Air Academy cross country freshman Bethany Michalak stunned herself with Friday's finish

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

COLORADO SPRINGS — Bethany Michalak took a quick glance at her watch as she neared the finish line at the Norris Penrose Event Center.

Yet, the announcement of her time still came as shock. At 17 minutes, 27.5 seconds, she had blitzed the field on the first day of the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede cross country meet.

She crossed the line with her hand over mouth, trying to process what had just happened.

“I was not expecting that at all,” she said. “I’ve run a 17:36 on a flat course so my goal today was to be at 18:30 or lower.”

She erred on the side of lower. Not since the days of Katie Rainsberger has an Air Academy runner been so dominant at Norris Penrose.

Her general running strategy has even benefitted her at the same venue where she’s hoping to capture state gold. She’s familiar with the course, having seen it several times before stepping in the door of Air Academy High School. All it took was putting plan to action and it turned out better than she could have hoped for.

“I like to go really fast to create some distance and get my speed going,” she said. “Ive trained on this course a lot, so that second mile area I know really well. I just give it my all.”

The Stampede serves as the pre-state meet and although it’s typically held earlier in the season, it will be a vital glimpse of the State course ahead of October’s championship run.

Friday’s races featured the top Colorado Springs Class 4A boys and girls runners. They went a day ahead so that the meet could comply with COVID-19 mandates and still have a full meet on Saturday.

Cheyenne Mountain’s Erik Le Roux won the boys race, crossing the finish line in 15:48, 41 seconds faster than Palmer Ridge Colby Schultz.

But the star of the day was Michalak who is quickly emerging as one of the top freshmen not just in Colorado, but the entire country.

Her win at Norris Penrose gave her plenty of confidence not just in her ability to run the course at a winning speed, but also maintain a pace that keeps other competitors at a comfortable distance behind her.

She’s looking forward to running the trail again next month.

“I would love to hit that time, if not faster, at state,” she said. “I was not expecting that at all today so I’m just hoping I can be right there.”

The Cheyenne Mountain Stampede continues on Saturday as teams across the state will get their preview of how the course will be laid out in October. Saturday’s slate will kick off at 9:45 a.m. with the 4A boys run.

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)