All season long, the strength of the Moffat County High School girls varsity cross-country team has been the ability of the runners to push each other to top finishes.
After taking third in the 4A Region 5 meet Oct. 19 in Delta, the girls will have one more opportunity to help each other finish the season strong today during the 4A state meet at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds.
Seniors Kelly Ciesco and Katharine Keiss, juniors Eryn Leonard, Bailey Hellander, Sassy Murray and Savannah Williams, and freshman Aubrey Campbell will represent the Bulldogs.
The 4A girls race is scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m.
“A pack of runners is a good thing as long as they are in the right position,” head coach Todd Trapp said. “If they are in the back, they are adding up points, and it can hurt you. But, if they head up together into the right position, they can really help each other and the team.”
At the regional meet, Keiss (20:47.98), Ciesco (21:01.22), Williams (21:02.7), Campbell (21:05.01), Murray (21:36.38) and Hellander (21:38.05) all finished within one minute of each other.
“Everyone builds off each other and works off each other,” Ciesco said. “Runner six pushes five and five pushes four and so on, so it is extremely helpful.”
While the Bulldogs top seven runners all finish strong, Leonard has consistently led the pack as the top MCHS finisher in every race this season.
In her freshman year, Leonard took 29th at state.
However, last season Leonard had to fight through a hip flexor and ankle injury in almost every race.
“It limited me mentally,” Leonard said of the injuries. “It hurt so bad, I couldn’t walk straight and (was) limping everywhere and I could hardly run.”
Still, fighting through injury, Leonard finished 83rd in state last year as the fourth MCHS runner to cross the finish line.
Running through the pain has paid off this year, she said.
“I rebounded really good,” she said. “My ankle started bothering me again before regionals (this year), but thanks to last year I was able to push through and run and now I feel a lot better.”
Leonard took 10th at the regional meet and said she is looking for another top 10 finish today.
On the same course during the pre-state invitational Sept. 3, Leonard clocked in at 20 minutes, 25.36 seconds.
Today, she said she is hoping to break 19 minutes.
“(At) regionals, I started freaking out the day before,” she said. “For state, I try not to overthink it and I’m out there to have fun. I want to do my best and see how it ends up.”
Trapp said for his top girl to meet her goals, she is going to have to give it her all from beginning to end.
“Eryn is going to have to run a complete race to be up with the top runners,” he said. “She has to put herself in a good position at the start and run strong the last mile up the hill. That last 400 or 800 meters, she can pass a lot of people.”
Of the girls competing today, four — Leonard, Ciesco, Murray and Hellander — have competed in two state cross-country meets.
However, during the pre-state meet this season, Keiss, Williams and Campbell got a chance to run on the course.
“The girls know the level of competition and know the course, which are key things in competing,” Trapp said. “They have all (run) the state course at least one time and they feel confident heading into the race. They have improved a lot this season.”
Leonard said each person on the team tries to help each other whenever need be.
“I’ve improved with experience because I’ve had more time to compete,” she said. “I always tell everyone, ‘Good job,’ but we all really lead each other. As the fastest on the team, I try to keep them motivated, but they also keep me motivated, so it is a two-way thing.”
While there are two seniors, this season is the first for Keiss while Ciesco has competed for three years.
In the final race of her high school career, Ciesco said she is really hoping to get under 21 minutes.
“I’ve been training hard all season and working hard,” she said. “With the help of the other team members, I think they can help push me to succeed.
“It is my last season, so I have to finish strong. I have to go out hard if I want to get the times I’m striving for.”
A big obstacle on the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds course are the hills.
Throughout the season, the Bulldogs have had the opportunity of running many of the hilly roads in Moffat County.
“We have been running (Moffat) County Road 103 with straight-up hills everywhere,” Leonard said. “We do intervals and having those helps a lot and we run up Finley (Lane) almost every day.
“We know we can run up the hills and we know we can recover after. As long as we push through it, we can make it.”
When the girls line up for the last time, Ciesco said everyone needs to stride it out.
“It’s the last race, so run hard and finish strong,” she said.
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