The finish line for the most unique prep cross country season in Colorado history is in sight.
The largest meet of a season filled with smaller gatherings and race limits comes Oct. 17 when four classifications head to the Norris Penrose Events Center in Colorado Springs for a state meet unlike any other.
Fourteen Aurora boys and eight girls earned the chance to be part of the Class 5A state meet, which will feature four waves of 25 runners in both the 4 p.m. boys and 4:45 p.m. girls races. It will be another different event in a season full of adjustment for everyone.
“One of the things you miss with the changes is the hum, the buzz, the energy of a meet, it’s just been devoid of that,” Regis Jesuit coach Andrew Drysdale said after the Class 5A Region 1 meet Oct. 8 at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds.
“Then again, it’s cross country in a pandemic. You take what you can get.”
All state races were capped at 100 runners total as the top three six-runner teams and two individuals not on those teams advanced out of four regionals. That marks a significant drop over 5A boys last year, which had 164 runners, while the 5A girls had 154.
Four waves will break the qualifiers up into groups of 25 of runners with similiar times, with the fastest going in the opening wave.
On the girls side, the Wave 1 group has just one Aurora representative in Cherokee Trail junior Cameron McConnell, who has finished in 5A’s top three in each of her first two seasons. McConnell has the closest finish of the season behind defending state champion Riley Stewart of Cherry Creek and finished second to her individually at state last season.
The Cougars were third at state last season behind league rivals Arapahoe and Cherry Creek and finished third behind those same teams at the regional this season to make state.
Besides McConnell, the Cougars return state-experienced runners in senior Campbell Faust (who will run at state for a fourth time), junior Megan Hodges (who was 48th last season) and sophomore Mckenna Mazeski, who was 35th a year ago in her state debut, while sophomore Alexis Pagel and junior Lauren Hodges also will run.
The Regis Jesuit girls earned both individual qualifying spots out of Region 1 and they went to junior Amelie Colsman and senior Mikayla Smith, who both ran at state last season, and finished 81st and 83rd, respectively. Colsman also made it as a freshman in 2018.
The Cherokee Trail and Grandview boys qualified as teams out of Region 1 by finishing second and third, respectively.
The Cougars and Wolves will combine to have three runners — all seniors with previous state experience — in the top wave in the 5A boys race in Cherokee Trail’s Caden Smith and the Grandview duo of Peter Fox and Jake Sheykhet.
Smith (the Centennial League individual champion) finished second behind dominating Cherry Creek senior Parker Wolfe in the regional and is headed to the state meet for a third straight season. Joining him from last season’s state-qualifying Cherokee Trail team is sophomore Evan Armstrong (92nd last season), senior Gavyn Welsh (118th last season) and sophomore Logan McGowan (120th last season), while sophomore Rueben Holness is in the mix for the first time along with junior Tyler Garfield.
It will be the second state experience for both Fox (who made it last season) and Sheykhet, who was there as a sophomore and also as a freshman in 2017, when the Wolves last qualified as a team.
Smoky Hill sophomore Noble Haskell and Eaglecrest senior Sawyer Slauson grabbed Region 1’s two individual spots — and had to finish in the top eight to do it — with times good enough to put them in the second wave.
The 2A boys race (scheduled for 2 p.m.) also has two representatives from an Aurora school in senior Kidus Begashaw and junior Nabil Hassan.
Begashaw won the 2A Region 2 boys race by nearly a full minute and has run the fastest time in the classification this season. Both Lotus runners will race in the first wave.
Wave 2 of the 2:45 p.m. 2A girls race also has a Lotus entry in senior Layla Haji.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports