ARVADA — Without question it’s a pack running mentality for Arvada West’s boys and girls cross country teams.
“I teach the kids not to get really nervous or put a lot into any one meet. The focus is to get the job done,” A-West coach Todd Moore said. “If you are having a bad day hopefully someone will step up and take your place. I try to take all the pressure off the individuals. It’s a group mentality.”
Moore’s group on the boys and girls side this fall has a ton of returning faces — including nine Class 5A Jeffco League all-conference selections from last year.
Seniors Colin Berndt, Andres Perez, Jacob Valdez and junior Drew Craig are all back on the boys’ side. There is even more returning depth on the girls’ side. Seniors Civianna Gallegos, Katie Doucette, Claire Pauley, Amber Valdez, junior Sadie Haymond and sophomore Emily Burg were all 5A Jeffco all-conference selections last year.
“I have never had these many kids coming back at one time, especially four senior girls that are all about the same,” Moore said. “Those top four girls can probably run with anyone in the state.”
Berndt won the 5A Jeffco League boys individual title as a sophomore and finished second to Dakota Ridge’s Austin Vancil last season. Losing to Vancil at the conference championships at Clement Park is something that still sticks with Berndt.
“That is actually my main goal,” Berndt said of retaining the 5A Jeffco individual league title.
Berndt bounced back at state with a 10th place finish and is looking forward to making a move up the leaderboard at state coming up Oct. 28 at Norris Penrose Events Center in Colorado Springs.
“I’m going to try as hard as I can. I want to be up really high at state. I want to be among the top-5 if possible,” Berndt said. “I’ll keep training as hard as I can and see what happens.”
A medical diagnosis should help Perez lower his times dramatically this season. Perez as had problems breathing and was coughing after races during last spring’s track season. He was diagnosis with asthma and after using an inhaler he dropped his mile time to 4 minutes, 32 seconds and broke 2 minutes in the 800.
“My junior year in cross country wasn’t exactly what I wanted,” Perez said. “This year I know this whole team will be underdogs and we’ll have fun with it.”
Despite A-West’s boys team being three-time defending 5A Jeffco League champions and finishing 4th as a team at state, Dakota Ridge might have the inside track on dethroning the Wildcats.
The A-West girls are two-time defending conference champs. The Wildcats placed 5th at state last year.
“We are definitely aiming to win league and regionals again,” Doucette said. “Hopefully we’ll place higher in state then we did last year.”
Gallegos, Doucette, Pauley and Valdez all finished in the top-8 at the Jeffco League championships and in the top-50 at state.
“It’s really nice and our times are always really close together so we can push each other a lot,” Doucette said. “That really helps with training.”
It’s not all business for A-West. The Wildcats make sure that the summer training sessions were productive and enjoyable.
“It’s really fun because we all get along and know each other really well,” Valdez said. “Practices are really fun. We just always have fun.”
Pauley said the team would train six or seven days a week all summer. Individuals came to the school by 7 a.m. as a team almost every morning.
That dedication has built A-West into a cross country powerhouse.
“They train all year-round. It has been one of those things were success breeds success,” Moore said. “Nobody wants be the one who lets the team down. Nobody wants to be the class that doesn’t get it done.”
A-West will host its annual Wildcat Invite on Sept. 15 at Stenger Soccer Complex in Arvada this season. Moore designed the course with a snaking style where it’s easier to coach the runners during the race by seeing them multiple times.
“It gives more opportunities for kids to compete in meets,” Moore said of his reasoning for A-West to host a meet. “Nowadays there is a problem because there aren’t that many meets because it’s hard to get a facility.”
Clement Park will be the site of the Jeffco League championships Oct. 12. A-West heads to the Northwest Open Spaces Park for its regional meet Oct. 19.