COLORADO SPRINGS -- The tears shed by members of the Moffat County High School girls cross country team Saturday were everything but tears of sadness.
"They were tears of relief, because the nerves were finally gone," senior Emily Sperl said after she and her teammates exchanged tearful hugs in the finish area of the state meet. "They were also tears of excitement because of how well we did."
Sperl didn't say it, but they may also have been tears of surprise.
The girls went into the meet ranked eighth in Class 4A, but knew they could do better. How much better though, they weren't sure.
"We wanted to win," senior Angela Nelson said. "But a lot of teams went in thinking that, so I don't know if we were sure where we could finish."
The Bulldogs didn't win, but there were very few complaints about their second-place finish.
"The girls ran about as well as they could have," coach Dustin Ence said. "As the race started to develop I was getting really excited at how they we racing."
At the finish line, Ence's excitement grew as he watched the runners come in.
All of the top-five runners for Moffat County made up ground in the final 100 yards. Senior Amelia Parker's final surge was the most impressive. She was in seventh place and in a pack of five girls with 200 meters to go. She out-kicked all but one of them to finish third in the race.
"I really wanted to catch that other girl (in second)," she said. "I was counting my place the whole race so I knew where I was at, but I didn't know about the team. Third place individually and second place as a team is greater than we expected."
When asked what it felt like to exceed expectations, she was speechless.
"I can't describe it," she finally said.
Ence knew his team of 2004 was similar to the state runner-up team in 2002, but he knew a great race had to happen for this year's team to place as high.
"We needed our top three to be in the top 20," he said. "And we needed somebody to step up as our fifth runner."
Nelson's final effort to the finish line moved her into 20th place. It was exactly where Ence thought she needed to be.
"I felt good almost the whole race," she said. "It is such a relief after I ran bad in state track and cross country last year."
Sperl ran close to Parker as she had all year. The cross-country rookie finished with All-State honors in 10th place.
"It's all been a great experience this year," she said. "It is so cool that we were an underdog coming in and we surprised some people with second place."
After Ence saw his big three finish, he had to wait a minute to see whether the team's other needs were going to be met.
Sophomore Katie Morris came in just under 40 seconds after Nelson finished. It was one of her best races of the year as the Bulldogs' fourth runner. She was 27 spots behind Nelson.
"I think we were confident in what we could do," Morris said. "We had one main goal, and that was to kick butt. I think we did that."
With Morris' finish, the waiting game started to see where and who the Bulldogs' fifth runner was.
About 10 seconds later, freshman Jeacey Robinson came into view as she tried her best to stride out down the final stretch. She was 20 seconds behind Morris. Her 68th-place finish was a tearful one.
"I was so nervous before the race," she said. "I think I was relieved it was over, and I wasn't sure if I had helped the team."
Oh, she helped the team, all right.
"Jeacey's race might have been the key," Ence said. "She stepped it up and kept us in second."
Robinson spent her freshman season learning to race a new distance and at a new intensity. She moved back and forth from varsity to JV in the middle of the season and ran in the past three meets. In her first race of the season -- on the same course -- she ran 25:14. On Saturday, she ran a 20:47.
"I'm excited for next year," she said. "But right now it's nice to go back to eating and drinking whatever I want, when I want."
Mountain View won its second consecutive state title with 87 points. The Bulldogs were a ways out with 147 points, but there was no one close to second place. Mullen was third with 192 points.
"We hadn't beaten Mullen all year," Ence said. "Then we almost beat them by 50 at the state meet."
Cortney Grandbouche and Alyssa Macomber were the final finishers for the Bulldogs in 112th and 118th place.
"I think the way we ran today was amazing," Grandbouche said. "We would have been happy with anything in the top three, so second is even better."
The second-place finish was the third in four years for the Moffat County program.
Ence thought the performance was about the best his girls could have done.
"Mountain View had a great day today, and nobody was going to catch them," he said.
"There's not much more we could have asked from the girls today."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.