Steamboat off to regionals

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Steamboat Springs cross country coach John Smith knew the race for state-qualifying spots at last weekend's regional in Palisade was going to be tight he just didn't now how tight.

"We were really nervous," Sailor runner Laura Philip said. "It was pretty nerve racking."

But Philip wasn't talking about her own chance to make it to the state meet, which will be held at Kent Denver this Saturday. The Sailors girls team secured their position with a solid third-place finish behind regional winners Moffat County and runner-up Mullen.

What Philip found to be so nerve-racking was waiting to see if the boys team would make the cut. When the scores were tallied for the boy's race, Steamboat finished in a tie for fourth with Montrose.

"Yes I was very nervous. I knew that I was going, but I was just hoping that the rest of the team was going too," Steamboat runner Bjorn Arnesson said.

Since only the top-four teams advance to state, the final spot in the region came down to the team's sixth runner.

"I was a little surprised (that the boys qualified for state)," Smith said. "The only thing that made it possible was outstanding individual efforts from Marty Smith, Tyler O'Leary and Eddie Van Baak. Without those guys we would not have made it as a team."

In the end it was the Sailors' only senior, Van Baak, who made the difference.

Arnesson led the Sailors bid for a state appearance in 12th at 17:47.

His result combined with Sam Tarrant in 20th (18:14), Mike Gleason in 21st (18:19), and O'Leary in 25th (18:25) and Marty Smith in 27th (18:30) put the Sailors in a position to advance.

But it was the Sailor's sixth runner that made the difference.

Van Baak's time of 18:45 put him in 34th place in the field of runnersseveral spots better than Montrose's sixth man.

"I didn't know we were tied until after the race," Van Baak said.

"We looked at the boards and it was definitely exciting."

The girls race wasn't as heartstopping, but the end result is just as thrilling for the seven members of the team.

Steamboat's Jennifer Hooper placed seventh in Palisade to lead the team with a time of 21 minutes flat. Philip followed closely in eighth place at 21:01, Tara Wernig was 12th at 21:10, Lauren Lightfoot in 16th at 21:20 and Lisl Pearson came in 21st at 22 minutes.

Smith felt the key to the girls success was that they ran together as a team. All of the top Steamboat runners finished within a minute of one another. "We were not that far behind the top teams at regional," Philip said. "I think we are all excited about our chances at state. Knowing that we can run with two of the best teams at state gives a lot of confidence."

The teams will travel to Denver this Saturday to run on the campus of Kent Denver. The girls will hit the 5-kilometer course at 10:30 a.m. and the boys will follow at noon.

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