COLORADO SPRINGS — Saturday, as Basalt High School junior Sierra Bower looked into the stands of the Norris Penrose Events Center following her Class 3A state cross country championship, she couldn't wipe the smile off of her face.
She had plenty to he happy about, even beyond the fact that she was a brand spanking new state champion, the first state cross country champ in Basalt High School history.
She crossed the finish line at an unbelievable pace, besting the 3A state course record by an amazing 20 seconds at nearly 18 minutes flat, even claiming the fastest girls time at Saturday's state meet regardless of classification.
"I'm just so shocked," Bower said. "My freshman and sophomore year, I wasn't even in the top 20, so I just feel thankful to be out here with my team and I'm so excited."
That's right, Bower wasn't even in the top 20 last season.
She finished 24th overall in the 2018 state championships with a mark of 20:12, nearly two minutes off the state title pace.
Then in a remarkable jump, Bower cut more than two minutes from that state mark in one season. In fact, she was two-tenths of a second away from an exclusive club, as her 18:00.1 mark was tantalizingly close to the sub-18-minute club, which had only been accomplished by seven runners in the history of the state meet.
She felt every bit of that yearlong whirlwind throughout the race Saturday, as everybody along the track knew what was happening.
"I obviously knew what the record was and had my sights set on it," Bower said, "but it definitely was not my main concern coming into the race. I heard people yelling 'course record' along the course, and I definitely tried to keep that pace up."
She set that pace immediately, trying take it coast-to-coast as the leader. She took that approach by knowing her own limitations.
"For my race plan, I was just hoping to go crazy right from the get-go," Bower said. "I'm not so strong in the kicking department, so I definitely knew that I had to build my lead from the beginning."
In the team competition, The Classical Academy put together its first back-to-back state crown since rattling off eight straight from 2003-10. The Titans boasted two top-five finishers, Sawyer Wilson (2nd) and Kennedy McDondald (4th).
Class 2A: Lyons' lions good enough for title
Katie Fankhouser was gunning for her second straight state championship Saturday.
The Lyons High School senior certainly had a wide smile on her face after the 2A race concluded, but it wasn't because she ascended to the top of the podium. She looked up at her teammate, sophomore Quin Gregg, at the top of the podium, and it filled her with just as much happiness.
"I could not be prouder of this girl," Fankhouser said of Gregg. "She was amazing."
Gregg's excellence was on display with the way she pushed across the finish line, collapsing as she crossed, cramps and the joy of winning overwhelmed her.
"I was wondering how much I actually had left," Gregg said. "Then I started cramping, wondering if I could even do this."
But she did it, as Gregg, freshman Jamieson Legh, and Fankhouser finished first, third, and fifth, respectively to deliver a second straight 2A team title for Lyons.
Fankhouser said it was a great way to go out.
"This one was really important to me because I actually got to run with (Gregg and Legh)," Fankhouser said. "It's something I've been looking forward to all season."
Class 4A: Niwot gets a clean sweep
Don't get her wrong, Niwot senior Samrawit Dishon was thrilled to cross the finish line as the 4A state champion Saturday, barely outlasting Eagle Valley's Samantha Blair by just over three seconds.
But it was the team title - the second straight state crown for Niwot - that thrilled Dishon the most.
"It feels awesome (to win the individual title)," Dishon said, "but I think the best feeling was seeing my teammates when I turned around, seeing all five of them. It was an incredible feeling."
Niwot placed five on the top 12, Dishon joined by Amelia Philofsky (5th), Madison Shultz (9th), Taylor James (10th) and Joelle McDonald (13th). It was the definite highlight, Dishon said, as Niwot ran as a team the whole way, relying on pack running before Dishon kicked at the end.
"I really like pack running," Dishon said, "because it's so fun to listen to everybody's footsteps and breathing, feeling that emotion next to you. Nobody's speaking, but everyone is one the same page."
Class 5A: Stewart finishes dominant campaign with state title
For most of the season, Cherry Creek's Riley Stewart was the clear-cut top girls cross country runner in 5A.
Saturday, Stewart proved it once and for all with an impressive race, getting a mark of 18:12, 12 seconds faster then her closest competition in Cherokee Trail's Cameron McConnell, to win her first state title and the second ever in Cherry Creek history.
Last season as a freshman, Stewart finished fifth, coming back to best her 2018 state mark by 30 seconds.
"It feels really good because last year, I didn't have my best race here," Stewart said. "It's great to come back and win it. Just an amazing feeling."
With three top-12 finishes, Arapahoe stepped up to win its first ever cross country state title and just its fourth top-five state finish in school history.
Freshmen Ava Escorcia and Ava Mitchell duked it out down the stretch, Escorcia edging her teammate by just 0.3 seconds to highlight the team state title run.