Down from the mountains

Boys cross country team likes its chances to surprise people at state

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As always the hype in the Front Range newspapers the week before the state cross country meet have focused on the schools residing east of the Rockies.

Despite the lack of attention given to the Western Slope, one quote did catch the attention of Moffat County High School coach Dustin Ence.

"The (Denver) Post went through and mentioned its favorites to win and then it said something that I liked," he said. "It said something like, 'Then there are always the little mountain schools that come, run tough and then go back home."

The actual quote was from Centaurus coach Scott Burns, who said: "But you never know about the mountain towns. Someone always comes down and kicks butt and then leaves town."

Ence thought Burns' statement summed up both of his teams' positions going into the state meet at the Vinyards Golf Course in Colorado Springs.

"I would consider us that mountain town that nobody expects anything from," Ence said. "The guys went in unranked last year and finished sixth and I think both teams will surprise some people again this year."

The boys team believes its pre-season goal of top three in the state is still obtainable.

"We peak better than other teams," said senior Anthony Loughran, who led the Bulldogs with a fifth-place finish at the region meet. "There's no pressure on us except for what we put on ourselves because nobody on the outside expects anything from us."

The Bulldogs' strength this year has been a close pack that last week had 30 seconds between the top five runners. Loughran, junior Steve Crisp and freshman Jake Miller have all led a race for the blue and white this season. Seniors Drew Lyon and Justin Ellgen as well as sophomore Lincoln Cleverly have state experience while sophomore Ricardo Pinedo has been a quick learner in his first season and has moved his way up from eighth to fourth on the team late in the season.

"The Denver teams think they're all that," Crisp said. "But we should be right in there."

Liberty, the defending champion, is the early favorite and a handful of schools including the Western Region champion Mullen have been mentioned as contenders.

"We went in and beat Mullen at state after they beat us at the region last year," Crisp said. "I think our pack will count more at state and we'll at least beat Mullen."

While the boys team knows what to expect, the girls team has five, state-meet rookies. Junior Angela Nelson and senior Camillia Bird return to state from last year's runner-up performance.

"The girls know they are going in without a lot of experience but it isn't an excuse for them," Ence said. "They've kept it positive all season and they still have a good chance to be top eight."

With Bird as the only senior and three freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors on the state team it is hard for Ence not to think about his girls program's future.

"In two or three years we'll be back up at the top with who we've got now," he said. "We're still inexperienced as far as running a race goes."

Nelson is primed to improve on her 33rd-place finish last season with a fifth-place finish at the region meet. Freshman Katie Morris and junior Amelia Parker have been in the number two spot for the Bulldogs since sophomore Cortney Grandbouche had a season-ending injury.

Sophomore Alyssa Macomber and freshmen Jacquelyn Kinder and Katie Knez will learn what state is all about Saturday.

"If I would have known all of the injuries we were going to have and have three freshmen running at the end of the season at the beginning of this year I'm not sure I would have expected us to even be running at state," Ence said. "But they've really stepped it up and we made it to state pretty easily."

All will be decided in the 5,000-meter races Saturday with the boys starting at 10:30 a.m. and the girls gun going off at noon.

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