On to state championships this weekend
By Than Acuff
For the first time since 2013, the Crested Butte Titans boys cross-country team won the regional championships. They’ve placed third, and even second recently, but this time they stood on top despite missing one of their top runners to injury for the regional race.
Coach Shari Sullivan-Marshall has been preaching all season that the team is more than just one or two runners. There are really five or six runners that have spent the entire season switching off roles as far as leading the boys’ team at races, and the regional championships in Dolores on Saturday, October 21 was a prime example of that.
About the biggest challenge for the Titans, and really all the runners that day, was the unique course with local livestock creating their own hazards for athletes and a mix of boulder dodging, road stretches and some sections of trail.
“When we got there to preview the course, the first 100 meters was full of cowpies and divots,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “It was a trail race course, not a cross-country championship course.”
The girls started the day off and the plan was simple for the Titan runners.
“Their goal was to put together a race they could be proud of,” says Sullivan-Marshall.
Josie Feier led the way for the girls’ team while Sophia Bender overcame a tough first mile to make her way up through the massive field. Lilla Laird closed out her high school racing career in top form with a stellar effort a week earlier and then a repeat performance at regionals.
“She was the MVP of the race,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “She just ran with such heart. She just kept closing gaps and found it within herself to pass more bodies.”
Ilo Hawley and Eva Loflin were the fourth and fifth runners to cross the finish line for the Titans, battling through the course to finish.
“Ilo and Eva dealt with some demons, but they just kept plugging away,” says Sullivan-Marshall.
Good thing too, because with the top four runners for each team scoring, Crested Butte was tied with Mancos for eighth place. At that point scorers look to the fifth runner for each team to break the tie and Loflin’s effort put the Titans in eighth place ahead of Mancos.
“She could have easily dropped out during the race, but she didn’t, so we finished eighth,” says Sullivan-Marshall.
The boys team then took the start line and while the Titans were missing Giles Billick to injury, their team is deep and the goal was set in place for the runners. The Crested Bute coaches were confident the team would finish top five to qualify for the state race, but they also knew they were capable of more.
“We went in with the goal of passing as many people as possible and try to win this thing,” says Sullivan-Marshall.
All the Titans runners made it through the cowpies and the boulder field, but when the course turned off a road section and onto a trail, things got sticky as Jake Pendy went down with a handful of other runners.
In true Titans fashion, Cody Pleak then stepped into the role of team leader and was in the mix with the top six runners as Pendy recovered and Max Sullivan, Flint Hoyt, Colby Smith and Cole Wimett just “kept passing people.”
Once the pack reached the first mile mark, Pendy had climbed his way back through the masses into the top 10 and when they both reached the finish line, Pleak placed fourth with Pendy in sixth place.
“Cody was in his element, he loves running on trails,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “We were the only team to have two runners in the top 10.”
Sullivan was the next runner to score team points for the Titans coming in 16th place, and Hoyt overcame a tough start to the race to push his way back to a 17th place finish. Smith placed 45th, Wimett 66th and the two seniors Matthew Howe and Ethan Kaufmann finished their high school careers with some of their best efforts.
“Max [Sullivan] had a great race and Flint [Hoyt] got pushed back at the start but he just kept picking people off,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “Cole [Wimett] had his best race of the entire season and Matthew [Howe] and Ethan [Kaufmann] had great last races. It was a great exclamation point on the season. The whole team learned what a true cross-country team is. Everybody matters from our first runner to our last runner.”
The boys now prepare for the state championships held at the Penrose Events Center in Colorado Springs on Saturday, October 28. Billick will be back in action to join Pendy, Pleak, Hoyt, Sullivan and Smith on the championship start line with Wimett named the alternate.
“It’s hard to tell what will happen,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “I believe realistically we can finish top 10, it’s a question of how far up in the top 10 we can get. Everyone is ready to run their best that day.”