COLORADO SPRINGS — At the one-mile mark Saturday morning, Valor Christian’s Brooke Wilson wasn’t quite feeling like a state cross country champion, let alone a Class 5A record-setter.
“I was just telling myself, ‘You’ve just got to be the grittiest runner out here,” said the senior, who was a runner-up last year.
Two miles into the grueling Norris Penrose Events Center course, she was running shoulder-to-shoulder with rival Emma Stutzman, Pomona’s previously undefeated runner.
“Emma was definitely pushing me, and I knew she would,” Wilson said.
With 800 meters left in the 5-kilometer race, Wilson told herself: “I had to throw it all out there and go for it.”
Her reward was a state title and Class 5A record time of 16 minutes, 59.17 seconds, the first under-17-minute time in 5A state championship history. She smashed the previous record of 17:07.83 set by Grandview’s Brie Oakley in 2016.
“Brook runs with this inner joy and that helped her today,” Valor coach Jeff Cook said. “She has a relaxed approach to life that helps her run. But she does not kick like some of the other girls at the very end, so she knew she had to turn it on at about 800 meters.”
Wilson, who is headed to Wake Forest on a scholarship, said crossing the finish line first was “surreal.”
“When I was a freshman I was wondering if I could ever do this,” she said. “But this was my last high school race in Colorado and I won. It was awesome.”
Stutzman, who ran a 17:23.6 5K, was proud of her effort but disappointed in the end result.
“That last hill definitely slowed me down a little bit,” she said. “You look at it during the pre-walk before the race, but running it is completely different. I’m disappointed, for sure, but I gave it my best.”
Valor finished tied for third with Cherry Creek in the team competition. The Kadets from Air Academy claimed the 5A team championship, placing four runners in the top 15. Sophomore Tessa Walter finished fifth (17:50.3) and junior Bethany Michalak, considered a gold medal contender entering Saturday, finished sixth (18:02.1).
All and all, it was a banner day for Valor, which also won the boys’ 5A title for the first time, paced by senior Drew Costelow (15:23.3), who finished second behind Fort Collins’ senior Christian Groendyk (15:13.5), who capped off his perfect prep season.
“When we came into the woods, I saw that kick that (Groendyk) always shows, so I tried to adjust,” Costelow said. “But there is really no way to race this course smart. If you think you can start your kick in the woods and bridge area, you still have two hills to battle. But I’m proud of what I did, being fourth last year and getting second this year.”
In order to hold off Centaurus for the boys’ team title, Valor needed its depth. Junior Dane Eike finished fourth (15:40.8) and sophomore Kaedan Dendorer placed ninth (15:50.9).
As expected, Niwot’s girls won their fifth consecutive 4A team title. But it was Summit County sophomore Ella Hagan (17:48.9) who fended off Niwot’s pack of green to win the girls’ individual 4A title.
“I just can’t believe I got to be part of a race that was so much fun,” said Hagan, who benefitted from her high-altitude training at 9,000 feet. “Niwot is incredible but I feel strong when I’m racing them because they are so strong and fast. Knowing that I can race against them makes me even stronger.
“When I got into the forest today I started to pull away. I felt really strong. I could hear, ‘Go Niwot! But I also heard people going ‘Go Ella’ and I knew there were people out there cheering for me.”
Niwot’s girls dominated the race with six runners finishing in the top 10: freshman Addison Ritzenhein was second (17:56.5); junior Mia Prok third (18:18.1); sophomore Bella Nelson fourth (18:24.1); Stanford-bound senior Madison Shults fifth (18:29.3); senior Lex Bullen sixth (18:35.8); and sophomore Anna Prol ninth (18:45.2).
Niwot’s boys had designs on winning a state title, too, but Cheyenne Mountain had other ideas. The Redtail Hawks used depth and wicked determination to win their second straight title.
“It was unselfishness, top to bottom,” said first-year coach Sean O’Day, who lost six of his seven top runners from last season. “(Senior) Kaden Levings was running for a team title, not an individual title. Brogan Collins, Brian Kerrigan, Cater Bayer and Cale O’Day were all running for the team title.”
The 4A individual title went to Mead senior Nolan Hoffman, who finished in 15:31.4.
“When I came into the stadium, it was an amazing feeling,” Hoffman said. “For all of the hard work, I finally did it.”