[ by Than Acuff ]
While at first it appeared the number of Crested Butte Titans able to race at regionals was going to be limited to just two or three due to COVID restrictions, the state high school governing board decided to open regional races up to more teams and both the Crested Butte boys and girls teams made the cut for the regional race in Delta on Friday, October 9.
As a result, the Titans had five girls and five boys line up for the regional race with Ruby Pendy shocking everyone to take the girls’ regional title while Connor Williams ran away with the boys’ regional title.
It’s been a crazy season and the Titans had just two full-fledged meets all season prior to the regional race. Still, given the uncertainty of it all, coach Laura Puckett Daniels felt the runners were as prepared as they possibly could be, given all of the extenuating circumstances.
“We went into regionals hopeful and felt they were all ready,” says Daniels. “Delta is a fast course and we typically see good times there.”
The day started off with the girls’ race and Pendy was the leading candidate for the Titans to make the cut for the state meet. She came into Delta ranked 12th in the region with the coaches looking for her to push into one of the five at-large spots as an individual. Pendy did that and more, much to the surprise of coaches, teammates, opponents and Pendy herself.
The coaches laid out the race plan for Pendy but as she started running, she adjusted the plan herself on the fly.
“We told Ruby to go out and battle and stay with the front pack for the first mile,” explains Daniels. “Then, if she was feeling good, to push the pace.”
Pendy decided 800 meters into the race that she was feeling good and decided to push the pace then. By the first mile she had a 10-second lead on her closest competitor. By the end of the second mile she had built her lead to 17 seconds. Pendy continued to press all the way to the finish line to set a new personal record time of 20:31, a full two minutes faster than her previous best time.
“She just kept hammering a faster pace,” says Daniels. “I’ve never seen such a surprising race. I think she pushed herself further than she had before and it was great to see her be aggressive and race hard.”
Sophia Komarek made the most of her race as well to post a personal record time two minutes faster than ever before, proving there’s more left for her since she is just a freshman.
“She hasn’t really figured out her capacity yet and had a strong and consistent season,” says Daniels.
Captain Myles Cress missed a month of the season due to a concussion but recovered for regionals and posted a season-best time, while Grace and Ella Haverkampf overcame some mid-race issues to finish as well.
On the boys’ side of things, Williams was the overwhelming favorite to win the regional title and did so easily, with his closest competitor coming in 59 seconds later.
“He’s in a league of his own in our region,” says Daniels. “It was great to have both a girls and a boys champion.”
The remaining four runners, Porter Washburn, Logan Utz, Yvon Michel and Cormac Billick, have been doing this cross-country gig as teammates for the past several years and Daniels was excited to see them all on the start line one last time.
“It was cool to have Yvon, Porter, Cormac and Logan all healthy and able to run,” says Daniels.
While Williams’ state bid was a guarantee, Washburn’s was uncertain. He qualified for the state meet last year under “normal” qualification processes but the process this season is different—not unattainable, just different. After team qualifications, the next top individual five runners not on a qualifying team will also make the cut.
While Washburn had a strong race finishing 10 seconds within his career personal record time, he missed the cut for the state meet. It turned out that the five individuals not on a team that made the cut all finished in the top six overall. Suffice it to say, the odds were stacked against Washburn.
“He ran really strong but he would have had to run the race of his life,” says Daniels. “He just got caught in the COVID crosshairs.”
Billick followed suit, running within 10 seconds of his personal record, while captains Michel and Utz each gritted their way to season-best times.
“It’s been really fun to watch those guys grow as runners and leaders,” says Daniels
Now it’s on to the big show Saturday, October 17 in Colorado Springs for Pendy and Williams. This week is all about health and rest as the two prepare for the state championships. Williams is in the hunt for the state title with the top three boys all within three seconds of each other based off their times from the season.
“It’s going to be fun,” says Daniels.
With Pendy’s latest effort, Daniels is looking for her to make some waves at the state meet in just her first trip there.
“For her to try for top 20 is realistic and would be a huge accomplishment,” says Daniels.
You can watch a live stream of the state championships at nfhsnetwork.com.