Niwot's Cranny caps brilliant career with a memorable state meet

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

Niwot's Elise Cranny huddles with teammates on Saturday. (Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

LAKEWOOD -- Niwot’s Elise Cranny, one of the most decorated girls distance runners in the country, completed her brilliant high school career Saturday. She provided three memorable performances at the State Track and Field Championships at Jeffco Stadium in Lakewood.

One season ago, Cranny won the Class 4A distance triple crown with state titles in the 800-meter, 1,600-meter, and 3,200-meter races. This year, she did it again and in spectacular fashion.

Cranny started her final high school meet Friday by cruising to a new 3,200-meter all-classification record time of 10:17. Her performance bettered legendary Boulder High star Melody Fairchild’s 10:21, set back in 1991. Cranny’s time also beat her own 4A meet record best of 10:38 from 2013.

“I wanted to be a little bit closer to 10 (minutes), but it ended up being kind of windy and I didn’t feel as good as I thought, but I still got it so I’m happy about that,” Cranny said of the record-setting run.

The Niwot senior claimed the 4A 3,200 crown by 53 seconds over D’Evelyn’s Lexi Reed, but the 800 and 1,600 titles didn’t come so easy.

Friday afternoon, a couple hours after Cranny’s 3,200, she found herself in a peculiar situation in the 800.

Content to tuck into the lead pack and conserve energy behind Palmer Ridge’s Alison Dietsch and Air Academy’s Katie Rainsberger, the field stayed close together through a slow first lap.

Dietsch, Rainsberger, and Cranny took off from the pack soon after 400-meters and made it a three-horse race. Before Cranny knew what hit her though, Dietsch scampered away from her and Rainsberger as the crowd roared with the anticipation of a possible upset. Dietsch had about a 5-meter lead on Cranny with 50-meters to go, but Cranny closed hard and nipped her at the line, 2:12.05 to 2:12.24. Rainsberger placed third in 2:12.92.

“Yeah, that was really stressful and I don’t even know what happened,” Cranny said of the gap between her and Dietsch late in the race. “I think I was half-asleep or something, but we went out slow and then I don’t even know where she came from. I thought it was Katie (Rainsberger), but then it was Alison. It was a really stressful finish.”

“I got stressed, because I was trying to speed up, but the finish line was getting closer and closer and I was like, I don’t know if there’s going to be enough ground, but then it worked out,” Cranny added.

The final push was enough to seal Cranny’s second straight title in the 800. The 1,600 was an even better race.

Rainsberger and Cranny, who would face off in the 1,600 as well, have been rivals since one of the most memorable finishes in the state cross-country meet in many years during the 2012 4A State Championships.

In that race, Rainsberger led by a wide margin with 300 meters left, but Cranny turned on the jets and nipped her at the line by 0.10 seconds to win her first ever state title.

Cranny says that was the turning point in her Niwot career after placing second as a sophomore in cross-country.

“I wanted to win (the 800) and I didn’t want to get second again and I think when I caught her I had that realization that you always have something left,” Cranny said of her first state championship in cross-country or track. “That definitely helped me a lot and helped me learn that you always have something left at the end.”

Throughout the weekend, Cranny had something left.

In the 1,600, the two rivals ran away from the field on the second lap and looked poised for a special finale to Cranny’s Niwot career.

“Going into it, I knew that she was really good competition,” Cranny said of Air Academy’s ultra-talented sophomore. “I knew that she would run really fast. She took the pace out pretty hard and I just stayed behind her and tried to stay relaxed. I knew that if I would make a move, I had to make a strong one.”

Cranny’s strong move came with 200-meters left after running even with Rainsberger throughout. The kick was enough to hold Rainsberger off and claim her sixth state championship. Cranny broke another 4A state meet record and set a new all-classification best of 4:47.54. The time was merely 0.02 seconds faster than Cranny’s record time set at the Boulder County Championships last season.

Rainsberger placed second with a time of 4:48.84, also beating the state meet record of 4:54.59, a record held by Thompson Valley’s Laura Tremblay since 2009.

Cranny’s three individual titles and 30 points helped lead the Niwot girls to their second straight team championship by a slim margin over Thompson Valley, 66-57.5.

The phenom recently ran the second-fastest 1,500 time in the nation among high school girls. She is also No. 1 in the nation this season in the 800 meters with a blistering time of 2:04.81 at the Mt. Sac Relays in California.

Cranny has accomplished much on the national level, but says she has most enjoyed competing with her high school teammates.

“I think these meets are just a lot more fun, because you have all your teammates here and I know Katie and a bunch of people,” Cranny said. “It’s really fun to be able to run against people that you know. I think it’s just more fun and there’s more energy.”

The energy and excitement certainly rippled through the stadium during Elise Cranny’s last three races of her Niwot career. She delighted the crowd with an indelible senior season.