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Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain return to Nike Southwest Region meet after COVID cancellation of 2020

Forgive me if using the “best team in years,” line to promote Vail valley prep cross-country teams sounds like a broken record. From Blair-squared — Joslin and now Sam — at Eagle Valley to Val and Liz Constien up through the brothers Middaugh at Battle Mountain, it seems like both programs have firmly established their reputation for consistently churning out national talent. This morning, both squads will compete at the Nike Southwest Regional cross-country championships in Tempe, Arizona. And, as in year’s past, they are, to put it simply, pretty good.

For Rob Parish’s harriers, the secret to peaking for this late November post-season opportunity, which comes three weeks after the CHSSA state meet, was taking advantage of the COVID-delayed track season of 2021.

“Do you start up cross country right after track?” Parish rhetorically asked about the predicament of teams who finished their track seasons well into June instead of the typical mid-May conclusion.



“I made a conscious decision to go with the slow play, and I think it went well.”

The Husky’s top runners started their cross country campaigns in late July instead of early June.



“I didn’t want them to finish track and be totally blown,” Parish said. The approach has his athletes feeling fresh and fit as they seek to prolong the precarious peak endurance athletes work all year to enjoy.

“I’m feeling good,” said junior Milaina Almonte, the lone Husky in the championship race. NXR has a small school (schools with less than 1,000 students), two medium (1,000-1,500 students), and two large (greater than 1,500 students) school divisions on tap for Saturday, in addition to the exclusive championship division which features the top 22 schools and 45 individuals in the region, made up of teams from Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

“I’ve had some pretty good workouts recently,” she said.

The Battle Mountain women have had an inspirational season.

“We’re really excited for the girls,” Parish said. “They were just broken this summer — mentally and physically — and they’ve really rallied to the cause. They’ve gotten their heads and minds and bodies around being a competitive team. It’s awesome.”

Parish wanted all of his girls in the championship race, but the only athlete accepted was Almonte, who is looking to break her 18:27 personal best. The rest of the team, mostly sophomores, understand the situation, even though they would have liked to have been in the championship race, too. “They’ve dealt with it really well,” said Parish, who said the ladies still have the potential to win the small school race, even without their top runner, and are excited about the challenge.

They also recognize their teammate’s collegiate aspirations. “They know that this is the next step and that if she’s (Almonte) in, she’s got to take it,” Parish said. “So, they’re positive about that.”

Sullivan Middaugh will have to hold off his younger brother, seen trailing in this photo from the CHSSA region meet in October, one more time in 2021.
Rob Parish/Courtesy photo

On the boy’s side, Parish will lead a team into the championship race for the first time since 2014, when the Huskies were 30th out of 30 teams. This year’s crew will likely improve upon the placement. Nike has canceled their national meet, a move Parish finds odd, considering the regional events will have thousands more fans and athletes than the exclusive national meet. Normally, the top two teams at each region, plus four at-large bids (across the whole country) automatically qualify for nationals. With six of the top 10 teams in the nation residing in the Southwest region, it would have been a tough ask for the Huskies to qualify anyway. “Top seven is the goal,” Parish said.

“It will be really fun for them to just race the top teams in the country.”

It will also be the last chance for Porter Middaugh to take down his older brother, Sullivan, in a prep race. If he does, don’t expect the driven sophomore to stop climbing. “Probably not!” he laughed when asked if he would retire and go out on top in the family race.

“It’s definitely different from him where I’m chasing him,” he said about competing alongside his kin. “So, a lot of motivation, within the race, just to stay on him. But yeah, never afraid to beat him at the end — I’m not going to hold back,” he said with a chuckle.

Both brothers have cherished the unique opportunity to chase high goals together. “It’s super fun to have a brother on the team,” Sullivan said.

“He pushes me; he’s always really close to me. I don’t want him to beat me, so it’s good competition to have on the team.”

Their relationship has fostered a level of intrinsic motivation to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of excellence.

“I think we both really push each other to do well at practice — stretch, do all the little things — I think we help each other,” said Sullivan while Porter nodded in agreement.

