AURORA | Rachael Chacko has taken Smoky Hill cross country back on a national scale.

The senior standout earned a berth in the prestigious Nike Cross Nationals championship race on Dec. 1, giving the Buffaloes their first qualifier for a national championship race since Keara Sammons in 2006.

Chacko punched her ticket to the nationwide event with a 10th-place individual finish in the Southwest Regional Nov. 17 in Phoenix, where runners from Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah competed on a 3.1-mile course at Toka Sticks Golf Course.

The top five individuals not on a qualifying team advanced and Chacko’s personal-best time of 17 minutes, 38 seconds, was good enough to get her into the field that includes five individuals and top four teams from each of the six Nike regionals across the country.

Colorado represented well, as Fort Collins and Pine Creek (running under the name Altitude Girls) qualified as a team, while Chacko was joined by Niwot’s Elise Cranny — the Colorado 4A state champion who finished first in the Southwest Regional — and Emma Gee of Legacy, the 5A runner-up, among individual qualifiers.

As part of qualifying, Chacko — the Aurora city champion — receives an all-expenses paid trip to Portland, which also includes a variety of other perks such as a visit to the Nike headquarters, meeting a variety of the company’s athletes and a gala dinner.

Chacko missed around a month’s worth of competition due to a combination of illness as well as a handful of college recruiting visits.

Smoky Hill coaches Jeff Bliven and Brian Manley also will attend, but won’t see Chacko much with the exception of the race.

Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at or 303-750-7555

Courtney Oakes is sports Editor and photographer with Sentinel Colorado. A Denver East High School alum. He came to the Sentinel in 2001 and since then has received a number of professional awards from...