Local prep harriers compete at NXR Southwest regional championship
Whitton and Brunner guide Huskies as Drever leads Devils
Three weeks after impressive performances at the Colorado state cross-country meet, area prep runners traveled south for the Nike Cross-Country (NXR) Southwest regional championships to race for a spot at the Nike Cross-Country national championships Dec. 3 in Portland, Oregon. Lindsey Whitton and Will Brunner turned in the top times for Battle Mountain — i.e. “The Vail Valley Running Club” and Jake Drever led the Eagle Valley contingent last Saturday in Mesa, Arizona.
Whitton covered the Coyote Run Golf Course 5k in personal best time of 18 minutes, 17.26 to place 25th overall as Rob Parish’s girls placed ninth overall as a team.
“The girls ran really well, especially Lindsey,” Parish said. “She was unbelievable. She’s got a strong PR to began with, but to get 25th in that field was impressive.”
With the return of the Nike nationals meet for the first time since 2019, Parish said the regional meet was more heavily stacked than it has been the last couple of years.
“Last year, the field was strong, but it was nowhere near as strong as it was this year,” Parish said.
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During most meets this year, Whitton has been Milaina Almonte’s shadow, forming a dynamic 1-2 punch for the Huskies. The stacked nature of the championship meet, though, prevented the junior from spotting her senior teammate at the start or running in her hip pocket throughout, a factor which ultimately worked to her benefit. Whitton was aggressive from the start, positioning herself into the top-50. She would go on to pass 20 athletes in the final mile.
“I think she got out ahead and never saw her (Milaina),” Parish said of Whitton. “In running, you sometimes insert yourself into the prescribed pecking order, but it just didn’t happen this time. She just kind of ran how she felt instead of running off of other people.”
Almonte, who had been the Huskies top runner throughout the season, placed 55th in 18:51.95. The other monster performance on the girls side, according to Parish, was from Presley Smith, who finished 73rd overall in 19:19.48.
“She had the best cross-country race of her career — that was awesome,” Parish said. Lindsey Kiehl (19:26.43) was 81st and Addison Beuche (20:06.13) was 141st to round out the top five. Kira Hower (20:33.54) placed 176th and Gabby Leonardo (20:54.57) was 184th in the team’s sixth and seventh spots.
“To get ninth in that race with six or seven nationally-ranked teams is fantastic,” Parish said. In 2017, the Vail Valley Running Club took the overall region title en route to a third-place finish at the national championships.
Summit’s Ella Hagen, who won the Colorado 4A individual state title, placed seventh overall in the championship girls race.
Another bright spot for Parish’s group was the performance by Lily Whelan, whose inspirational road to recovery from injuries suffered in a horrific car accident in June of 2021 was featured in a lengthy Runnerspace.com story earlier this week.
“That was a great tribute to Lily when that came out,” Parish said, adding that Whelan was interviewed by Nike brass for 15 minutes on the stage at the course on Friday. “She’s had a lot of well-earned, positive attention. It was fun to have her at the race.”
Whelan competed in the small-school race with fellow Huskies Ruthie Demino (20:46.82), Stella Jackson (21:25.00), Bella Williams (21:51.42), Hudson Turner (22:17.02), Reese Davis (22:33.29), running 21:11.75 to place 54th.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Parish summarized of the comeback.
In past seasons, the Southwest regional has been held in Casa Grande on a faster, flatter course. Parish said the Coyote Run venue, which has hosted both the Desert Twilight and the NXR Southwest event for the first time, was a fun cross-country course, but was not particularly fast.
“It was rolling, had a lot of turns, but it was fun — it was definitely a cool cross-country course, it just wasn’t a barn burner, like the last eight or nine years,” he said.
On the boys side, the top Huskies were Brunner (15:43.42) in 37th and Porter Middaugh (15:59.63) in 70th.
“The guys worked hard and went for it, but I think there was some disappointment,” Parish said, noting that Middaugh fell and was trampled early in the race. Brunner, who posted two sub-15-minute marks earlier this year, came in as a potential top-10 threat and outside national qualifier — the top-five individuals not on a qualifying team make it to the national meet — but was unable to assert himself in the lead group from the start. American Fork’s Daniel Simmons won the race in 14:44.80.
Eagle Valley’s Jake Drever ran 15:53.21 to place 53rd. Drever was familiar with the course, having run 15:32 there in the Sept. 30 Desert Twilight, the Southwest Regional preview.
Parish said Brunner might compete at the Champs (formerly Footlocker) Midwest Regional in Kenosha, Wisconsin this Saturday, as he will be visiting family in the area over Thanksgiving.
“He has a decent chance at making the top 10 there and making that national meet,” Parish said. “That would be really cool for him to make that race.”
A contingent of Battle Mountain girls are flying out to Alabama for the RunningLane national meet, an event Middaugh may also contest. Prior to the state meet, Drever said he intended on racing RunningLane as well.
With the cross-country chapter of the year coming to a close, Parish said he thinks athletes are ready to ski, play basketball and shift their focus before gearing up for the track season.
“We know that both groups have incredible potential in the spring,” the coach said.