COLORADO SPRINGS — In the Colorado High School cross country world, everybody's gunning for Valor Christian senior Cole Sprout.
Most of all, Cole Sprout.
Sprout, already a two-time state cross country champion, added a third gold to his trophy case Saturday, busting his own 5A state meet record by three seconds with a mark of 15 minutes, 12 seconds at the state cross country championships at the Norris Penrose Events Center.
With his third state title, Sprout added his name among the Colorado high school cross country all-time greats.
"It's incredibly humbling," Sprout said. "There have been an incredible amount of athletes that had come before me, and to be mentioned with those guys, it's pretty awesome."
Sprout went nearly coast-to-coast as the leader, getting a quick kick out of the chute and never looking back.
"Mainly, I was going for the win," Sprout said. "I had that thought in the back of my head to go fast, as well. But I just went steady in that first mile, and then opened up a bit once I got on those hills (at mile two)."
Currently the second-ranked cross country runner in the nation behind Leo Daschbach of Highland, Ariz., Sprout wasn't gunning for that top spot on perhaps the most grueling course in the nation. Instead, he just looked to outwork his competition and maintain his mantle as the best runner in the state.
"It I could run for that number-one (national ranking) today, that would've been pretty fantastic," Sprout said. "But I wasn't really looking at a national ranking for myself today."
Sprout, who actually competed at the 4A level as a sophomore, set a 4A state course standard of 15:42 when he won his first state crown in 2017. Saturday, Sprout's 2017 4A record was taken by Niwot's Cruz Culpepper.
The defending 4A state champ, Culpepper bested Sprout's 4A mark by six seconds in winning his second consecutive state title.
"I felt good today," Culpepper said. "I'm fit and (beating Sprout's mark) wasn't super unexpected, but he's an amazing runner and I'm hoping I get that chance to get him a couple times during track season this year."
Culpepper was the standard bearer for the Cougars, which won its first ever team cross country title, as well. The Niwot title was part of a clean 4A sweep in which it claimed both the boys and girls team titles as well as the individual title.
"It's great," Culpepper said. "We've had very poor team finishes every year of high school, so it's very cool for us to come through and finally do this."
In the 5A team race, Dakota Ridge claimed the team title for the second straight year, its fourth team cross country state title in school history. The Eagles claimed that top spot on the strength of three top-ten finishes from Connor Ohlson (2nd), Jacob White (5th) and Ben Morrin (6th).
Class 2A: Another title for another Roberts runner
Isaac Roberts finally got himself a place at the grown-up's table.
The Lyons High School senior grew up in a house full of champions. His brother, Andrew, won a 2A state title at Lyons in 2007, while his other brother, Paul, was a four-time state champ from 2012-15.
Now, Isaac can join the Roberts championship circle, winning the 2A state crown with a mark of 16:19, nearly 10 seconds over second-place finisher Noel Lopez of Rocky Ford.
"(Andrew and Paul) set the bar high and they definitely inspired me," Isaac said. "It pumped me up to see (Paul) win all four years, and it motivated me to win."
The Roberts boys were all home-schooled, their parents Mark and Kim serving as their "P.E. teachers," Isaac said, essentially grooming champions.
"I think with us, we just started running from an early age," Isaac said, "and it kind of gave us a discipline to where when we get to high school, it's fun to be competitive."
Roberts headlined a Lyons team championship performance, as well - its second straight, with three top-ten individual finishes (Simon Stone in 5th place, Jordan Shackleford in 8th place).
Class 3A: Another title for Mason Norman
The Classical Academy's Mason Norman not only established himself as the top 3A runner for the third consecutive season, but he did so in more than convincing fashion.
In a remarkable show of dominance in a state meet, Norman crossed the finish line at 15:50, nearly 40 seconds faster than second-place finisher Owen Nolan of SkyView Academy.
Norman said he was focused internally rather than externally.
"I definitely wanted to try to make a gap for myself," Norman said, "so I could focus on running a race at my own pace. I didn't want to have anybody else's pace affect what I was doing."
In the team race, Norman's Classical Academy fell just short of a state title, Frontier Academy claiming its first team crown since 2013 thanks to its remarkable depth. Despite its top finisher, junior Sylas Chambers, coming in 7th place, its four top-20 finishers helped carry the load.