Steamboat Springs Cross-country runners know they must take changes to weather and terrain in stride.
So, when a last-minute course change meant Saturday's Steamboat Cross-Country Invitational would move from Howelsen Hill's rolling singletrack Bluffs Loop to the steep gravel climb of "Robbie's Cut," Steamboat Springs coach Matt Reinhold wasn't too worried.
"It's cross country; you gotta be ready for anything," Reinhold said.
The result was a 3.1-mile course of what Reinhold called three "perfect-mile" laps up from the base of Howelsen and back down to the finish at the foot of the all-weather K-68 ski jump.
"We really got to see what people are made of," Reinhold said of the course, which more than one runner from the five participating schools - Steamboat, Summit, Glenwood, Middle Park and Regis girls - described as "brutal."
What Reinhold witnessed was a boys team capable of sticking together and "uniting as one" to win a meet.
Steamboat finished three runners - Charlie Stoddard, Sam Chovan and Buddy Kinder - in the top 10 for a winning score of 44, just six points ahead of Summit. Glenwood and Middle Park finished third and fourth, respectively, but did not finish enough runners to card a team score.
Stoddard was leading Summit's Chris Rice going into the final lap, but Rice and teammate Tyler Reinking made the pass on the uphill section and maintained leads on the screaming downhill to the finish. Rice finished in 19 minutes, 21 seconds, Reinking finished in 19:28 and Stoddard took third in 19:38, leading all Steamboat runners.
"What your team did today was amazing," Reinhold told Stoddard at the finish. "If you don't have the speed yet, that's good, because we haven't even done any of that yet."
Cam Niswander and Wiley Thayer, finished in 13th and 14th, respectively, to score for Steamboat.
The individual finishes did not impress Reinhold as much as a simple gesture from Chovan on the first mile.
"Charlie was picking up, so Sam ran up to him to tap him on the shoulder - it let him know he was right there and that they're working hard together."
Summit coach Darren Brungardt also took notice.
"They have a good pack mentality, and I look forward to seeing Steamboat again," Brungardt said.
The Summit girls team hung together as well, finishing all five of its scoring runners in the top 10 of a large girls field.
"When you'd get to the top of the hill, you'd say, 'There's no way I can do three laps,' but then you'd come down to the flats and say, 'OK, I can do that again,'" said Summit's Briana Perkins, who led all girls runners with a first-place time of 20:34.
Summit's girls won the meet with the low score of 25 points, Glenwood followed in second (45), Regis took third (81), Middle Park took fourth (88) and Steamboat took fifth (128).
Brittany Long and Alyssa Walter led Steamboat as both finished in the top 25 (18th and 21st, respectively).
Katherine Lynch, Jamie Winter and Cameron Osteen also scored for the Sailors.
With only five girls on their team, Walter and Long both mentioned their efforts to band together under the motto "five-alive."
"We were trying to talk and encourage everyone to be in the pack," said Long, who was pleased to see her times improve from last season and felt encouraged to kick off a season that builds fast toward the Oct. 20 regional meet.
Steamboat cross country next runs Sept. 22 at Moffat County.
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