COLORADO SPRINGS -- It's a tradition that on the Thursday before the state cross country meet the Moffat County High School team runs the Bulldog Mile. It's a final tune-up before the meet in which they line up on the track and run as fast as they can in the mile.
Sophomore Jeremy Bird was the second Bulldog to finish with a time of 4 minutes, 59 seconds. On Saturday at the state meet, Bird led the Bulldogs through the first mile in a time of 4:54. He still had two miles left.
"I might have gone out too fast," said Bird, who was running in his first state meet. "There's a more pressure and it's easy to get caught up in it early."
After winning the regional in fairly easy fashion, the Bulldogs joined a state field that included the 14th-ranked team in the country, Denver South, and two returning team champions, D'Eveyln, last year's 3A champs, and Liberty, the two-time 4A champs.
"After the first mile we were sitting well," coach Dustin Ence said. "But everybody came back on us, and I didn't see much improvement after the first mile."
Ence thought that a fairly young and inexperienced team wasn't quite ready for the season finale.
"They were accustomed to sitting back in the smaller races and then moving up," he said. "At state it's hard, because you don't have the room to move up that much. They did the right thing by going out hard, but it wasn't our race style this year."
After going out in a first mile that was only four seconds off his best mile time in track last year, Bird held on to lead the Bulldogs with a 31st-place finish. The next four Bulldogs finished within 41 seconds of Bird. The tight pack helped the Bulldogs to a seventh-place finish.
"The pack just wasn't up far enough," Ence said. "We see ourselves as a top-five program, but we need a couple of more guys up there with Jeremy."
The Bulldogs finished with 289 points.
"We ran at the big meets early, but we haven't seen any tough teams since the first couple of weeks," senior Steve Crisp said. "The smaller meets on the Western Slope are fun to win, but they don't help us a lot when it comes to state."
Crisp was the Bulldogs' only senior to run at state this year. His career included four trips to state.
"I didn't get a whole lot better this year compared to last year after improving every year before that," he said. "I peaked a bit this year."
He was the Bulldogs' second runner with a 48th-place finish, it was 20 spots better than last year.
Freshman Mike McNicol was the third finisher with a 63rd-place card. Sophomore Jake Miller was close behind in 67th. Junior Ricardo Pinedo was 13 places and 10 seconds behind Miller.
When the runners finish, they are handed a card that lists their time, place and what place their team is in. When Pinedo received his card, it said the Bulldogs were in fourth place as a team.
But when the Bulldogs' sixth runner, junior Lincoln Cleverly, finished his card said the team was in seventh.
The change came because when Pinedo finished, he was in front of the fifth runners for Mountain View, Sierra and Cheyenne Mountain. But the difference was that all three of those teams had their front-runners finish before Bird.
When their fifth runners came in, they moved ahead of the Bulldogs in the standings because of their lead runners.
"Not having a front-runner hurt us," assistant coach Todd Trapp said. "That is huge in a big meet like this because the smaller numbers make the difference."
While Bird's 31st wasn't as fast as the Bulldog would have liked, he has two more years to improve.
"We were a young team on the guy's side," Ence said. "We only graduate one guy."
Bird was anxious to get another chance.
"We'll all be more experienced and ready next year," he said. "We should in the top three next year."
Ence thought a top-three finish would be possible next year.
"If they train this summer like they did last summer, we should see good things," he said. "Next year, they'll be able to maintain after the first mile."
Returning for the Bulldogs also will be Cleverly and the seventh runner, freshman Colton Conrad. Cleverly fought through the pain of a stress fracture to finish 123rd. Conrad finished 147th.