Englewood At the start of the school year, freshman Tara Wernig was looking for another sport to fill her time.
When she picked cross-country at the start of the season, she didn't expect to be competing for the state championship in October. But last Saturday, she followed teammate Rachel Starr across the finish line of the 3.1 mile state cross-country course in 59th place (second among Steamboat runners) with a time of 21 minutes, 45 seconds.
Wernig is just one of several upcoming runners that have coaches excited about the team's future.
Laura Philip tied for the 100th spot, along with sister Jessica, a senior, with a time of 22:31. Other young runners such as Emily Hines (143rd at 24:13) and Lindsay Stanford (155th at 25:33) also posted top finishes. Senior runner Bryn Weaver finished 156th with a time 25:46.
The team's only seniors are Starr, Jessica Philip and Weaver. Other seniors such as Nissa Carlson and Jenny Castner didn't run at the state meet. Starr recorded the top finish in 15th with a time of 20:26. Starr said she thought about this being her last cross-country race as she trudged along the scenic course that was set along rolling hills, lakes and pastures on the Kent Denver campus.
"Sure we are going to miss her next year," Wernig said of Starr. "She was a great teammate and runner. But we have a lot of young runners on this team who will be coming up and are ready to take over."
Youth is one of the Sailors' biggest strengths, Sailors head coach John Smith said. He was happy to see a lot of new runners come out for the team this season, and he thinks the future of the team is very sound. Smith has spent the past several years trying to build this type of following on the team.
"It is fun to set goals and then reach them," Wernig said of the cross-country team. "I really like to race and it's fun to see how much I can improve each week."
Smith is hoping this year's state championships will spark his runners and give them the drive they need to return to Kent Denver next year.
Steamboat's boys team is also very young with veteran leaders such as Daniel Ward and Cody Firestone expected to lead that group into the future.
At this year's state meet, senior Matt Hayne was the top Steamboat runner in 69th at 18:42. The only other senior running at state was Kyle Jespherson, who placed 96th with a time of 19:19.
However, young runners such as Ward, who was 73rd at 18:48, and Tyler O'Leary, who was 91st with a time of 19:05, also showed well. Other top finishes came from Eddie Van Baak in 95th at 19:13 and Ben MacCarthy in 135th at 20:56.
Wernig said she thinks the young core of the Sailors will get only stronger next year, and she is already thinking about a return trip to state.
"It was scary," Wernig said. "But I want to get back.