Soroco’s Ben Kelley a cross country champ at last |

Soroco’s Ben Kelley a cross country champ at last

COLORADO SPRINGS — Soroco High School senior Ben Kelley said he didn't even know what cross country was when he was a freshman, which seems hard to believe given that he was already so good at it.

He helped found the Soroco cross country team that year, then placed in the top 30 at the Class 2A state championship that year.

"Well, I knew it had to do with running," he said. "I didn't know what all would go into it."

Even if he didn't know what he was getting himself into, the traits were already there for a special runner, the attention to detail, the work ethic, the confidence.

Kelley was absolutely sure what he was setting out to do Saturday in his final spin at the state cross country championships, and four years of work paid off as he sprinted into the finish arena at the Norris-Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs.

He refused to turn his head as he ran toward the finish line — "you'll lose your stride," he said — so he ran as hard as he could, even though he was alone.

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It wasn't until he was across that line that he allowed himself to think about what it meant.

After four years of focused work, after building an almost scientific approach to his running and after disappointing results at state the last two seasons, Kelley won a state championship.

"I'm really glad to be able to cap off my senior year with a championship, something I've been looking for for awhile now," he said. "Every year I've come here with the aspiration of winning and I haven't had it yet. It's been quite an ordeal getting here, so it feels really good to finally get that."

Kelley finished in 16 minutes, 6 seconds to win the race. Isaac Roberts of Lyons was second in 16:14.6 and Jaden Evans from Telluride third in 16:35.8.

Soroco claimed its second individual state cross country championship in as many years with Kelley's performance. Chloe Veilleux, a junior, finished sixth in the Class 2A girls race. The Rams' girls team also placed sixth overall.

Kelley entered Saturday's race the favorite based on times this season. He didn't wilt under that pressure and midway through the race was at the front, just one runner, Roberts of Lyons, left hanging on his hip, 

There was no special move, no strategic surge. Kelley just pressed on, pushing his body as fast as it could go on the final mile. Roberts finally slipped away with about 400 yards remaining, though Kelley didn't dare look back to check.

He worked up a small rise and into a dusty stadium at the foot of the mountains. The public address announcer boomed. The crowd roared. He ran.

"It was hard the whole last mile," he said. "You don't know where anyone's at and you don't want to look behind you. You'll lose your stride, so you just have to go."

Kelley was fourth at state a year ago, and he was bitterly disappointed with that result. He dove into studying his diet. This summer, he slowly recovered from a foot injury.

No matter the hurdle he's come across, he's confronted it with careful study and preparation.

"He's the hardest working kid I've ever met in my life," Soroco coach Callie Bradley said. You don't so much coach Ben Kelley, she said. You coach with Ben Kelley.

"It challenges me, thats for sure," she said with a laugh. "He always does his research. He reads all the running magazines and knows who all the elite athletes are, what they do, what they eat, how they treat injuries and what their strength training regimen is. I've never seen a high school athlete to do what he does, not just training wise, but mentally."

His skills have set him apart elsewhere. He won all three events he entered last May at the state championship track and field meet, and won one as a sophomore.

Still, none of that meant as much as Saturday did.

Maybe he didn't know what cross country was four years ago when he came into the sport a wide-eyed freshman who knew little more than that he liked to run, and that he was good at it.

He grew to love it, however, and Saturday, when he conquered it, nothing seemed better.

"I knew I wanted to do cross country and I knew it was a running sport. It was an experiment," he said. "I'm really glad I did it."

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

Class 2A cross country state championship results

1. Ben Kelley, Soroco, 16:06.5

2. Isaac Roberts, Lyons, 16:14.6

3. Jaden Evans, Telluride, 16:35.8