Vail Valley Preps: Huskies cross country starts with high hopes
EAGLE-VAIL, Colorado – Want a good argument? Try this on for size.
What’s the best athletic program at Battle Mountain?
Hockey’s huge in Huskies Nation with winning seasons each year since the program started in 2001, not to mention six Frozen Four appearances in eight years and three title-game appearances.
Volleyball is a power with three league titles from 2005-07, the magical state crown in 2006 and a good-looking squad in 2009.
Then there is soccer – boys soccer, in particular, because of its longer history. David Cope’s team has had winning seasons and postseason appearances, dating back to 1999. That run included 4A Slope titles from 2004-07.
Soccer’s four titles matches a school record, also held by boys cross country. The harriers are the four-time defending Slope League (or regional) champs and the drive for five begins Saturday at the Fossil Ridge Invitational, which is also the site of the state meet in October.
“There’s definitely a tradition with four regional championships,” said senior Eric Gallagher, who attends Vail Christian, but runs for the Huskies. “It’s hard not to think about not winning at regionals. As a Battle Mountain runner, it’s about going all out at regionals.”
The Huskies boys cross country team won the first three titles under coach Rob Parish, who built the program into a power. Battle Mountain won No. 4 with coach Lyle Knudsen, and now Ken Long inherits the program. The new coach is plain-spoken about the team’s goal for 2009.
“Five in a row is the goal,” Long said. “The No. 1 goal is to bring home another regional title.”
One of the reasons for big expectations is that the Huskies return all but one runner from last year’s team. While Conor Wallace leaves some big sneakers to fill – he was the team’s top runner last year and its last link to the school’s boys’ state titles of 2006 and 2007 – there is remains a very talented squad.
With the caveat that no spots are guaranteed on a cross-country team as it goes through a season, junior Remsen Allard holds down the No. 1 spot on the varsity squad. Keeping the sibling theme alive – Whitney Allard, Remsen’s older sister, who graduated in 2007, was an accomplished runner – Tommy Crisofulli (Tony, 2008) is back for his senior year.
Gallagher is one of two Erics with Eric Spry starting the year on varsity. Mitch Walker and David Shearon are also returners with Aleksei Horn rounded out the top-seven.
Another cause for optimism is that 24 runners came out on the boys and Long wouldn’t be surprised to see some healthy competition for the seven varsity spots.
“Twelve guys could contend for those spots,” Long said. “Ian Hamina, I expect him to be on varsity. He has a broken toe and we’re taking it slow with him because we want him to be ready for the end of the season. The seniors have been great with leadership.”
The girls team is a bit younger, but also possesses sibling power. Amelia Ortiz leads the way and right behind her is her sister Mandy. Since it wouldn’t be a Battle Mountain sport without a Stevens, Maddie Stevens is back. Sydney Idzikowski, Val Rivero, Gina Lovell and Samantha Engle round out the squad.
“We’ve got two girls returning from varsity (Amelia Ortiz and Stevens),” Long said. “There’s not a lot of running experience, but we have very good athletes. They could surprise themselves by the end of the year.”
Building a base
The Huskies have been running well before official workouts began. Long, who called running “an essential part of (his) life” when he took over the program last spring, did most of the Vail Mountain Trail Running Series this summer.
Without their coach, the Huskies were doing their own training, building up the critical base of miles to be competitive come the high-school season.
“Just the other week, we did an 8-mile loop throughout Edwards,” Gallagher said. “All this summer it’s been nothing less than five miles (per run). We want to be out there running until we can’t think about how tired we are.”
The Huskies hope to finish where they start the season. Saturday’s Fossil Ridge meet just also happens to be the state-meet course on Oct. 31. As such, the Huskies will be running with a lot of other strong schools from throughout the state.
“We’re going with high expectations, especially on the boys’ side, for the season,” Long said. “But we’re going to take it easy early on. We don’t want to get too overwhelmed. We want to have the kids run in this race and see how things go.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.