Moffat County cross country keeps the pace as Bulldog boys conquer home meet
As they continue to stay the course this season, Moffat County High School cross country athletes beat a familiar path Saturday.
MCHS boys took top honors during the Moffat County Invitational at Loudy-Simpson Park, winning both individually and as a group for the second straight year.
Wyatt Mortenson repeated as the fastest runner on the course, with first place overall in the boys race, closely followed by teammates Coltyn Terry and Keaton Knez in second and third to easily secure the Dogs’ team victory, combined with Noah Mortenson and Kale Johnson in sixth and seventh.
MCHS girls faced steep competition with Aspen in attendance, as the Skiers won the overall standings complete with the first three finishers Kylie Kenny, Kendall Clark and Elsie Weiss.
Even so, Bulldog runners filled out much of the top 10 as Halle Hamilton led with sixth, Kelsey McDiffett seventh, Emaleigh Papierski eighth and Alayna Behrman ninth, with Emma Jones 15th to complete the point count.
Blowin’ in the wind
The air was calm to start the early morning as the middle school racers and high school girls enjoyed a stillness during their events. However, the wind started kicking up just before the starter’s pistol went off to get the high school boys race in motion.
Bulldogs and their competitors couldn’t complain at first, since the breeze was at their backs to add a little boost at the starting line, and if the course had no turns, it would have been perfect.
No such luck.
Once runners changed direction, the headwind became more of a nuisance.
“That second mile, it felt like we were already going uphill, the wind was so bad,” Knez said. “We had a whole plan figured out because we wanted to push pretty hard, and we hit the start just like we wanted to. If it wasn’t so windy, we would have been able to do the second mile like we wanted.”
With much of the boys team consisting of runners from Hayden — including Knez, Johnson and both the Mortensons — a group of Tiger supporters who traveled down US Highway 40 did a lot to keep them going, including a sign referencing “Taters,” an inside joke among the Hayden harriers to hold nothing back while running.
“All that support really helped,” Knez said.
Noah Mortenson noted the full 5K route was an adjustment from the shorter course he’d run before as a middle school athlete.
“You have to watch your pace a lot more in the first mile-and-a-half,” he said.
While Noah hopes to break 18 minutes in the coming week at Oct. 4’s Delta Pantherfest, his older brother is looking to crack 16 to attract some national attention.
An injury during the spring track season has led to a string of physical issues that have followed Wyatt into the fall, from which he is finally starting to get back to full health.
“Under my kneecap, I pinched that, it’s really tender, it’s got a lot of nerve-endings,” he said.
Besides taking the gold in the home meet, Wyatt was also able to win the Liberty Bell Invite in early September, though other races he’s had to sit out entirely or take it slower than he’d like.
“I’m just starting to come back, so I’m really expecting to come back and improve the next three weeks,” he said. “This race was probably the toughest it’s ever been for me, but it is what it is, and I’m super-happy to be back with these guys.”
As the lone senior on the boys roster, the Saturday meet was the fourth and final time Wilson Eike has run the Loudy course, and though the wind woes handed him different results than he would have liked, he felt his technique was at its best.
“I feel like I ran better than I have before even if my time didn’t really show that,” he said.
Peaks and valleys
If there’s one thing local runners and visitors alike have come to expect from the Craig course is the sudden switch from the fairly flat space at Loudy-Simpson to the steep terrain of the park’s southern hill.
Wyatt Mortenson — 17:09.46; 1
Coltyn Terry — 18:18.13; 2
Keaton Knez — 18:38.78; 3
Noah Mortenson — 19:32.49; 6
Kale Johnson — 19:46.48; 7
Ian Trevenen — 20:47.82; 12
Wilson Eike — 20:57.75; 15
Alex Nichols — 21:20.79; 18
Kadin Hume — 22:32.21; 24
Garrett Mercer — 23:14.25; 29
Chase Serio — 25:45.87; 34
Zach Craig — 28:02.37; 37
— The team finished first overall.
Halle Hamilton — 21:42.05; 6
Kelsey McDiffett — 21:59.52; 7
Emaleigh Papierski — 22:05.09; 8
Alayna Behrman — 22:05.13; 9
Emma Jones — 22:34.76; 15
Stephenie Swindler — 24:34.48; 22
Bree Meats — 24:29.6; 23
Mackenzi Telford — 26:25.98; 30
Samantha Bade — 28:44.16; 37
— The team finished second overall.
Though in some years organizers have rerouted to avoid the incline, runners were feeling the burn with the up and down.
Though last year’s home meet was a punishing one for Bree Meats, she was able to get through this time without as much pain.
“It was a little rough, but you just have to push through it,” she said. “I was hurting last year on that, but I feel like I did really well this time. We’re all pushing it and working hard.”
Papierski noted that once runners take the first part of the hill, the latter half is far less daunting.
Though she didn’t run the 2018 race as a sophomore, her return to the cross country group — to supplement her basketball and track efforts later in the school year — has since reminded Papierski of the team feeling she had as a freshman.
“We packed up really well together, like I used Alayna and Kelsey to stick with in the race whenever I was feeling bad,” she said. “Whenever one person’s feeling bad, someone who’s feeling good can pull them out of it.”
For Samantha Bade, her second season of distance running has been one of triumph after struggling to adjust to the sport last year.
“Last year, I only made it through a couple meets. I pulled a muscle,” she said.
Though she’d still like to cut down her usual time quite a bit, her progress has been significant.
“I knocked off six minutes from my first meet to my second meet,” she said. “I’ve been doing a lot better sticking with it and not walking, speeding up at the end. The teams are really supportive, everybody lifts each other up. It’s not like you’re running against the girls, you’re running with them.”
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The Lower and Central Yampa River Basin, which include Craig, Hayde, Rangely, Dinosaur and Meeker, will be under a winter storm warning from the National Weather Service starting at 6 a.m. Thursday.