Cinderella stories: Moffat County cross country sees plentiful surprises, season bests at Whistle Pig Invite

Moffat County High School girls cross country ready at the starting line for the Whistle Pig Invitational at Yampa Valley Golf Course.
Andy Bockelman / Craig Daily Press

Take your pick which Bill Murray classic you were most reminded of Friday afternoon at Yampa Valley Golf Course.

The endurance running of “Meatballs,” the links setting of “Caddyshack,” or the alias of “Groundhog Day” critter Punxsutawney Phil.

And, as the star of those movies might say, there were some real Cinderella stories in the works. 

Seniors Alayna Behrman, Kelsey McDiffett, Tiana Nichols, Keaton Knez and Andrew Kleckler clutch the awards scepter following their final home meet running for Moffat County High School cross country.
Andy Bockelman / Craig Daily Press

The inaugural Whistle Pig Invitational paid off for MCHS runners, who saw some of their fastest racing times of the season, not to mention an outright victory for the hosting boys team.

The Bulldog group win was not without some surprises within the lineup, with Hayden’s Kale Johnson getting the quickest time, gaining a few steps in front of usual leader Keaton Knez.

Knez a Hayden senior, was a little shocked as his teammate overtook him but not unhappy.

“I’m glad to see he’s going to be taking the reins,” Knez said of Johnson, a junior from Hayden.

Hayden runners Keaton Knez, left, and Kale Johnson stay in step as they start the second mile of the Whistle Pig Invite for Moffat County High School cross country.
Andy Bockelman / Craig Daily Press

The two were hot on the heels of three Basalt runners — Noah Allen, Ross Barlow, Talon Carballeira — and Johnson clocked in fourth at 18:15 and Knez fifth, 18:16. The finish marks Johnson’s best of this fall by nearly a full minute, while Knez’s early season result of 18:07 at Matchett Park remains the guys’ benchmark.

The Dogs couldn’t help but earn first place considering they made up half the top 10; Carter Behrman was next in seventh at a personal record of 18:47, Owen Gifford ninth also PR’ing at 18:54 and Logan Hafey 10th at 19:05, his best of the season.

Ian Trevenen brought his season lowest down to 19:33 for 14th, Hayden’s Andrew Kleckler PR’d at 20:37 in 18th to complete the first wave.

In the second group of runners, Kadin Hume took 20 seconds off his personal best for 21:24 and 26th place.

Hume, a MoCo junior, said the cool autumn weather was great compared to scorching days in late August.

“I like it because it’s not hilly, and it’s not 90 degrees like it was at Connected Lakes,” he laughed.

He added that the start of the course’s second mile was idyllic, striding alongside the Yampa River.

“That was nice running next to that. You could see it perfectly through the trees and hear the water,” he said.

The remainder of the Bulldogs boys also saw solid times as Chase Serio took 36th, new runner Carson Laehr 39th and Javier Fabregas Carbonell 40th at more than 100 seconds faster than a week earlier at the MCHS Invite.

Before the races began, MCHS head coach Todd Trapp honored five team seniors, including Knez and Kleckler for the boys and senior girls Kelsey McDiffett, Alayna Behrman, and Tiana Nichols. While teammates have had varying experience levels, McDiffett and Knez have run Bulldog cross country all four years of high school.

Even before the senior ceremony, a golf ball drop fundraiser opened the afternoon with members of Craig Fire/Rescue pouring hundreds of balls from a towering hydraulic lift, with the hole-in-one winner John Turner, claiming a $1,000 prize. Another $4,500 will go toward the MCHS girls basketball program.

MoCo girls had hopes of winning top team honors in both races, though a particularly tough opponent shut out Lady Bulldogs from the group win.

Basalt took first overall with a tight 25 points, led by Sierra Bower, Katelyn Maley and Ava Lane.

Kelsey McDiffett gutted it out in the final stretch for fifth place and a season low of 20:52, while Emma Jones hustled closely behind in sixth for her own season best of 21:16 with Halle Hamilton eighth at 21:29.

Jones admitted she was a little surprised to finish before Hamilton.

“We were together the whole way,” Jones said. “She’s really fun to run with and pushes me.”

She added that an early pack formation in a race helps them all optimize their performance.

With her best high school time to date at 22:18, Bree Meats finished within the top 10 in ninth place, and the Bulldog score came to 45 with Alayna Behrman 17th at 23:29, her fastest so far this fall, while a PR came for Tiana Nichols with 19th place at 24:05, and Joslyn Bacon completed the Dogs’ first wave at 25:35 in 24th.

Moffat County High School’s Brook Wheeler stays steady early in the Whistle Pig Invite.
Andy Bockelman / Craig Daily Press

A PR of 26:09 went to Megan Neton in 27th, while Brook Wheeler was back in the mix placing 29th.

After missing the first home meet due to the national 4-H archery competition in South Dakota — during which she was still training for distance running — Wheeler said her time of 26:34 was a little disappointing.

“It wasn’t my best, and my hips have been kind of hurting,” she said. “The support of the team is great. I was on the back stretch and kind of feeling down, and then I heard all the boys cheering, so that really picked me up.”

Finishing strong at the end, nearly side by side at 38th and 39th, were Evi Dietrich and Yara Jiminez-Arellano Alonsa, each cutting more than two minutes off their PRs.

Trapp noted during post-race awards that despite an all-around weird year full of “question marks,” he’s seen nothing but great effort from Bulldog runners. Runners agreed that apart from a few odd spots, the flatness of YVGC was a welcome change from hilly courses they’ve seen this year.

A similar setting will also be the site of their next contest, the 3A Region 1 Meet, hosted Friday, Oct. 9 by Bayfield at Durango’s Hillcrest Golf Club.

Besides the lengthy drive in store, Trapp is expecting some tension at regionals compared to previous years.

Due to COVID, CHSAA organizers have trimmed the number of potential qualifiers for the state championships, with the top three teams for each region moving on to the next stage rather than four. Likewise, only the top two individuals unattached to a qualifying team will also go to state.

And, with a plethora of speedy teams in the mix, Trapp is emphasizing to runners that it will be one of the more cutthroat events they’ve seen.

“It’s going to be very competitive,” he said. “Basalt’s ranked second in the state, Aspen’s fifth, Alamosa got added to our region, so we’re going to have to bring it on guys’ and girls’ sides and be ready to compete. It’s gonna be tough. We’ll have a lot of fine-tuning.”

He added that the fast course format of the Whistle Pig was exactly what he wanted to get athletes ready mentally.

“I know they’re excited to get rolling and get ready, so we’ll be getting some recovery after this but also keep pushing,” he said.

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