Sailors' cross country experiences unexpected success

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Steamboat Springs High School cross country runner Alyssa Walter, left, leads a group of cross country runners down a trail near the middle school during a team practice Thursday afternoon.

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Steamboat Springs High School cross-country runner Charlie Stoddard makes his way down a trail near the middle school during practice in Steamboat Springs on Thursday afternoon.

Results

Girls team results

1. Fruita Monument: 31

2. Durango: 43

3. Middle Park: 51

4. Basalt: 75

5. Aspen: 91

6. Glenwood Springs, 167

(Steamboat Springs did not score as a team)

Boys team results

1. Durango: 31

2. Fruita Monument: 34

3. Basalt: 63

4. Steamboat Springs: 79

5. Glenwood Springs: 84

6. Aspen: 187

— Cam Niswander wasn't really expecting much out of the Steamboat Springs boys cross-country team heading into this season.

"Once we lost (Class of 2007 graduates Matt Hill and Lee Wren), I thought we would go downhill," said Niswander, a senior and one of four runners returning from the squad that qualified for the 2006 Class 4A State Cross Country Championships.

Instead, Niswander has only one thing to say about how he sees the team now.

"I'm impressed," Niswander said, crediting much to the intensity of the workouts from the program's new coach, Matt Reinhold. "Everyone's gotten so many faster times. (21 minutes, 30 seconds) was my fastest time last year, now my fastest is just over 20 minutes."

With the hard base miles in place, Reinhold has been focusing on speed work as the Sailors reach the crux of their season, now having only one more meet Saturday in Wiggins before the all-important Oct. 20 regional meet in Delta to determine state qualification.

But first, Steamboat had to prepare this week for a large invitational Saturday in Aspen. Reinhold had the team pushing for personal bests at "race pace" in two, one-mile laps at Thursday's final practice before heading to Aspen on Friday.

"We're cutting down the mileage, but it's still high compared to the other teams in the region," said Reinhold.

And keeping an eye on the region is important. At the Sept. 29 meet in Summit, Steamboat tied for third place of the 17 boys teams competing - ahead of both Moffat County and Summit. But only because Steamboat's fifth scoring runner, Niswander, finished ahead of Moffat's final scoring runner. So did Steamboat's sixth and seventh runners, Wiley Thayer and Garret Ehrick. In fact, the back end of Steamboat runners all finished together, a mere nine seconds apart as they took 41st, 42nd, 43rd and 46th. Charlie Stoddard led the Sailors, finishing 15th and followed by Sam Chovan and Jack Burger, who both finished in the top 30 of the field of 93 competitors.

"The pack's really getting up there," Stoddard said.

Add Jackson Wren and John Cutter to the list, two Sailors who ran in the junior varsity meet but posted the teams' second- and fourth-fastest overall times, and you have a deep mix of talent that Reinhold said will be a "dog fight to get in the top seven" runners that will compete at regionals.

"We're all gunning for it," Niswander said of the pack.

As far as the girls team goes, Reinhold said that filling the requisite number to score as a team has been a struggle. At Summit, Steamboat only had three female runners compete. Still, Reinhold said Jaime Winter has improved every race and that Alyssa Walter, Jorid Halsnes and Cameron Osteen have been working hard to improve times and bounce back from injuries. Brittany Long leads the girls team, coming off a 19th-place finish at Summit and a third-place finish at Moffat that "showed the region she's not messing around," Reinhold said.

"We have five girls, and that's all we need," the coach added.

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