COLORADO SPRINGS — In a tradition-rich state for distance running, becoming a legend takes plenty of state titles and, just as important to a legacy of that magnitude, plenty of dominance.
The all-time great girls, the Melody Fairchild’s, the Megan Kaltenbach’s, the Rebekah McDowell’s, the Elise Cranny’s, they’ve all had one thing in common. Not only have they won and won a lot, but they’ve had an aura of invincibility about them. When the greats toe the starting line, they command respect.
Well, Katie Rainsberger, a senior dynamo on any type of cross country course and in a number of disciplines on the track, has that aura to her.
Sure, winning back-to-back individual Class 4A state championships, which she did Saturday at the Norris Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs, helps. Claiming the distance triple crown—state titles in the 800 meters, the 1,600, and the 3,200, not to mention anchoring the winning 3,200 relay for Air Academy last spring—also helps.
Still, despite accomplishing just about everything there is to be accomplished state-wide, Rainsberger was missing one award for her trophy case. That is, until Saturday morning when the future Oregon Duck, with the help of four teammates in Paige Embaugh (freshman, 5th), Maria Mettler (junior, 10th), MacKenzie Moss (freshman, 14th), and Kayla Wiitala (senior, 30th), won their first girls cross country state championship in school history.
“I am so excited. It’s my senior year and that’s all I could have asked for,” Rainsberger said of the team title. “I don’t even have words right now.”
For all the senior has achieved in her high school career—she is one of the very best in Colorado history—she said winning with her teammates was something extra special.
“I think that is the highlight of my high school career. Individual titles are great, but when you are working with a team and for a team, it means all the more.”
Individually, she ran 17:38, the top time of the day by 35 seconds over 4A runner-up Kayla Young of Denver North (18:13) and, as one of the favorites to win the Nike national championship coming up, has plenty of individual pursuits ahead in high school and beyond. But for Rainsberger, nothing was sweeter than a team title.
Another all-time great, Lauren Gregory of Fort Collins, entered Saturday with two state championships under her belt. And she’s only a junior. With that, she did feel an added amount of pressure to keep her run as the 5A queen alive.
“There was a lot more hype this year and the self-imposed pressure of not losing the streak,” Gregory said. “Our coach says, ‘clear mind, clear mind,’ and I had to remember that.”
The Lambkin, another of the country’s finest runners, was going against a crazy talented 5A field that included Grandview’s Brie Oakley, Legend’s Catherine Liggett and Mountain Vista’s Allie Chipman. After winning by huge margins each of the previous two state meets, Gregory gapped the others by a few seconds and then held on for the win over Oakley, 18:15 to 18:17.
“That was the hardest I’ve had to work,” she said. “This was such a harder race, because everyone was on their A-game.”
Gregory will have a chance at becoming one of the only four-time cross country champions in state history next year.
As for the team race, the Broomfield Eagles claimed their first-ever girls state title with 112 points, a narrow eight point margin of victory over Cherry Creek. Fairview was third with 124.
Emily Mitchem (8th place), Ivy Gonzales (18th), Katelyn Mitchem (19th), McKenzie Gaines (23rd), and Alena Valdez (44th) was the scoring five for the Eagles, a program with plenty of distance running success over the years, but now a team title on top of it.
This race ended with some fascinating finishes, both individually and team-wise.
Peak to Peak had two freshmen, Quinn McConnell and Anna Shults, place first and second. On a side note, McConnell, already a high school state champion, also won the middle school state meet last year. Her time Saturday was 18:41, nine seconds clear of Shults.
Obviously with the top-two finishers in the race, the Pumas seemed bound to fare well in the team standings. They ended up with 56 points and were second.
Salida, after a uniform incident a season ago, non-identical singlets, led to the Spartans only being allowed five competitors instead of the usual seven, Salida had a measure of redemption Saturday as they won the team crown with 50 points. It was their second state title in the past three years after finishing as runner-up to Alamosa by a mere four points in 2014.
Sydney Fesenmeyer (6th place), Taryn Ceglowski (7th), Phoebe Powell (8th), Cecilia Kastner (10th), and Bari Beasley (19th) led the way for the Spartans.
Much like the 3A race, except this time it was twin sisters, the same team had the individual state champion and runner-up.
Heritage Christian seniors Rachel (19:55) and Rebekah Rairdon (20:05) fended off Telluride’s Soleil Gaylord (20:09) in a tight top-three battle.
In a bit of a surprise though, Telluride, with Maya Ordonez coming in sixth and Larkin Brodie coming in seventh, tallied 16 points, good enough for a three point margin of victory over Heritage Christian. Carrying on with the theme of the day, the Miners also won their first-ever state championship in girls cross country.
And, Telluride will return all three scorers from their winning effort as Gaylord is only a sophomore, Ordonez a freshman, and Brodie a junior.