Distance runners steal the show at track's prestigious Liberty Bell meet

(Brock Laue/CHSAANow.com)

Smoky Hill's Blake Yount wins the boys 800-meter run. (Brock Laue/CHSAANow.com)

LITTLETON — Colorado has a long-standing tradition of producing excellent girls distance runners.

But the recent group of transcendent stars, equally capable in cross country and track, make a case as the greatest high schoolers to ever run on Colorado soil.

Just look at the past three weekends.

On April 10 at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in California, Fort Collins sophomore phenom Lauren Gregory ran a 4:48 in the mile, good for fourth place in the race and sixth place in the country. But Gregory was only third among competitors from her own state. Cherry Creek senior Jordyn Colter won in a national-best 4:45, while Air Academy junior Katie Rainsberger placed third in the race in the fourth best time in America, 4:47.

If that’s not enough to impress you, consider Colter broke the Colorado record in the 800-meter run with a 2:05.48 at the Stutler Bowl Twilight Invite on Friday, smashing Tara Mendozza’s 2:07.53, set in 1999. Colter is now number one in the country in the 800, as well.

The Liberty Bell Invitational, hosted by Heritage High School at Littleton Public School Stadium on Friday and Saturday, followed suit with some eye-popping times.

Gregory, already a three-time individual state champion in cross country and track, came within shouting distance of setting a Colorado record in the 3,200 on Friday with a ridiculous time of 10:25. Her winning margin was 39 seconds over Denver North’s Kayla Young (11:04) and Legacy’s Emma Gee (11:06), standout runners in their own right.

The all-time best is 10:17, set by Niwot’s Elise Cranny at the 4A state championships a year ago. Cranny recently broke the American junior record in the indoor 3,000 meters as a freshman at Stanford, so it’s fair to say Gregory is in good company. The sophomore broke the Fort Collins’ school record and the meet record and now boasts the best time on Colorado soil this spring by 28 seconds over Rainsberger.

(Brock Laue/CHSAANow.com)

Air Academy's Katie Rainsberger. (Brock Laue/CHSAANow.com)

Not to be outdone, though, Rainsberger cruised to a comfortable victory in the 1,600-meter run on Saturday with a 4:56. She was a mere four seconds off the meet record and won by 16 seconds over Fort Collins’ Devynn Miller.

Count Rainsberger as one of those who embraces the competition.

“I think it’s always awesome when Colorado girls go out and represent,” she said. “It’s kind of a pride thing.”

That being said, Rainsberger shies away from comparisons between her, Gregory, and Colter — the elite trio.

“I think it’s hard to compare yourself to someone, because you are all at different points, but I definitely look up to them,” she added. “I aspire to run 2:05 or 10:25. I don’t necessarily compare myself to them, but I admire them. We’re all really good friends too.”

The girls distance events at Liberty Bell were exceptional all around as 25 young ladies broke 12 minutes in the 3,200 and Fort Collins’ Becca Schulte won a stacked 800 in 2:14. Shining Mountain’s Ginger Hutton, a 1A competitor, ran an 11:28 in the 3,200 Friday and came back to get second place in the two-lapper in 2:15.

On the boys side of things, SkyView Academy’s Ben Butler handled a worthy 3,200 field with a time of 9:23. The 3A runner ranks second for all classifications in the event.

Regis Jesuit’s Javan Lanier ran the second quickest time in all classifications himself in the 100 meter dash in 10.73. Four others broke 11 seconds.

Pine Creek’s Dionne Taylor won the high jump with a mark of 6-8. Trevor Rex of Highlands Ranch also went 6-8, but in more attempts.

Castle View's Mackenzie Pettit broke the meet record in the girl high jump, clearing 5-7.

Gateway’s Mike Ware (48.25) and Lakewood sophomore Brock Miller (48.99) impressed in the 400 meter dash.

Fountain-Fort Carson boys, speaking to their dominance in 2015, won the 4x100-meter relay in a time of 41.64 — a new best mark in the state — the 4x200 relay in 1:27.99, the 4x400 relay in 3:26, and the 4x800 relay in 7:59. Entering the weekend, the Trojans were ranked No. 1 in 5A in all four relays.

They are the heavy favorites to defend their team crown.

(Brock Laue/CHSAANow.com)

Fountain-Fort Carson's Dylan Day. (Brock Laue/CHSAANow.com)

Dylan Day, a future Ole Miss Rebel and one of the cogs in the Trojan machine, placed third in the 3,200 (9:40), second in the 1,600 (4:23), and ran a leg on that winning 4x800. The senior says one of Fountain-Fort Carson’s goals is to dominate the relays at Jeffco Stadium.

“I don’t know if it’s ever happened before, but we would like to win all four relays at state,” Day said. “That would be one of the best ways to end my senior year.”

Smoky Hill senior Blake Yount, a 1:51.63 runner in the 800 a season ago — the state record — crushed the field Saturday with a 1:52.61. That's the new No. 1 in 5A in 2015 and should give him the top seed at the state meet.

Fort Collins girls pushed past fellow 5A title favorites Pine Creek to win the Liberty Bell Invite as a team. Fountain-Fort Carson, as expected, were the boys champions.