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Titans cross country finishes strong at State meet

Girls team takes fifth place

by Than Acuff

Seniors Maria O’Neal and Sydney Petersen closed out their high school cross country careers in fine form, finishing in fifth and seventh place, respectively, to lead the Crested Butte Titans girls team to a fifth-place finish at the 2A State meet in Colorado Springs on Saturday, October 28. Senior Vincent Michel was the lone Titan from the boys team and he carried himself to a 40th-place finish in his last race as a Titan.

With the work and miles already in the tank, coaches Laura Daniels and Shari Sullivan-Marshall used the week leading up to the race to keep their runners healthy, focused and vetting out individual race plans.

“You want to keep everyone sharp, less running but still run every day,” explains Daniels. “We definitely talked to everyone about individualized strategies. Five kilometers is a long race and we talked about cues for each athlete they can use to stay engaged the entire race—keep their head in the game and keep pushing the pedal to the floor.”

The coaches also leaned on Petersen and O’Neal to share their experience during the week. While Michel made it to state two years ago as part of the boys team, it was Petersen’s third year in a row to make the trip to States and O’Neal’s second and they readily adopted their roles during workouts.

“For most everyone else, this was new and Sydney and Maria did a great job taking on the leadership role,” says Daniels.

As race day approached, Daniels and Sullivan-Marshall had one final piece of advice for their runners to make sure they understood what the state meet was really about.

“We told them that State is less about time and place and that we’re already proud of them for getting there,” says Daniels. “Just try their best, give it their all and feel good about it at the end.”

For the most part, each Titan followed suit, led by O’Neal. O’Neal had a rough experience last year as the heat and her effort eventually took its toll as she collapsed from exhaustion close to the finish line, only to pick herself back up and cross in 17th place before being rushed to the medical tent.

This year, O’Neal put it all together for all five kilometers, posting a time of 19:46 to finish in fifth place.

“Maria had an amazing race,” says Daniels. “For her I think it was a little about redemption and coming back from last year.”

Petersen finished her high school career with a seventh-place result at the state championships and her second top-10 result in a row.

“Overall, I think she ran really well but she was disappointed she didn’t place as high as she wanted to,” says Daniels. “If it’s not going as well as expected during the race you can psyche yourself out, but she stayed with it and did everything right and really had to push herself to stay in there.”

Freshman Myles Cress took the pressure and nerves of her first State experience and channeled that into her race, setting a new personal record time.

“What more you could really ask for at State?” says Daniels.

Senior Sierra D’Aquila was the next Titan runner to cross the finish line closing out her seven years of running cross country from middle school through high school and junior Emilie Elkins battled a fever to finish the race.

Michel maintained his season-long approach to races at the State championships. Daniels points out that when they were pre-running the course the day before, Michel appeared less focused than hoped for.

“I asked him if he was paying attention to the course, where the hills are and what he wants to do in certain spots and he just said, ‘Aren’t we just going running?’” explains Daniels. “I realized that’s what worked for him all season, so I just stopped talking.”

Ultimately, Michel continued to do what he had done all season on race day as well, putting in his best effort on that day to place 40th with a time of 18:27.

“He was positive, proud and happy with his performance,” says Daniels. “He ran really strong and it was a fast time for him.”

The team will lose four seniors to graduation, a significant chunk of a small squad, but the future is looking bright with most of the boys team returning and a crew of runners moving up into high school next year from a very strong middle school program.

“We’re going to miss the four seniors a lot—they were great leaders,” says Daniels.

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