Alfredo Lebron, left, and Chris Zirkle show off their medals after the Colorado State Class 4A Cross-Country Championships in Aurora on Saturday. Zirkle was third and Lebron was fourth at the meet. The team finished eighth.

Photo by David Pressgrove

Alfredo Lebron, left, and Chris Zirkle show off their medals after the Colorado State Class 4A Cross-Country Championships in Aurora on Saturday. Zirkle was third and Lebron was fourth at the meet. The team finished eighth.

MCHS boys cross-country celebrates successful season despite missing goals

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MCHS boys results

Chris Zirkle – 3rd – 16:27

Alfredo Lebron – 4th – 16:27.40

Rene Molina – 73rd- 17:58

Johnny Landa – 118th – 18:33

Miguel Molina 122nd – 18:41

Dale Nakai – 127th – 18:45

Jarred Blevins – 169th – 19:25

An hour after the last high school cross-country race of his career, Chris Zirkle was smiling, but he admitted it wasn’t his biggest smile.

“I’m happy with my season, but not entirely with my race today,” said the Hayden resident who runs for Moffat County High School. “I wanted to finish in the top two.”

Zirkle’s thoughts were similar to coach Todd Trapp’s on the team’s season. Trapp was happy with the body of work, but had some disappointment in how the season finished.

“Going into the last meet, the kids were looking to finish fifth, maybe higher,” said Trapp. “But, we also knew had a couple of kids who weren’t at their best”

Injuries to the team’s two, two-sport athletes, Johnny Landa and Miguel Molina, slowed both runners and ultimately kept the Bulldogs from reaching team goals. Moffat County finished in eighth with 320 points, which was 22 points from fifth-place Broomfield.

To put that in perspective, if Landa and Molina could have run with teammate Rene Molina, which they had done in previous races, the Bulldogs would have improved by 90 points and finished third.

Ifs don’t count for much in cross-country, but the guys can still celebrate that their eighth-place finish was the best for the boys since a sixth-place finish in 2002.

“We had a team of really talented runners who worked hard and improved a lot, and I’m proud of their effort,” Trapp said. “We were trying to get a lot out of our two-sport athletes and at the end of the year, it was tough to pull from them from the wear and tear of doing both sports. If they choose to do both next year, I think we’ve both learned how to train and prepare better.”

One-two punch

Zirkle’s third-place finish for Moffat County was the best for an individual since Clint Wells won the state title in 1992.

“It’s was a tough course and my legs didn’t feel fresh,” Zirkle said. “I’m second guessing myself, but I feel like I should have gone out a little harder.”

The course included a half-mile hill that the runners ran up twice, including the last stretch of the race. The front two runners in the race, Palmer Ridge’s Spencer Wenck and Pueblo West’s Cernoia, opened up a 20-second lead after the first time up the hill.

Zirkle and teammate Alfredo Lebron were closing on Cernoia up the last hill, but they didn’t have enough real estate left to catch him.

Lebron returned to his teammate’s side after he finished sixth at the regional meet in Durango.

“I thought back to how I didn’t prepare well for my race at regionals,” he said. “For state, I made sure I prepared right and I was happy to be back up there with Chris.”

The two Bulldogs finished two of the best seasons in MCHS boys’ running history just as they had run for the most of the season, nearly side-to-side. Zirkle finished .40 of a second in front of his teammate.

“We are going to miss Chris,” Trapp said. “He was a great leader by example for us.”

After the team’s top two there was 1 minute and 31 seconds, as well as 69 runners, before the next Bulldog finished. Rene Molina finished as the third runner in 73rd place.

Dale Nakai continued to improve in his first season of cross-country with a 127th-place finish. Jarred Blevins concluded his career with a 169th place finish.

Looking ahead

The Bulldogs graduate Zirkle and Blevins. So, if everyone returns next year, they could try to finish what they started this year.

“I think if the guys work hard this summer they’ll be really good,” Zirkle said.

Lebron went from 16th place as a sophomore to fourth as a junior. He will be the top returning runner in Class 4A next year. The top 10 was senior-laden, with seven runners set to graduate.

“I think I realized after I trained last winner and had a lot of improvement in track, I could do the same in cross-country with a good summer,” Lebron said. “I might be the top returner but (Glenwood’s Andrew) Mansfield (who finished ninth at state and second at regionals) will be up there with me.”

Trapp agreed with Lebron and Zirkle about next year’s prospects.

“We have the kids to build off of next year,” he said. “I think with some good work over the next year, we can continue to move up the ranks in Class 4A.”

Lebron recognized he would be responsible to help get his teammates inspired next year.

“We need to have all of us out there training instead of just a couple of us,” he said.

But there is a lot of time between now and then and Lebron was ready to talk track.

“I’ll take a little time off, but work to improve for track this winter,” he said.

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