Top 10 triumphs: Moffat County girls cross country team 6th, Wyatt Mortenson 9th at state championships | CraigDailyPress.com

Top 10 triumphs: Moffat County girls cross country team 6th, Wyatt Mortenson 9th at state championships

COLORADO SPRINGS — In a sport where the smaller the number is the better when it comes to results, Moffat County High School cross country runners were at their lowest and their highest all at once Saturday.

The 3A CHSAA State Championships were kind to Bulldog distance athletes, who set new standards in both individual and team rankings with some of their best outcomes in years.

Cut to the quick

Hayden’s Wyatt Mortenson again led the bunch of Bulldog boys, pushing harder than ever during the last stretch of the course at Colorado Springs’  Norris Penrose Event Center.

The split between the second and third portions of the 5K race was one of the most difficult he’s had to face.

“Second mile was really hard, but I really felt good there, and I actually caught up there,” he said. “Third mile I was going good until about the last 800. It just tasked my body a lot.”

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The Classical Academy’s Mason Norman, whom Mortenson finished second to at the Eagle Valley Invitational, set the pace for the day with a course record 15:33.4, a full 45 seconds ahead of everyone else. Mortenson’s final time was 16:37.4, which earned him ninth place in the field of 160.

The result was far stronger than the 17:49 he posted in August on the same course at the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede and a huge jump in the rankings from last year when he took 50th at state.

“Definitely could improve, but I definitely had a good race,” he said.

Mortenson’s placement is the highest for either Moffat County team since Brenna Ciesco’s ninth-place finish in 2012 and the best for the boys team since Alfredo Lebron won his state title in 2011.

Altogether, MCHS boys were 12th among 20 full teams, with Hayden’s Chris Carrouth and Keaton Knez next for the Dogs at 51st and 70th.

Carrouth concurred that the middle portion was the trickiest compared to a smooth start.

“First mile is quick, everyone gets out there and you don’t really feel it,” he said.

The intensity of other runners also added to the pressure, Keaton said.

“A lot of competition. I got cut off a lot, which is OK. I still ran well. We all ran well,” he said.

Coltyn Terry was the 100th runner for boys to cross the finish line, though a miscommunication from the announcers had spectators briefly under the impression he was leading the entire race.

“I must have really been flying and not even known it,” Terry laughed.

Theo Corrello was next at No. 120 in the first time at the state level for the Hayden senior, who joined cross country to bolster his track regimen for the spring.

“They welcomed me with open arms,” Corrello said. “I didn’t really have much of a goal this year, I just wanted to go for it and I did.”

Logan Hafey was shortly behind Corrello at 129th, while AJ Barber placed 159th in an event in which he wasn’t even expecting to compete.

Barber and Wilson Eike were alternates for the Bulldog boys team, and Barber got the call to get in motion when Kale Johnson was unable to compete.

“I didn’t even know until we got here, so I didn’t have a lot of time to mentally prepare,” he said. “This is what I’ve been working for three years, so it was nice to get here finally.”

The potential of the pack

Again and again this season, MCHS harriers stuck together like glue for as long as possible, and that strategy paid off in spades for the girls, earning sixth as a team, the best group result for Lady Bulldogs at state since taking fifth in 2014.

Hayden senior Makenna Knez placed 35th with a 20:36, bringing down the time and placement she earned in 2017’s finals — 21:20.6, 78th — in what would be her final cross country event.

A wave of emotions awaited her when she finally slowed down to catch her breath.

“It was relief that I was done running, but it was just sadness knowing it was over. It’s a lot more sadness for the seniors than pain,” she said.

Liberty Hippely had the best finish for Bulldog girls last season — 20:58.6, 63rd — and trimmed several seconds off that time Saturday with her 20:55.7, placing 46th. Halle Hamilton made it into the top 50 at 21:06.3 with Kelsey McDiffett coming in swiftly after her at 51st.

“Those hills were really tough, and you think you’re done, but then there’s a super-long straight-away,” Hamilton said. “All the girls start pushing then, so you have to keep up with them. There was a lot of elbows thrown, but that stuff just comes with running.”

Lydia Berkoff, Allison Villard and Emma Jones were comfortably in the top 100 of the field of 155 at 80th, 83rd and 88th, respectively.

The third time at state for Villard was her best yet, and she noted the weekly progress the group has also inspired her.

“We had such a good team this year, we did so great in every race,” she said.

Week to week, year to year

The girls’ ranking at sixth put them ahead of No. 8 Pagosa Springs, who denied the Lady Dogs a regional championship a week earlier, which was satisfying in itself, coach Todd Trapp said, though the more encouraging thing was seeing athletes give their all in their final race.

“Across the board, our guys and girls had a really great day today,” he said. “They had a lot more bounce in their step compared to the regional meet. They looked more recovered and ready to go.”

Each year, the introduction to Norris Penrose at the start of the season is one that gives runners an inkling for what they’ll face if and when they make it to state, as well as an incentive to improve, Trapp said.

“These kids have dropped whole minutes since the start of the season,” he said.

With seniors like Carrouth and Makenna Knez having run state all four years and Berkoff, Corrello and Barber taking on the top tier for the first time as seniors, the common denominator was one of leadership.

“This really is their day,” Trapp said of his upperclassmen. “We’ve had some great seniors with all the time they’ve put into the program.”

The past several months have been memorable, Makenna said, though it’s been far more than that.

“It’s been a whole four years to remember,” Makenna said. “Every year is different for different reasons, and I’m really glad. I think we all nurtured each other, we taught each other so much, and it was really a team experience.”

Moffat County High School cross country results from 3A State Championships

Boys
Wyatt Mortenson — 16:37.7; 9
Chris Carrouth — 17:51.8; 51
Keaton Knez — 18:10.0; 70
Coltyn Terry — 18:39.2; 100
Theo Corrello — 18:59.6; 120
Logan Hafey — 19:10.9; 129
AJ Barber — 20:36.6; 159

Girls
Makenna Knez — 20:36; 35
Liberty Hippely — 20:55.7; 46
Halle Hamilton — 21:06.3; 50
Kelsey McDiffett — 21:12.6; 51
Lydia Berkoff — 21:48.1; 80
Allison Villard — 21:51.1; 83
Emma Jones — 21:58.2; 88

— MCHS boys placed 12th, girls sixth.