Moffat County High School cross country runners prepare for the end of the road at state |

Moffat County High School cross country runners prepare for the end of the road at state

David Pressgrove / For Craig Press
Moffat County cross country runners Halle Hamilton and Kelsey McDiffett compete in Saturday's varsity meet at Loudy-Simpson Park.
Andy Bockelman / For Craig Press

It’s been long enough since a Moffat County High School girls cross country team did not qualify for the state meet that 17-year head coach Todd Trapp strained to remember when it was.

“I have an idea but not sure exactly the year,” he said. “It’s been a while.”

Going into the regional meet last Friday in Durango, that too-long-to-remember streak was not for certain. Both Bulldog teams were seeded fourth and only the top three teams qualified for the season finale. 

“Honestly, I felt like we were going to do what we needed to do to get to state,” said senior and now four-time state qualifier Kelsey McDiffett. “We all had to step up, but that’s what we do on this team.”

McDiffett’s premonition played out and both the ladies and gentleman finished third and will hop on a bus bound for Colorado Springs on Friday. They will make the trip with momentum from a well-run regional meet. 

“I honestly cried a little bit,” said senior Alayna Behrman about the regional experience. “We started out not even knowing if we were going to have a season (because of COVID) so we couldn’t take the season for granted and we really had to step up.”

Senior Keaton Knez led his team to a qualification with his best time of the year on the 5k course.

“I think we were all so ready,” he said, “It was definitely one of the highlights of my career when we knew we had locked in a spot.”

After the emotional regional meet, the Bulldogs will take on a state meet that is going to be nothing like they’ve ever experienced. Typically the runners turn the final corner to the roar of a crowd in the arena at the Norris-Penrose Event Center. This year there will not be a crowd there, or at least a very limited cheering section. Most of the Bulldogs experienced the eerie feeling at the pre-state meet in mid-September. 

“Running into the stadium with no fans is just so weird,” McDiffett said. “It’s a challenge to get motivated to go after that next runner when you’re so used to hearing and seeing fans.”

Another adjustment for this year is that teams will not line up and start together as a group. The Colorado High School Activities Association organized the meet into four waves of 25 runners, with each wave organized by qualifying times. For example, Knez will be the only Bulldog boy to start in wave two, while his teammates will all be in either three or four. Each wave will start 45 seconds apart.

“It will be like a race within a race,” Trapp said. “It’s interesting because sometimes at state a runner can get caught up going out way too fast and get stuck in the wrong pace because of the hype or they are too apprehensive at the beginning and never get to where they should be. This year each runner will be in a smaller group of kids they match up with.”

Knez said making adjustments is nothing new in 2020.
“Because of our limitations to smaller meets this year we haven’t had much of a chance to see other runners from around the state,” he said. “But with the waves, it’s like we just go after the 25 in our group and get in the hunt and make the adjustment.” 

Senior Tiana Nichols made it onto the varsity team for the first time in her career after fighting through injuries as an underclassmen. She said that the different format will be a side note for her.

“I’m just excited to get out there and compete,” she said. “Last year I was there but as an alternate so I just went through the motions in the warm up.”

After Monday’s workout the Bulldogs might feel like they are going through the motions a bit because they get to enjoy some easier practices. 

“Now the conversation moves to, ‘let’s not just be happy we made it, but let’s go have a great race,’” Trapp said. “Most of the kids will have a chance to see how much they improved since pre-state.”

The only time the Bulldogs traveled beyond the Wester Slope to compete was the pre-state meet at Norris-Penrose. With the exception of three athletes who didn’t make that trip, they will be running against the clock to see how far they’ve come.

“I know I’m really starting to feel like I’m finally putting it together,” Knez said. “It’s going to be the end of a really good story for four of us.” 

The end of the weird and wacky, yet still successful, season for the MCHS teams will start at  noon for the boys and 45 minutes later for the girls.

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