Gunnison cross country has a habit of staying out of the limelight.

Despite placing in the top 15 at the Class 3A boys state meet nine times in a row, which includes five top three showings, they don’t always get discussed as much as a few other traditional contenders.

“We kind of like having an image of being a bit of an underdog,” senior stalwart Jon Wilkinson admitted. “We have so many hilly races that we don’t always put out the best times, so other teams on the Front Range who run more flat and fast courses may look at us and think of nothing of it.”

When it comes to the state meet, the Cowboys often saddle up and show their clout, though. They finished in third place a season ago, following fifth- and fourth-place showings the previous two campaigns. It might be wise to keep these guys on your radar throughout the fall.

For one, Gunnison features a one-two punch that could be unmatched in 3A this year. Wilkinson and junior Colton Stice both have their eyes set on podium finishes in the top 10-after placing 17th and 14th a season ago.

“They are two really talented runners who had tremendous track seasons,” longtime coach Gregg Smith said. “I’m so excited to see what they’re going to be able to do this year. Over the years they’ve set big goals and this year their goal is to try to get into state and bring home some hardware.”

Stice is one of the premier young runners in Colorado, posting swift 800 (1:57; fifth place) and 1,600 (4:25; third place) times at the state track meet. Wilkinson more than held his own in the spring, earning a state medal in the 1,600 (4:29, fifth) as well.

The two veterans could challenge for an individual crown at the state meet, but they also hope to accomplish something that has never been done in school history — win a cross country team title.

“I would be so incredibly honored my senior year for us to be the first team to win the state title in cross country,” Wilkinson said excitedly. “It would be awesome to win it also for our coaches, wonderful coaches who support us more than anyone else really. To give them a state title would be incredible.”

With the training grounds around the area, sitting at 7,700 feet, Gunnison is confident they’ll once again be ready for the hills of the championship course.

“We have mountains surrounding us, so we do a lot of pretty gruesome hill workouts all over the place,” Wilkinson said. “We also do a lot of intervals on beautiful trails. The fact we have all these mountains out our backdoor is a pretty good advantage for us.”

A program that also draws inspiration from being in the same town as Division II powerhouse Western State, Gunnison will rely on competitors like juniors Garrett Butts and Wulf Stark this season, among others, to back up Wilkinson and Stice. Colton Stice’s brother Brennan might provide a spark as a first-year.

The Cowboys have faith in their abilities, but they also know the strength of other programs in 3A. Alamosa graduated their top four runners, but being the three-time defending state champions doesn’t come without a reason. They’ve won five titles overall and “rebuilding” isn’t a theme. The Classical Academy, D’Evelyn, Peak to Peak, and Faith Christian are among a wide variety of teams with hopes of unseating Alamosa.

In 5A, Monarch, Mountain Vista and Rock Canyon appear to be the most clear-cut contenders on paper. Monarch ended a four-year title streak by Vista last season. Rock Canyon senior Chris Theodore is one of the top individual competitors.

In 4A, the Palmer Ridge Bears are in pursuit of their third title in four years. The depth of this program is outstanding. Silver Creek, led by James Lee (1:54 800 and state champion; 4:14 1,600) and Brock Dykema, has a special senior contingent that could factor into the national scene. 4A will be entertaining.

In 3A, The Vanguard School snapped a four-year championship run by Lyons, but Lyons might be a slight favorite in 2A over Mancos and Heritage Christian Academy this time around. Isaac Roberts is a familiar name in Colorado running circles.

Boys Cross Country preview

Important dates

  • Regular season begins: Aug. 24
  • Regional meets: Oct. 19-20

State championships:

  • 5A/4A/3A/2A: Oct. 28, Norris Penrose Event Center, Colorado Springs, CO

Defending champions:

  • 5A: Monarch
  • 4A: Palmer Ridge
  • 3A: Alamosa
  • 2A: The Vanguard School

Returning all-state runners:

  • 5A:
    • First Team: Connor McCabe, Rampart, Sr.; Charlie Perry, Monarch, Sr.; Harrison Scudamore, Denver East, Sr.
    • Second Team: Colin Berndt, Arvada West, Sr.; Carter Dillon, Mountain Vista, Sr.; Yonatan Kefle, Denver South, Jr.
    • Honorable Mention: Beraki Awet, Palmer, Sr.; Jacob Dewey, Rampart, Sr.; Chase Dornbusch, Lakewood, Sr.; Derek Fearon, Rock Canyon, So.; Chris Theodore, Rock Canyon, Sr.; Austin Vancil, Dakota Ridge, Jr.
  • 4A:
    • First Team: Evan Graff, Montrose, Sr.; Cole Munoz, Widefield, Sr.; Cole Sprout, Valor Christian, So.
    • Second Team: Ben Highfill, Pueblo South, Sr.; James Lee, Silver Creek, Sr.; Ryan Matson, Palmer Ridge, Sr.; John O’Malley, Centaurus, Sr.; Matthew Roberds, Mesa Ridge, Jr.
    • Honorable Mention: Calvin Banta, Air Academy, Jr.; Cooper Brown, Centaurus, Jr.; Brock Dykema, Silver Creek, Sr.; Maxwell Herebic, Palmer Ridge, Sr.; Brandon Hippe, Palmer Ridge, Jr.; Dillon Powell, Air Academy, Jr.; Josh Torres, Northridge, Sr.
  • 3A:
    • First Team: David Fine, Elizabeth, Jr.; Canaan Lamberth, The Classical Academy, Sr.; Ryan Lehmuth, Jefferson Academy, Sr.
    • Second Team: Macklin Brockmeyer, Faith Christian, Jr.; Andrew King, Platte Valley, Sr.; Nate MacDonald, D’Evelyn, Sr.; Tyler Scholl, Middle Park, Jr.; Colton Stice, Gunnison, Jr.
    • Honorable Mention: Ryan Butler, Skyview Academy, Sr.; Blake Davis, Lamar, Sr.; Wyatt Lehr, Lamar, Sr.; Kyle McCabe, Holy Family, Sr.; Jon Wilkinson, Gunnison, Sr.; Jordan Wilson, Skyview Academy, Sr.
  • 2A:
    • First Team: Cody Danley, Rocky Ford, Sr.; Ben Kelley, Soroco, Sr.; Patrick Scoggins, Rangely, Sr.
    • Second Team: Jaden Evans, Telluride, Jr.; Levi Kilian, Highland, Jr.; Nick Lovato, Vanguard, Sr.; Isaac Roberts, Lyons, So.
    • Honorable Mention: Seth Bruxvoort, Heritage Christian Academy, Jr.; Keaton Case, Heritage Christian Academy, Jr.; Gary DeLeon, Rocky Ford, Sr.; Colton Jonjak-Plahn, Lyons, Jr.; Caleb Smith, Peyton, Sr.; Field Soosloff, Lyons, Sr.; Teslin Stecher, Mancos, Jr.