The Middaughs have had company in workouts, especially from sophomore Will Brunner, an emerging third runner whom Parish said has been in lockstep with both Porter and Sullivan in every speed session. “I’m hoping for 15:30-15:40,” Brunner purposed. Right behind him will be Jorge Sinoloa, another sophomore who was only five seconds behind Brunner at the state meet. Sinoloa is targeting a sub-16 time as well.

“They’re mostly healthy, we haven’t run a lot of fast courses, and they’re peaking,” Parish said, contrasting his team with many of the top Colorado teams that may be fatigued from chasing fast times at notoriously quick courses such as the Desert Twilight or Liberty Bell invite. While Parish is against toting athletes to lower elevations throughout the season, he knows his runners are locked and loaded, and ready to be drowning in oxygen as they descend from 7,700 feet. “It’s like being shot out of a cannon,” he said.

“We’re excited to race,” the elder Middaugh said.

Even though both teams will be chasing fast times, much of the enjoyment comes from the extra-curriculars which take place on the trip.

“We have a good prank system we all kind of do to each other — coaches, kids, guys, girls,” Kaden Williams, seeking a sub-16:10 time, said when asked what his favorite part of the trip was. Williams, a senior, will also benefit from the college visits to Arizona State on Friday and Northern Arizona University on Sunday.

“I just really believe — it’s how I live my life — we’re going to squeeze every dollar. We’re spending all this money and time to go down there. It’s going to be a fun race and trip, but we’re going to squeeze the most out of it,” Parish said about the itinerary. The college experience is important to Parish.

“A lot of these kids haven’t done a major college tour,” he said. The ASU tour will be led by a former BMHS athlete who was swayed to become a Sun Devil from a similar trip.

“Even if they aren’t going to go to Arizona State or NAU, they’re going to see what’s it like to be in college and what it’s like to potentially be a student athlete,” the coach said.

Samantha Blair, who clipped Mia Prok at the line at the 4A state cross-country meet three weeks ago, will get another shot at the Niwot women, the No. 2 team in the nation, in Tempe this afternoon.
Melinda Brandt/Courtesy photo

Drever and Blair lead Eagle Valley contingent

Mentioning NAU is a timely transition to speaking about the Eagle Valley squads heading to Tempe. On Tuesday, Samantha Blair committed to a Flagstaff-based collegiate career with the nearby Lumberjacks. “I chose NAU because I really enjoyed the team, the coaches, the culture and Flagstaff!” wrote Blair in an email.

Blair’s best finish at NXR came in 2019 when she placed 3rd overall. She finished 25th at the national meet in Portland that year, but has been robbed yet again of a repeat opportunity. She and junior Jake Drever are targeting the Garmin Running Lane national meet Dec. 4 in Huntsville, Alabama, as a replacement. The race rose to prominence as the defacto “COVID-nationals” in 2020, and the 2021 field promises to be even more stacked in the wake of the Nike cancellation. Blair is hoping to go under 17 minutes for the first time.

“She’s definitely fit enough to do it,” coach Charlie Janssen said.

Drever is poised to prove that Blair isn’t the only surname valley fans should familiarize themselves with. Substantial physical and mental maturation in the past six months has resulted in the junior improving from a 4:41/10:30 (1600/3200) guy in track to 15:58 in the 5k this fall, the latter split being a 47-second improvement from 2020. It’s a testament to his growth and also an indication of his natural strength-based skillset.

“He just came out swinging this year,” Janssen gushed about Jake popping his Desert Twilight school record (non-Colorado courses).

“He’s super coachable, works hard, he’s confident and he’s cutthroat competitive.”

Drever will be racing in the medium school division, and should contend for a top-10 finish. He’ll be keying off of another local, Summit’s Dom Remeikis, in whatever lead pack materializes. The fellow junior boasts a faster personal best, but Janssen, who believes the first to the finish will occur via a seven-way knife fight, is just as much his harrier’s to claim as anyone’s. “I think he’s going to be in there,” he said.

