Valley, and that experience should help.
Volkmer is running as an individual, and that is tough. Yes, cross-country is an individual sport in some ways, but the team helps push a competitor through the tough stuff.
On the other hand, Volkmer didn’t just fall off the bumpkin truck. She’s done the state number for several seasons in track and field. Another thing about which to think is that the best finish an Eagle Valley female athlete has had at cross-country state is 43rd. Volkmer kind of likes to break records.
“She’s going to be great,” Brandt said. “She has a lot of state experience in different races.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.