The Moffat County High School cross country teams hit the ground running last week. The Bulldogs jumped into their season with back-to-back meets against some of the best teams in the state Thursday and Friday on the Front Range.
"It was a good start and gave us something to measure from for the rest of the season," coach Todd Trapp said. "We saw who put in the work this summer because they were the ones who, for the most part, ran well."
In the opener, the Bulldogs tested out a new state course at Fort Collins' Fossil Ridge High School. The races were divided by state classifications, and in the 4A race, many of the state's top teams appeared.
Highlighting the first meet was the top individual finishers for the Bulldog harriers. Sophomore Chris Zirkle finished 14th of 207 competitors for the boys in the 5,000 meter race. It was Zirkle's first high school cross-country meet after playing football in Hayden his freshman year.
"Chris set a goal to break 18 minutes and he did that easily" in 17 minutes, 18 seconds, Trapp said. "I think he surprised himself a bit, but as the year goes on, he'll learn to run up front in a race. I think he'll be one of the top guys in our league."
In the girls race, senior Alicia Nelson established herself as a front runner for the state title with a win. She beat her closest competitor, defending 800-meter champion Laura Tremblee, by two seconds. Nelson's time of 19:02 was the fifth fastest of all runners at the meet.
"Alicia went out with the confidence that she could win," Trapp said. "She may have put a bull's eye on her back with the win, but she put in a good summer of training and she's in the place to compete for that top spot."
The boys used their depth and the girls used their front-runner standouts for a 12th-place finish out of 29 teams. The top four runners for the boys finished within 1:30 of each other. Junior Corey Wojtkiewicz was the second runner for the boys and 54th overall in a time of 18:18. Senior Colt Criswell was three seconds behind him finishing 57th. Freshman Alfredo Lebron showed his potential to be a future star finishing 79th in 18:48. The other three varsity boys were sophomores Charlie Griffiths, 19:54, Kevin Murray, 21:57, and junior Jimmy Howe, 22:01.
In the JV race, sophomores Jarred Blevins finished in 23 minutes and Kye Adams finished five seconds behind that.
"Our guys have really put in the work to compete for a state-meet berth this year," Trapp said. "Corey, Colt and Charlie showed a lot of improvement from last year, and with the additions of Chris and Alfredo, they are running well as a team."
In the girls race, sophomore Maddy Jourgensen complimented Nelson's first place with a 24th-place showing. Jourgensen was one of the top sophomores in the race with a time of 21:02. She led fellow sophomores, Nike Cleverly, 74th, 22:41, Callie Papoulas, 111th, 24:01, and Britteny Ivers, 139th, 24:49. Senior Laura Zirkle finished between Papoulas and Ivers in 126th, 24:29. Senior Megan Knez finished out the varsity team in 166th, 26:16.
"Our girls were a little timid in that first race," Trapp said. "We are still pretty young, and sometimes it is a bit overwhelming to start the season racing against more than 200 runners. The girls will get more confident and focused when we have some smaller races."
Over the rivers and through the woods
The Bulldogs headed south Friday to compete in the Arapahoe Invitational in Denver. The Arapahoe course is a different feel from the flat and fast state course in Fort Collins. Runners get to jump through water pits and run over multiple surface types, which equates to slower times. Also, a tough challenge is running races on back-to-back days.
"There was definitely some fatigue for some of our kids," Trapp said.
There was little change in order of finishes for either Bulldog team. Chris Zirkle led the boys with a 25th place finish. Criswell and Wojtkiewicz ran most of the race together with Criswell crossing the finish in 52nd and "Wojo" in 55th. Lebron finished 110th and Griffiths rounded out the scoring for the boys in 159th. Howe finished his second cross-country race ever in 181st place. The boys finished 13th out of 27 teams, which were mostly from Class 5A.
Since the Bulldogs ran the same Arapahoe course last year Trapp could compare times of his returning athletes. Criswell and Wojtkiewicz combined to improve by three minutes.
Nelson led the girls with a fourth-place finish. Jourgensen kept it closer to Nelson on the second day, finishing 15th. Cleverly improved by 25 seconds from last year to finish 59th. The rest of the finishing order was: Papoulas, 107; Laura Zirkle, 120; Ivers, 150; and Knez, 167. There were 167 runners and 22 complete teams in the race. The girls finished 11th.
"It was good to get those first-race jitters out of the way," Trapp said. "We have a good idea of what we need to work on from here."
The Bulldogs' next race is Friday in Grand Junction.