COLORADO SPRINGS — A changing of the guard occurred at the Norris-Penrose Event Center on Saturday. More specifically, Vanguard became one of two boys programs at the state cross country championships to end a four-peat.
The Crusaders, on the strength of seniors Grant Hughes (fifth place), Harley Morgan (eighth) and junior Nick Lovato (11th) took down the four-time defending state champions in Lyons in Class 2A. With some individuals from non-qualifying teams sprinkled in the top finishers, each Crusader moved up two to four places in team scoring, contributing to the winning 15-26 point tally over runner-up Lyons. As a result, the charter school in Colorado Springs won its first-ever state championship in any sport.
Moving down from 3A to 2A this year provided Vanguard with a boost. Adding Hughes, a multi-sport athlete who has competed in soccer, basketball, and track, didn’t hurt the team's chances either.
“I decided to come out for cross country for the first time,” the senior said, knowing that outstanding runners like Lovato (12th in 3A in 2015) and Morgan (27th) were already in place. “I wanted to help win it with them.”
A natural athlete, Hughes didn’t need much of an adjustment period to get into the swing of being a high-level cross country competitor. He placed third at the Air Academy Kadet Invite early in the season, went on to claim the 2A Region 2 crown and then earned all-state honors on Saturday.
“We had a team of 11 and only a team of eight this year,” Morgan said. “Most of the seniors were part of our top five and we basically had to build from scratch. Having Grant was such a blessing. He’s a really athletic guy.”
Over the course of the season Vanguard established its name as a 2A favorite, cementing that status with a perfect score (1st, 2nd, 3rd individuals) at its regional meet. Now, to bring home a state title for the first time is something extra special.
“It really means a lot,” Morgan said. “It’s going to bring a lot of focus to the cross country team. I think we’ve inspired a lot of kids at our school.”
Custer County’s Jerald Taylor (16:06), a senior who placed 16th in 2015, ran away from Rocky Ford junior Cody Danley (16:38) to win the 2A individual title.
As for the other four-time team champion being overtaken, Monarch took out Mountain Vista, the only program in Colorado history to conquer four consecutive 5A boys titles.
As the season went on, there was an inkling by many around the state that the Coyotes might be on Mountain Vista’s level. On September 10 at the St. Vrain Invite in Lyons, Monarch came within one point, 71-72, of defeating the Golden Eagles.
A program that had claimed three 5A girls crowns in a row from 2011-2013, Monarch was looking to secure their first boys championship. They did just that Saturday with an 88-97 victory over Vista. On top of that, senior superman Isaac Green (15:57) claimed his second of back-to-back cross country state titles over Vista’s Joshua Romine (16:04).
“At the very beginning of the year we do a camp and our goal this year was to win state,” Monarch coach Kent Rieder said. “We felt that with the talent on our team, and I knew all the guys would work hard, we felt we could do it.”
The Coyote scoring contingent was also comprised of Charlie Perry (3rd), Zach Litoff (22nd), Isaac Russo (25th), and Will Dixon (37th).
Green couldn’t quite grasp the idea that his team had finally accomplished a long-standing goal.
“We’ve been dreaming about it for a long time,” he said. “To actually be able to do it, it’s incredible.”
Initially, Monarch thought Mountain Vista had claimed another title. Green was enthralled by the announcement of the final team results.
“I was doing another interview and they were talking about the girls teams and I thought they were talking about the boys,” he said. “They were like, “In third place, Monarch.’ I was like, ‘oh, we were so close.’ Then they started talking about the boys teams and I just couldn’t focus. We didn’t think we got it. We were sitting there and they called out Monarch. It was wild.”
Air Academy girls have been in the spotlight lately. Katie Rainsberger was the Nike cross country national champion last year and her and her teammates won the 4A team crown.
Senior Ethan Powell wanted to show that the Kadets, who have been one of the better 4A boys programs in recent years as well, had some serious firepower of their own. By a margin of 15:55.7 to 15:55.8, Powell out-leaned Montrose senior Ian Meek for the state championship. He became the first Air Academy boy to win state cross country since Ian Burrell won 5A in 2002.
“A lot of times when people talk about our program, the focus goes to the girls team,” Powell said. “That’s totally justified. They are incredible, but it’s nice to show people we’ve got something going on, on the boys side too.”
In the team race, Palmer Ridge, who was beaten by Durango by two points in 2015, blew away the competition with 55 points to Widefield’s 110 and Air Academy’s 122. Jeremy Meadows (fifth), Andrew Lester (sixth), Ryan Matson (12th), Andrew Rudnicki (14th), and Brandon Hippe (17th) pushed the Bears to their second championship in three years.
Tanner Norman got to run at his favorite place on Saturday. Training around 30 times over the past two summers on the trails at Norris-Penrose and TCA’s top competitor, after winning 4A last year, got to soak up the experience again with another performance much to his liking.
After claiming a race that was considered pretty wide-open in 2015, Norman entered as the heavy favorite this state meet after establishing himself as one of the better runners nationally throughout the fall. The senior (15:44) dominated the field as Faith Christian freshman phenom Cole Sprout was the runner up in 16:10.
The Classical Academy (111) finished second as a team to Alamosa (77). Caleb Palmer (5th), Isaiah DeLaCerda (6th), Oscar Martinez (17th), Caleb Berlinger (23rd), and Elijah DeLaCerda (26th) led the Mean Moose to their third state championship in a row and fifth overall in boys cross country. They are now tied with The Classical Academy, Rocky Ford, Cherry Creek and Denver East for the fifth-most titles in the sport.