Best in the West(ern Slope)
Boys place second behind Front Range transplant Mullen
Before the 4A Western Slope Cross Country Regional not all of the Moffat County High School’s boys team had heard of running legend Steve Prefontaine.
They watched the story of the Olympian Friday night in the movie Without Limits and it helped inspire them to a second-place finish the next day.
“When Pre ran with the injured foot and he was bleeding after he won, it was pretty inspirational,” said senior Bryce Ellgen, who led the Bulldogs with a seventh-place finish. “We should watch
(the movie) again before state because it made us think about the race in more detail and helped us focus.”
Heading into the race, head coach Dustin Ence wasn’t sure what to expect from the other Western Slope teams as well as Front Range transplant Mullen.
“Looking at our competition, I thought we could finish anywhere from first to fifth,” he said. “We’d been beat by three of the schools Palisade, Montrose and Mullen so we knew we had to show up to qualify.”
The addition of Mullen to the meet made it even more closely contended. A story in itself, Mullen was about as surprised to be in the meet as the Western Slope teams were to see them there.
“The Front Range teams don’t want to race against us,” said Mullen coach Brian Schwall. “They petitioned CHSAA to have us moved, so instead of going to the regional five minutes from our school we had to drive five hours.
“At least the Western Slope teams welcomed us and wanted to race us,” he said. “It was nice to race against teams that aren’t going to complain afterward.”
The Bulldogs wouldn’t have complained if Mullen would have be allowed to stay home, as the Mustangs won the meet eight points in front of MoCo.
“We beat all of the Western Slope teams and that is a big step for us,” Ence said. “The boys have annually just sneaked in to qualify for state, finishing third or fourth in the region.”
Throughout the race, it was hard to predict which teams would come out on top. Through two miles of the 3.1-mile race, six teams had a runner in the top 10. There were no big packs of teammates until in the 20s, where Mullen and MoCo had its middle runners.
“With a mile left, I was a little nervous because we only had three guys running that had been in a regional race before and the pressure is greater at regionals than any other race in the year so far,” Ence said. “Before the race, we talked about running for more than just yourself and to think about the team when it hurt. They came through and finished strong.”
The Bulldogs finished 10 points in front of third-place Glenwood Springs and 26 points in front of Steamboat Springs and Montrose Steamboat won the tie with Montrose to be the final team to qualify for state.
For the Bulldogs, Junior Anthony Loughran made a big move in the last 800 meters to finish one spot behind Ellgen. Juniors Justin Ellgen and Drew Lyon kicked home hard in their first regional races to finish four seconds apart in 17th and 18th. Senior Tim Bailey battled a sore knee and two weeks without practicing to pass up sophomore Steve Crisp near the finish as they ended up 29th and 31st, respectively. Freshmen Lincoln Cleverly had one of his better races, finishing in 37th place.
“I was really impressed by Bryce and Anthony’s races,” Ence said. “They knew they had to be in the top 10 for the team to do well and they did so.”
The Bulldogs, who set the goal of being in the top 10 in the state at the beginning of the season, now have higher expectations.
“I think if we run well we can be in the top four,” Bryce Ellgen said. “With Tim getting back into it and the rest of us continuing to run well, it could happen.”
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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