COLORADO SPRINGS — After two miles, Valor Christian’s Cole Sprout was comfortable enough with his pace that he went for it. He picked up the pace, pulled away from the pack and claimed his second state cross country title.
“That last mile I felt pretty comfortable where I was,” Sprout said. “It hurt, but I felt like I could maintain it and not burn out before the end.”
His time of 15 minutes, 16 seconds kept him well ahead of the rest of the Class 5A field. The junior was the only runner for the Eagles but represented his school well. As one of the top runners in the country, and a defending state champion, he has reason to be optimistic heading into the state meet, but also knew that nothing is given and that he had to earn it.
“I was pretty optimistic that I had a good chance of winning,” he said. “I never want to take it for granted because anything can happen. I can twist my ankle in the middle of the race and finish last. I had confidence for sure.”
With 47 points Dakota Ridge came away with the 5A team title, the first for the Eagles since 2006. Connor Ohlson finished second overall and Austin Vancil finished third to help pace the Eagles to the team title.
Jenna Fitzsimmons had to be experiencing some déjà vu. The Mountain Vista junior won her second 5A girls cross country title in as many years and helped the Golden Eagles also repeat as team champions.
Knowing the expectations that were being placed on her as well as the team, Fitzsimmons and her teammates tried to keep the overall feel of the race relaxed.
“We were just trying to go into every race super loose, knowing we had something to do but not putting a ton of pressure on ourselves,” she said.
The plan worked.
Fitzsimmons didn’t jump out to an early lead, but maintained a strong pace and stayed within striking distance. When she eventually made her move she put enough distance between herself and the rest of the field.
She finished the race in 18:12.3 as teammates Sarah O’Sullivan and Madison Reed both placed in the top 10. It was knowing they were in the race with her that helped push Fitzsimmons to a strong finish.
“Every time I started to doubt myself and what could happen I just thinking about doing it for the other girls on the team,” she said. “I know that they’re putting in the work and every point counts for what we’re going to do.”
The Golden Eagles finished with 44 team points. Runner-up Cherry Creek finished with 88.
As long as he can maintain his speed, Niwot’s Cruz Culpepper knows that winning is a good probability. He showed that exact mentality as he claim the 4A boys cross country championship, finishing the race in 15:48, 10 seconds faster than teammate Ares Reading.
“I know my speed is unmatchable,” Culpepper said. “I’m always confident that I can bring it back in.”
When the mile two leaders were announced to the crowd at the Norris Penrose Event Center, Culpepper’s name was not at the top of that list. It made spectators observers glance at each other wondering if some mistake had been made.
It hadn’t. He just hadn’t made his move because he was waiting for the opportune time to strike.
“I wanted to wait as long as possible,” he said. “I still didn’t put in that hard move until that last mile or so. I’m glad I didn’t jump on it and just kind of halved it and then ended up bringing it back in with 800 to go.”
Despite finishing one-two, the Cougars weren’t able to come away with the team championship. That honor went to Centaurus who had three runners finish inside the top 10. Cooper Brown (fourth), Torey Puckett (seventh) and Kyle Piper (10th) all paced the Warriors to their first title since 2011.
The Niwot girls were not going to get shown up by the boys. About an hour and a half after Culpepper and Reading finished one-two in the 4A boys race, Layla Roebke and Taylor James went one-two for the girls.
In fact, they decided they wanted to do the one-upping. The Cougars finished with 47 points to claim the 4A girls cross country title.
Roebke came away with the state championship with a winning time of 18:29, but knows she couldn’t have done it without the support of her team.
“Our plan was to stick to that pack because there are certain parts after that bridge where it goes from five-wide to three-wide and then your position gets messed up,” she said. “Our plan was to get there relatively close to the same time and pack up.”
With her legs feeling good after the second mile, she made her move and made the final turn into the Norris Penrose Event Center floor ahead of the pack. But with a championship nearly in her grasp, she knew there was no room to let up.
“It’s the hardest push I’ve ever made,” she said. “It’s a big win and in the last 150 meters someone can still come in and take my space, so I have to give it everything.”
She gave it everything. And it paid off both Roebke and for the Cougars.