It wasn't too long ago -- two years to be exact -- that the Moffat County High School girls cross country team went into the state meet with three front-running seniors. The team finished second mainly because of three top-15 finishes from the seniors.
The Bulldogs' coach, Dustin Ence, thinks this year's trio of Amelia Parker, Emily Sperl and Angela Nelson have a chance to lead the team to similar results.
"Those three could be in the top 15, just like two years ago," he said. "I think if we run well, we can run with Mountain View and Mullen."
The two M schools are the favorites going into the meet. Moffat wants to put another school starting with M up front.
"Everybody has to run well," Ence said. "But it depends a lot on if we can fill that fifth spot."
Earlier in the season, Ence wouldn't have had a question about a fifth runner. Junior Cortney Grandbouche's injury has left a gap between Moffat County's fourth runner, sophomore Katie Morris, and the final three runners, junior Alyssa Macomber, freshman Jeacey Robinson and Grandbouche.
"I would have more confidence in our ability to win if Cortney was running like she was earlier in the year," Ence said. "But any of those three girls step up into the top 40 and we shouldn't be too bad."
Ence was confident about the abilities of his top trio.
"Amelia and Emily have proven this year that they are competitors," Ence said. "Angela finished 33rd as a sophomore but didn't run well last year. It is important for her to pack up with the other two."
Parker has led the Bulldogs all season. She was third at the regional meet. Sperl has been right behind her for most of the year. She fought through bronchitis last week for a fifth-place finish. Nelson, who was fifth at the regional meet last year, finished in seventh. Her time was just as fast last year. She has been improving and closing in on Sperl and Parker all season.
"I think they need to go out and be close to the front pack," Ence said. "Emily and Amelia have a bit of a rivalry going that will push them. We've talked to Angela about sticking with them."
The girls are ranked eighth, but the rankings haven't changed much since the middle of the season.
"I think they'll surprise some people," Ence said. "They'll have a strong Saturday."
Boys pack closer to front
At last year's state meet the boys team had 30 seconds between their first and fifth runners. Usually, that's a good stat, but not it the pack is in the 40s and 50s.
This year Ence thinks the pack will have a similar time separation, but they'll be closer to the front.
"They can't sit back early like they did last year," Ence said. "It's a different team with a different attitude though."
The most notable difference is that last year's alternate, Jeremy Bird, has established himself as the Bulldogs' top runner the last couple of weeks.
"Jeremy is running with confidence," assistant coach Todd Trapp said about the sophomore.
Bird's second-place finish at the regional led a Bulldog team that had five in the top 11. All five of those runners were under 17 minutes.
Times are going to be faster across the board in the Class 4A boys race. The top four runners in the state are going to have a showdown. Front-running favorite Mohamud Ige leads Denver South, the No. 14 team in the country, into the meet as the team to beat.
"South is out there," Trapp said.
"The kids have talked about getting everybody, but they know it is probably a race for second."
Senior Steve Crisp and sophomore Jake Miller have been consistent top 10 finishers for the Bulldogs throughout the season.
The emergence of freshman Mike McNicol and junior Ricardo Pinedo has solidified the pack of five.
Junior Lincoln Cleverly will return after a week off to rest a foot injury. He and freshman Colton Conrad will make up the seven to toe the line for the Bulldogs.
The El Pomar Youth Sports Complex in Colorado Springs is state host for the second year.
The Bulldogs ran on the fast, flat course in their first meet of the season.
It will be a perfect chance to measure how far they have come this year.
"It will be exciting because 4A has the top individuals in the state, and the team races should be exciting too," Ence said. "We're looking forward to seeing if both teams can have their best races of the year."
The boys race starts at 10:30 a.m. and the girls start at noon.