Cross country preview: Mountain Vista boys, looking for fourth-straight title, may be best in program history

(Courtesy of Mountain Vista HS)

Mountain Vista boys cross country is in search of a fourth-straight title. (Courtesy of Mountain Vista HS)

The Mountain Vista boys cross country team has had tremendous varsity lineups in recent years. In fact, last fall they became the first program to claim three consecutive Class 5A state championships.

And yet, even though a four-peat is well within the realm of possibility, "Vista Nation," as they like to refer to themselves as, is just as proud of the entire program's success.

The depth a team possesses, beyond just the top-seven runners who earn varsity spots, is an indication of the prosperity of a program.

The Golden Eagles had 41 runners break 20 minutes in cross country last fall, a remarkable number, especially when considering Colorado is at high altitude. They had 16 boys go sub-17. They had the top five finishers at the Continental League championships in the junior varsity division. They had 13 of the top 16 finishers in the open division, a race featuring all competitors who aren't in the top-14 on their team.

(Courtesy of Mountain Vista HS)

(Courtesy of Mountain Vista HS)

In 2013, 37 boys broke 20 minutes. In 2012, 30 broke 20 minutes. So yes, Vista Nation doesn't just produce top-end talent, the kids who fight for individual state medals and scholarships, but they also have a recent history of boasting far and away the best depth in the Centennial State.

In a program with so many good runners, competition fuels invitational championships, league championships, regional crowns, and state titles.

Co-head coaches Jonathan Dalby and Eric Selle have instilled a culture that not only racks up victories for the boys varsity, but also a sense of purpose for every runner.

"One of the things we do is we have a goal-setting meeting," Dalby said. "One of their goals every year is to be able to win all six races, boys and girls open, boys and girls JV, and boys and girls varsity at the league championships. I think by giving every kid on the team a purpose, they feel like they contribute. The kids have bought into it a little more each year."

On top of that, Vista Nation has camaraderie.

"We do a lot of team social stuff," Dalby added. "At least once a week we're doing a team pancake breakfast or a camping trip or something like that. It's nice because they really want to be out there and be around each other."

The school in Highlands Ranch will once again be favored to win the 5A crown. Interestingly enough, likely their most potent challenger will be Fort Collins, the team who was slightly favored going into the state meet a season ago, but who finished second.

The Lambkins were also the runner-up in 2013. They won it all in both 2011 and 2010, while Vista placed second and third, respectively.

(Tracy Renck/CHSAANow.com)

Lyons' Paul Roberts. (Tracy Renck/CHSAANow.com)

"I can't tell you how excited I am," said Paxton Smith, an individual title contender expected to lead the Golden Eagles. "The group of guys we have are beyond talented. I think this will be the best team that Mountain Vista boys cross country has ever had. Obviously we want to win 5A again, win the four-peat. I think a top-10 team in the nation is a great possibility, too."

Mountain Vista won't be the only ones chasing history as Lyons' Paul Roberts will be looking to claim his fourth-straight individual title in 2A. His team also has a crack at a fourth-consecutive crown.

On the girls side, Fort Collins' Lauren Gregory, a junior, is after her third consecutive championship in 5A. Air Academy's Katie Rainsberger, after winning the distance triple crown in track with 4A titles in the 800, 1,600, and 3,200-meter runs, will be looking to cap her cross country career with a second championship.

Roberts, Gregory, and Rainsberger are not only three of the premier distance runners in state history, but also rank among the nation's best.

Boys cross country preview

2014 individual champions:

  • 5A: Marcelo Laguera, Pomona (graduated)
  • 4A: Eric Hamer, Palmer Ridge (graduated)
  • 3A: Ben Butler, SkyView Academy (senior)
  • 2A: Paul Roberts, Lyons (senior)

Defending team champions:

  • 5A: Mountain Vista
  • 4A: Palmer Ridge
  • 3A: Alamosa
  • 2A: Lyons

Returning All-State athletes:

  • 5A: Ben Dingman, Rampart; Jake Mitchem, Broomfield.
  • 4A: Ian Meek, Montrose; Maximilliano Martinez, Widefield; Michael Duran, Pueblo Centennial; Jarrett Thollot, Thompson Valley.
  • 3A: Butler; Taylor Stack, Salida; Jake Rogers, Lamar; Isaiah DeLaCerda, Alamosa.
  • 2A: Roberts; Jack Plantz, Telluride.

Girls cross country preview

2014 individual champions:

  • 5A: Lauren Gregory, Fort Collins (junior)
  • 4A: Katie Rainsberger, Air Academy (senior)
  • 3A: Lily Tomasula-Martin, Estes Park (junior)
  • 2A: Tabor Scholl, West Grand (graduated)

Defending team champions:

  • 5A: Fort Collins
  • 4A: Mountain View
  • 3A: Alamosa
  • 2A: Lyons

Returning All-State athletes:

  • 5A: Gregory; Maya Browning, Fairview; Claudia Burgess, Boulder; Holly Bent, Monarch; Devon Peterson, Cherry Creek.
  • 4A: Rainsberger; Kayla Young, Denver North; Lexi Reed, D'Evelyn; Lauren Offerman, Mountain View; Maggie Moline, Centaurus.
  • 3A: Tomasula-Martin; Hailey Swirbul, Basalt; Julia Jaschke, Kent Denver; Anna Ponzio, Colorado Academy; Tara Sowards, Alamosa; Sydney Fesenmeyer, Salida.
  • 2A: CeAnn Udovich, Lyons; Rebekah Rairdon, Heritage Christian; Sierra Tucker, Lyons; Rachel Rairdon, Heritage Christian.

Season info

  • Regular season begins: Aug. 28
  • Postseason: Regionals Completed by Oct. 23
  • State meet: Oct. 31 at Norris-Penrose Event Center, Colorado Springs