Cross County: Aurora runners look for strong finishing kick to season

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Much of Aurora’s 2013 cross country season has been about exceeding expectations and unpredictable finishes.

With a wild regular season in the books, who knows what’s possible for the four girls teams, three boys teams and two individuals from the city set to run in the Class 5A state meet Oct. 26 at the Norris Penrose Equestrian Center in Colorado Springs.

Cherokee Trail, Grandview and Smoky Hill all have boys and girls teams running, as do the Regis Jesuit girls — 5A girls race 11 a.m., boys 1 p.m. — along with individual qualifiers Alicia Taurchini of Eaglecrest and Gateway’s Devundrick Walker.

Despite a lot of unpredictibility, some patterns have emerged. Chief among them is that Smoky Hill junior Blake Yount will finish a race strong.

Running better than he or his coaches could have imagined at this point, Yount — who won the Aurora City Championship early in the season — claimed the Centennial League Championship with a late surge two weeks ago and sprinted to second in the 5A boys Region 1 race on Oct. 17 at the Aurora Sports Park.

Now, Yount — who finished 60th at last season’s state meet — is eyeing potentially a top-10 finish this time around. He finished 12th on the state course at the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede (aka pre-state) Aug. 29.

“Over the last few weeks, I’ve learned that I’m better than I thought I was,” said Yount, who hopes to stick with Cherry Creek’s Shane Rhodes, who he beat at the finish line at leagues.

“It’s made me more confident so I can go out faster in races and take more risks,” he added.

With Yount leading the way, Smoky Hill hopes to improve drastically on its 19th-place boys team finish last year. Cody Miller, Ryan Parker and Michael Andress return from that team.

Four of Grandview’s state runners from last season return, with Nathan Graham, Craig Kinney and crew hoping to move up from its 22nd spot in 2012. Cherokee Trail — led by Duncan Barnhill and Cody and Kyle Jones — is back at state as a team for the first time since 2009.

Grandview senior Erin Norton appears ready for a return to the medal podium in the 5A girls race. She took fourth last season — becoming the school’s first all-state performer — and her season has her thinking good things are ahead.

Norton won the city championship and also finished second behind Cherry Creek star Jordyn Polter at the Centennial League Championships and in Region 2.

“I think this year I’m a smarter racer,” Norton said. “In the past, my times were usually really good, but I wasn’t a really good competitor. I feel like I am now. I love state and I love the course.”

Norton and the Wolves — who are treating state like the “icing on the cake” — hope for a top-four team finish so they can get a banner on the wall of the school’s gymnasium. With Nicole Mundy, Melanie Jenkins and others running well, it could happen.

Grandview also hopes to beat Julia Vitella-led Regis Jesuit, which edged the Wolves by five points for the runner-up spot in Region 2. Vitella finished 4th individually and has an outside shot to be in the top 10 at state, while a veteran crew that includes Madalyn Somer, Hannah Feehan and Lindsey Koch has high hopes.

Smoky Hill also has high hopes on the girls side, especially in light of the 2-3 finish of Yount’s twin sister, Brynell, and senior Chloe Andrie at regionals. The Buffs didn’t even know if they would make state as a team, but instead claimed the No. 2 spot and nearly overtook Dakota Ridge for the championship.

Amy McConnell and the Cherokee Trail girls have a strong pack and lots of optimism. Individually, Taurchini races at state for the fourth time, while Walker will run state for the first time.

CLASS 5A STATE CROSS COUNTRY MEET

Oct. 26 at Norris Penrose Equestrian Center (Colorado Springs)

Class 2A girls — 9:20 a.m.; 3A Boys — 10 a.m.; 4A Boys — 10:30 a.m.; 5A Girls — 11 a.m.; 2A Boys — 11:30 a.m.; 3A Girls — Noon; 4A Girls — 12:30 p.m.; 5A Boys — 1 p.m.

AURORA GIRLS STATE QUALIFIERS

Teams: Cherokee Trail (Jordan Herrera, Amy McConnell, Savanah Nesvold, Maria Redman, Tori Rodriguez, Lynsie Roper, Breanna Wheeler); Grandview (Brittany Bender, Melanie Jenkins, Nicole Mundy, Erin Norton, Sylvana Ross, Rachel Shaw, Kayla Vallin); Regis Jesuit (Hannah Feehan, Lindsey Koch, Natalie Lanker, Anna Rafalski, Katie Schilmoeller, Madalyn Somer, Julia Vitella); Smoky Hill (Carlie Andrie, Chloe Andrie, Lesley Fatica, Jamie Jezier, Emmah Johannes, Svetlana Yeager, Brynell Yount)

Individual: Alicia Taurchini (Eaglecrest)

AURORA BOYS STATE QUALIFIERS

Teams: Cherokee Trail (Duncan Barnhill, Brandon Bullock, Jackson Cowley, Simon Holloway, Cody Jones, Kyle Jones, Nate Thomas); Grandview (Grayson Abele, Sam Ehrhard, Nathan Graham, Pravan Kalaga, Craig Kinney, Mick Norton, Jeff Southern); Smoky Hill (Michael Andress, Spencer Bradshaw, Philipp Coen, Simon Geday, Cody Miller, Ryan Parker, Blake Yount)

Individual: Devundrick Walker (Gateway)

Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel.