Despite loss, freshman runners spark high hopes for next season

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— There were no state titles for the members of the Steamboat Springs cross-country teams Saturday afternoon, but the performance of two freshmen had head coach John Smith smiling and already thinking about next season.

"Our boys team finished 21st and we didn't even have a full team," Smith said following the event on the campus of Kent Denver High School in Cherry Hills. "Our runners did great and the best part is that most of them will be back next year."

In fact, Steamboat's boys and girls teams were led by freshmen Saturday. The boys raced to a 21st-place finish despite having just five total runners. The girls came in No. 15 as a team.

"It was just great to make it to state," Sailor freshman Jennifer Hooper said after the race. Hooper finished the 5-kilometer course in 21 minutes, 42 seconds, tops among the Steamboat girls. She placed 49th among the state's top runners.

She was followed by Tara Wernig in 57th (21:53), Lauren Lightfoot in 67th (22:10), Tess Hottenroth in 108th (23:04), Laura Philips in 109th (23:05) and Emily Hines in 145th (24:38).

After the race, Hooper said she was happy with her finish but said there is always room for improvement.

"I think I could have gone a little faster, but I got a sideache about halfway through the course," Hooper said. "After that, I couldn't go as fast."

Hooper admitted she was a little nervous at the start of the race but feels as if she shook off the jitters early.

"I always seem to lose my focus in the middle of the race," Hooper said. "That's something I will have to work on before next year."

Steamboat freshman Mike Gleason is also looking forward to next year and another shot at the state cross-country meet.

He led the Steamboat boys team in Saturday's race, finishing the course in 18:42, good enough for 85th place.

He was followed by sophomores David Manthei, who was 89th at 18:46, and Tyler O'Leary, who was 91st with a time of 18:47. Senior Nathan Proper placed 99th with a time of 19 minutes flat and junior Eddie Vanbaak was the only Sailor out of the top 100. He finished in the 114th spot with a time of 19:23.

"It was a great day for our boys team," Smith said. "For them to come in here and to this well that was unexpected."

Gleason said he was nervous at the start, but once things got rolling, he had no choice but to keep up with the pack.

"This was the most people I have ever seen at a meet," Gleason said. "It's totally different from anything we've run in on the Western Slope this season."

Gleason felt as if his pace was pretty fast for his first state appearance and wasn't sure what he would change if he had it to do again. "Maybe I would go out a little stronger but I'm just not sure," Gleason said.

The one thing that is for sure is Steamboat's young runners are planning on coming back again next year and making a run at a top-10 finish.

This year, Cheyenne Mountain won the boys' team title by beating out second-place finisher Liberty and third-place finisher Harrison.

The girls' race was won by Lewis-Palmer, who upset the defending state champions from Moffat County in a close race. Cheyenne Mountain came in third.

Top individuals were Jenna Bimbi of Pueblo, who finished with a time of 19:19. The boys' race was won by Brighton's Troy Hernandez with a time of 16:24.

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