From Russia, with the ability to shake up state for cross-country Sailors | SteamboatToday.com

From Russia, with the ability to shake up state for cross-country Sailors

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — No offense to Iowa, but in the real world of sports, talented athletes don't materialize out of the corn to fulfill dreams. Indeed, Dasha Kuznetsova didn't come from the corn.

She came from Russia, but her decision this fall to join the Steamboat Springs High School girls cross country team could help realize some dreams this weekend at the state cross country meet in Colorado Springs.

A year ago a resurgent Sailors' girls team headed off for state eager to prove itself, and it came away thrilled with a fourth-place finish.

This year, the team is hoping to score a spot on the podium and is even quietly wondering if the numbers could line up for the school's first cross country state championship since 1991.

What's different this year compared to last?

"Um, Dasha, for one thing," Steamboat junior Winter Boese said.

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Kuznetsova is a senior at Steamboat Mountain School, which sends its high school athletes to compete at Steamboat Springs High School.

She's from the city of Pervouralsk, Russia, located deep in the Ural Mountains in the central part of the country, and she came to the United States to focus on Nordic skiing with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

She hopes to make a collegiate team next year, and hopes soon enough to be competing on the Russian national team.

For now, however, she's decided to take up running on the suggestion of her Steamboat Nordic skiing coach, Josh Smullin, and to the great delight of her new Steamboat cross country teammates.

She's proven a natural fit on an ambitious but light-hearted Sailors' squad.

"Her personality fits in with us so great, and she's such a great person to have around," Boese said. "We've got such a cool squad of girls and she is awesome and fits in really well."

It's nice that personalities mesh, but Kuznetsova's athletic abilities are a very nice addition, as well, and her inclusion on the team changes the math for the Sailors at state.

She's regularly clocked in as the third best runner on the girls team this fall, right with a tight duo that leads the squad competitively, Boese and sophomore Maggi Congdon.

The three swept the podium at last week's regional championship, Congdon in front, Boese second and Kuznetsova third.

Based purely on season-best times, all three should factor into the top 12 finishers at state. Based on more than that — season-best times only mean so much in Colorado when all 5-kilometer races definitely are not made equal — they could all strike for top-5 finishes.

"Last year, we had expectations and knew we could do well, but it was more, 'We made it here and let's have fun,'" Congdon said. "This year we have the possibility of winning as a team and we're all thinking about our strategies more and what we can do to get there."

A cross country team score is created by adding up the top five finishers from each team, so a group of five that swept the state meet would have a score of 15.

Based strictly on the pre-meet math, Kuznetsova's spot on the team could be worth much as 75 points, based on where Steamboat's sixth-best racer would be likely to finish.

Still, she and the team's other regular top racers only have so many points to cut. Shave 30 seconds and perhaps they move up three or four spots.

The team's fourth and fifth runners this season, senior Sadie Cotton and junior Isabelle Boniface, could make a much larger difference by cutting that 30 seconds.

"This is our last meet. Whatever I can throw down, I'm going to," Boniface said.

Based on those season-best times, they're projected to finish 48th and 65th respectively, and that math has Steamboat third overall with 136.5 points, behind defending state champion Peak to Peak Charter School, first with 94.5, and Holy Family High School, second at 110.

A 30-second improvement from both Cotton and Boniface — again, using the decidedly unscientific "season-best" marks and ignoring the fact that other runners could also cut time — would save 43 points.

"That's motivation for me," Cotton said. "I’m really excited for state."

Soroco aims for state titles

The Steamboat girls are just one of the teams headed to Colorado Springs this weekend looking for big results.

Soroco’s Chloe Veilleux cruises to the 2016 Class 2A state championship last October. She hopes to make it two in a row on Saturday.

Soroco will be in the hunt for top finishes, as well, and senior Ben Kelley and junior Chloe Veilleux could be in position to deliver them.

Veilleux in Colorado Springs returns to the site of perhaps her greatest athletic triumph. She won the Class 2A state championship there last year, surging late in the race to make up lost ground and eventually entering the final stretch all alone at the front.

She's run faster this year than she did in that race last year, but her competition's improved, as well. Veilleux is sitting fourth with Telluride's Soleil Gaylord at the top.

She was there last year, too, when Veilleux ran to victory, but this year enters with a season-best time more than a minute faster than Veilleux's.

Soroco senior Ben Kelley runs well in front of the pack earlier this season during a cross country race in Craig. Kelley will be racing for a state title in Class 2A on Saturday.

The script is flipped for Kelley. He was fourth a year ago, and disappointed at that. Saturday, he's the favorite to win the championship. He missed the early part of the schedule as he rehabbed from an injury, and he's kept his competitive schedule light since. When he has raced, however, he's dominated, not just in the races he's won, but in comparison to the rest of Class 2A. He'll enter Saturday's championship event with the fastest time by 14 seconds.

Soroco's girls, too, could shake things up. This is the first season they've qualified as a team. Charlee Veilleux, Kourtney Bruner and Mattie Rossi have all been falling in the top half of the pack and with a good race could help the team garner a top-five overall finish.

Steamboat's boys will also have a racer. Sumner Cotton, a freshman, qualified for state in his first season on the team. His times this year don't indicate he'll be a factor at the top of the race, but he's plenty happy to make the trip and gain the experience.

"Just qualifying was my goal for the season," he said. "Going as a freshman is great because I know I have three more years to work on getting higher up."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.

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