With Drever’s breakout season, it was unfortunate to not have landed in the coveted championship race, but ultimately, Janssen believes it will have no impact on the runner’s mindset.

“It doesn’t matter what race you put him in. He’s ready to rip somebody’s head off, which is like the right kind of athlete that you want.”

With the high school social studies teacher/coach leading the long drive down, Eagle Valley conflated cross-country with “cross-curricular” during the trip in a similar vein as Battle Mountain’s college visits, interrupting van jam sessions with visits to historical markers along the Colorado, Utah and Arizona route.

“I try to hit some historical stuff,” Janssen recounted of Thursday evening’s exploits before Friday’s early-to-bed pre-race evening. Sand Island — one of the largest Petroglyph panels in North America — was 2021’s site of choice.

Eagle Valley has a scoring boys team (five athletes) as well as Blair in the championship race and three other girls in the medium school division. Drever will be joined by 16:47 guy Ferguson St. John, a senior Janssen said is “ready to pop another fast one,” as well as Cooper Fillmore and Lukas Bergsten, another senior who missed the state meet after a climbing accident temporarily sidelined him. Rounding out the team is sophomore Armando Fuentes. Fellow senior Jordan Neifert, who barely missed out on entrance into the championship race, will lead a trio of Anastacia Baker and Addison Marsh.

Jordan Neifert, state qualifier in the 3200, will look improve upon her 19:18 best and show race directors they were wrong to deny her entrance into the championship race.
Melinda Brandt/Courtesy photo.

“I’m feeling pretty confident,” Janssen remarked about his team heading into the race. “They’ve definitely paid their dues; the blade’s pretty sharp right now.”

Janssen’s approach to training is two cups sports science, one cup past experience, and a smidgen of the all important “art” of coaching.

“I try to find the perfect combination of both volume and intensity, which can be kind of a tightrope walk sometimes,” the coach said. “Catering it to individual strengths and individual needs can be difficult, too.”

In racing the entire CHSSA schedule while also eyeing NXR and eventually RunningLane in the far off distance, the Devils never tapered too dramatically at any point. Rather, they maintained their regular progression of building volume every three weeks, with a fourth “down” week. The way Janssen sees it, if they are resting and recovering properly, their fitness should build all through November.

“I feel like they’ve all really invested in the process. The hay’s in the barn — now it’s time to run fast.”

Lukas Bergsten competing for the Devils earlier this season.
Melinda Brandt/Courtesy photo
Cooper Filmore will look to extend his season in fine fashion this weekend at the NXR Southwest meet in Tempe, Arizona.
Melinda Brandt/Courtesy photo

The full schedule of events and free webcast can be found at dyestat.com/gprofile.php?.

Other valley runners in action this weekend

Saturday could be busy for running fans as they seek supurb streaming conditions. In addition to the free live stream for NXR, the NCAA Division I, II, and III national meets are also Saturday. As of this writing, the Vail Daily is aware of two athletes who will be competing.

Former Battle Mountain runner Elizabeth Constien, the sister of 2020 Olympian Val Constien, will be racing for the highly seeded Colorado Buffaloes in Tallahassee, Florida at the DI meet. Colorado is one of four teams — New Mexico, North Carolina State, and BYU being the others — who have stood above the rest of the country. The team race should be a classic clash of the titans, and Constien, who had a breakout year in 2020 and has been the 6th or 7th runner at most meets this year, including the Mountain West Regional last week, will undoubtedly impact the scoring in a race where depth runners are anticipated to be influential.

The race begins at 10:20 a.m. ET and can be viewed on ESPN U and the ESPN App.

Alex Raichart, a redshirt junior, will continue her season with the No. 5 ranked Colorado Mines at the Division II meet in Saint Leo, Florida, also Saturday. The former Husky has posted lifetime cross-country bests in the last month with an 18:01 5k at the Chile Pepper XC Festival on Oct. 1 and a 22:12 at the South Central Region Championships on Nov. 6. The women shoot off at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be found at ncaa.com/event/4103?ut.


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