The biggest wild card in the Class 5A state cross country meet comes from the most unlikely of sources.
From a Gateway program that has had only one other state qualifier at least the last 15 years, junior Yonas Mogos
Mogos arrived in Colorado less than a year ago, but is already making a name for himself going into the Oct. 28 state meet at the Norris Penrose Events Center.
“He’s excited, he’s just not sure what’s going to happen,” said Gateway teammate Robel Woldegyorgis, who serves as Mogos’ translator.
Color Olys’ coach Charles Moss as somebody who also doesn’t know what is going to happen when Mogos races at state.
Mogos — who hails from the small north African nation of Eritrea and came to Colorado with his family to join his older brother — arrived at Gateway last year too late to get his physical and not in time to join the track team, so Moss only began to work with him in the summer.
The competitiveness showed up in workouts immediately — as he pushed teammates to run faster up hills during workouts at Buffalo Run — and has been coupled with a level of fitness and race understanding that has evolved over the season.
“Yonas has a fierce determination to win and I think it took him most of the season to learn how to run a 5K,” Moss said. “At first, it was like ‘let’s start you off easy and see how you do things, then make a move.’ Things have really been coming together lately.”
Indeed Mogos has progressed remarkably from the opening race of the season and ran a strategically sound race to win the Region 2 meet Oct. 19 at Northwest Open Spaces Park.
Mogos employed his favorite strategy of drafting off other runners — alternating behind Grand Junction Central’s David Cardenas and Cherry Creek’s Jared Scott — before rocketing to the finish line to win in a season-best time of 16 minutes, 13.70 seconds. He enters state as a regional champ, while Gateway’s last qualifier — Devundrick Walker — got in as the 15th and final individual in his regional in 2013.
While Mogos’ top time only ranks 36th in 5A going into the state meet, Moss believes he could have run 20 seconds faster at regional if needed. Mogos also seems to rise to the level of the competition he faces, so he could literally finish anywhere at the state meet.
“If he places in the top 20 it would be pretty awesome and top 10 would be mindblowing,” Moss said.
Mogos is part of a slew of Aurora newcomers to the 5A state cross country meet (boys race at 9:20 a.m., girls at 10:40 a.m.), which includes another runner from an Aurora Public Schools program in Rangeview sophomore Luke Sundberg.
Sundberg, who finished second to Mogos at the EMAC Championship meet, finished sixth in his regional to become the first Rangeview boys runner to make state since Donivan Montoya in 2009.
Resurgent Overland qualified as a team for the first time since 2013 and Regis Jesuit sophomore Owen Buehler also will compete for the first time.
The newcomers join Eaglecrest’s Mason Brown, a four-time state qualifier who has title aspirations and teammate Gavin Morgenegg, plus several veterans from a Grandview team that won both the Centennial League and Region 2 meets in recent weeks.
The girls race is more filled with veterans among Aurora competitors, as several runners from both Region 2 champion Cherokee Trail and third-place Grandview ran at the state meet a year ago.
The Cougars aim to put together their best state performance this season after some showings in years past that didn’t match their season performances with junior Caitlin McConnell leading the way, while Grandview has rising junior Kaitlyn Mercer and senior Caroline Robbins — the sixth-place finisher last season — at the forefront.
Regis Jesuit sophomore Isalina Colsman, the Region 2 champion, and Smoky Hill junior Amelia Johannes both have state experience.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel