COLORADO SPRINGS — Melody Fairchild was long considered the gold standard for girls cross country in Colorado history.
In many ways, Fairchild still is the gold standard. But, a strong case could be made that this has become the golden era.
More and more ladies in recent years have thrown their hat into the ring, challenging Fairchild’s spot as arguably the greatest of all-time.
There was Air Academy’s Katie Rainsberger, a Nike national champion last year who shattered a national record in the 3,000 meters.
There was Niwot’s Elise Cranny, a Nike national runner-up who ran some of the top-10 fastest track times in American history.
Fort Collins senior Lauren Gregory, though in her humbleness would be the last to say it, is another of the legends who have made a lasting impact on Colorado cross country, even on the national level.
On Saturday, Gregory was striving to join Estes Park’s Emily Plummer (Class 3A, 1994-1997), Wheat Ridge’s Rebekah McDowell (5A, 1992-1995), and Smoky Hill’s Megan Kaltenbach (1999-2002) as the only four-time girls cross country champions in state history.
But, Grandview’s Brie Oakley had a better day. The nation's No. 1 ranked runner by Milesplit.com elevated to an earth-shattering performance with a time of 17 minutes, 7 seconds to claim the 5A crown. To put that time into context, Rainsberger posted a 17:39 last year, which was the fastest time of the day by 35 seconds.
Gregory, after sticking on Oakley through one mile, finished as the runner-up in 18:32. Oakley flipped the script on Gregory after a narrow 18:15-18:17 margin at state last year. The whole idea of being at this level this quickly is surreal to the Grandview stalwart. After all, she’s only in her second cross country season as a senior.
“I was hearing about Lauren and Katie last year early in the season and I was like, 'wow, I want to be like them someday,'” Oakley said. “I want to be like them with people cheering my name. That definitely motivated me. I guess I’m one of the top girls now, but I want to still keep my head straight. I just want to keep moving forward and keep doing what I love.”
Initially, Oakley didn’t think her time was going to be that quick.
“Coming into the stadium, I couldn’t exactly tell what it said,” she noted. “I thought it said 18 minutes or something and I was like, ‘oh my gosh I’m running a lot slower than I usually do.’ But then I got closer and it said 16:55. That really opened my eyes.”
Oakley, after chasing surely more records in the future, will be running for the University of California next year.
As for Gregory, she took the result with as positive an attitude as one could have in difficult circumstances.
In the spring she struggled with an injury that was diagnosed as a stress fracture after the season was complete. She didn’t have her usual individual success, but fought through to score as many points at the state meet as she could during her team’s pursuit of a state championship. She came through. But, a long healing process ensued.
“I kind of rebooted the whole system,” she said. “The whole summer was reboot, reboot. We needed to dust out everything in the past and just change myself completely. I wish I could’ve had the four-peat, but the fact I was even out here today makes me so happy. I got to run against the best runner in the whole nation. I have to give it all to her. She was better than me today.”
Gregory, ranked No. 8 in the country, came back to shatter multiple course records this fall. She has committed to become an Arkansas Razorback next season.
In a matchup of two nationally ranked teams, the Broomfield Eagles held off Mountain Vista 55-62 to claim their second consecutive state championship.
Ivy Gonzales (third), Madison Mooney (fourth), Laura Thompson (13th), Katelyn Mitchem (15th), and Emily Mitchem (20th), the scoring five for Broomfield on Saturday, are part of a junior class that promises to be around for more.
Maria Mettler may not have thought it was possible over the summer, but the senior was able to add to a recent Air Academy assault on cross country titles. Her 18:31 made for a comfortable cushion over Battle Mountain’s Elizabeth Constien (18:59) and Naomi Harding (18:59) in the individual competition.
“I never would’ve dreamed this,” Mettler admitted.
She found inspiration from seeing teammate Ethan Powell win the 4A boys race an hour earlier.
“I remember watching Ethan and I was so excited,” Mettler said. “I felt like I had just run my race.”
The Huskies of Battle Mountain returned the favor in the team competition though by winning 98-130 over Air Academy. The contingent of Constien, Harding, Alex Raichart (13th), Grace Johnson (38th), and Kaela Farhney (42nd) doesn’t have a senior among them. The ladies won their second state championship in the sport, also claiming 4A in 2005.
In easily the most dramatic finish of the day, Peak to Peak’s Quinn McConnell had a small lead on Denver North’s Kayla Young coming into the stadium.
From exhaustion, McConnell took a spill while nearing the finish. Young went down herself just moments before. Each runner was stumbling, but Young had enough to pass a depleted McConnell with a winning time of 18:36.
The Denver North senior, a 4A runner-up to Rainsberger the past two seasons before moving down a class, won her first state championship and the second individually for the school in joining Joseph Manilafasha (4A, 2006 and 2008) as titlists.
“I took it out hard on purpose and knew that would take a toll on everyone,” Young said. “When I fell I thought it was over, but I got up. Then she fell. I stayed up and I did it.”
The Viking was proud to bring one home to her school.
“It’s a really small program and so I think it’s amazing to represent them and show that small guys can get state titles too,” she said.
McConnell (18:47.1), who was the defending 3A champion, fell over the line just ahead of fellow sophomore and teammate Anna Shults (18:47.2). The tandem teamed with Tiana Bradfield (12th), Rachael Metzler (19th), and Ellie Triem (21st) to provide Peak to Peak with their first-ever state championship in cross country. They were the runner-up in 2015 and 2007. The Pumas (57 points) were well-ahead of The Classical Academy (94).
In the final race of the day, Soroco sophomore Chloe Veilleux (19:47) outlasted Buena Vista’s senior tandem of Annie Hughes (19:56) and Whitney White (20:07) for her first state crown. Veilleux was sixth at the state meet as a freshman.
Telluride was able to secure back-to-back championships with 21 points, 18 ahead of runner-up Lyons. Soleil Gaylord (3rd), Maya Ordonez (5th) and Alyssa Pack (13th) led the way for the Miners.