Steamboat Springs Running over obstacles dubbed sadistic hill and the just because hill, the Sailors cross country team opened their season at Howelsen Hill on one of the state's toughest courses.
The Sailors labored through Sufferfest, the name of Steamboat's only home tournament, to finish third for both the girls and boys teams. Chatfield, a 5A school out of Littleton, took first in both competitions with a score of 31 for the girls and an almost perfect score of 16 for the boys.
"A third place, for the quality of competition that was here, it's a great feat especially this early in the season," Sailors head coach John Smith said.
"It's the hardest course in the state of Colorado," Smith continued. "It's hilly and ruddy. The site is not a place to go for time. You race hard to beat the person in front of you."
On the girls' side, 3A Aspen finished second, and for the boys, 5A Grand Junction Central beat out Steamboat for second.
Freshman Jennifer Hooper led the Sailors with a first-place finish in the first meet of her high school career. Hooper outpaced Chatfield's Jena Summers to finish the race in 23:48. Summers finished with a time of 23.56.
"It was really hard to keep going up the hills," Hooper said. "I'd recover on the bottoms. I felt like I was going to throw up or something, but I kept going."
Hooper and teammate Tara Wernig, who is a sophomore, trailed five girls from Chatfield and Aspen for the first half-mile.
But, Hooper said once they reached the top of the first hill they kicked it in on the down side to take the lead by the 1.5-mile mark.
Hooper stayed in the lead for the rest of the race, while Wernig was passed by Chatfield's Summers and Audrey Nelson and Aspen's Jenny Hamilton.
Coming into the last half-mile, Wernig was close behind Hamilton and blew by her in the final stretch to finish fourth with a time of 24:02.
"I was ahead at the beginning, but then (Hamilton) caught me in the middle," Wernig said. "I guess I was just determined to beat her."
Wernig said the team's first tournament, which had runners racing the slopes of Howelsen Hill, was the hardest course of the season.
"It's the most difficult race we ever run. There are way more hills, it can be very deceiving," Wernig said. "You don't know what to expect. When you catch your breath at the bottom, there's another hill."
Senior Captain Emily Hines had the team's third best time as she beat out several Chatfield and Aspen runners in the last 800 yards to take a 24th-place finish with a time of 27:50.
"She helped out the team tremendously," Smith said.
The girls' top five was finished out by Lisl Pearson with a 25th-place finish and a time of 28:53, and Madison Proper taking a 27th-place finish at 29:42.
The boys stuck together in a pack to grab their third-place win. Sophomore David Manthei lead the boys with a 12th finish and a time of 21:01.
Manthei was closely followed by teammates Mike Gleason finishing 13th (21:26), Hennie Kashawa placing 14th (21:29), Eddie VanBaak at 16th (21:53) and Daniel Ward taking 19th (21:50).
With the top five boys finishing within a minute of each other, Manthei said the team was able to successfully stay together.
"From practice it was something we were trying to do," Manthei said. "It scares the other teams. And, we pull each other along, support each other."
Chatfield men dominated the tournament taking five of the top six finishes. Nick Pickford led his team with a time of 19:25.
Snowed out of last weekend's tournament at Lake County in Leadville, the Sailors were not expecting to start off the season on their home turf.
"It's starting off with a bang," VanBaak said.
The Sailors have been practicing on Howelsen Hill with drills and running the course.
"The other teams from Denver, or wherever they came from, they weren't expecting this. And we killed them on the hills," Manthei said.
Steamboat's next meet is Saturday against Middle Park at Snow Mountain Ranch.