AURORA | The Regis Jesuit cross country team ran Thursday’s Class 5A Region 1 races with heavy hearts and did as well as could be expected against a loaded field.

Just a day after they learned about the tragic death of assistant coach Ben Brownlee‚ who died while hiking in the San Juan Mountains, the Raiders had to try to focus on qualifying for the state meet at the Aurora-heavy regional races at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds.

Shut out on the boys side, the girls had two qualifiers for the 5A state race in junior Amelie Colsman and senior Mikayla Smith, who finished 17th and 19th, respectively, in a field overwhelmed at the top by Cherry Creek, Arapahoe and Cherokee Trail.

“It’s been weighing really heavily on the kids yesterday and today,” Regis Jesuit head coach Andrew Drysdale said of the news about Brownlee. “The kids rallied and I was amazed at how they came together, but I can’t lie and say there wasn’t an emotional toll. That took a lot out of us.”

Regis Jesuit senior Mikayla Smith nears the finish line on her way to qualifying for the Class 5A state cross country meet in the Region 1 girls race on Oct. 8, 2020, at Arapahoe County Fairgrounds. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

The 26-year-old Brownlee had been a member of the University of Kansas track team as a distance runner and came to the Regis Jesuit cross country and track programs as a volunteer assistant in 2018.

In Brownlee’s honor, Regis Jesuit team members wore t-shirts that said “Run For Ben,” a message they also put on bracelets.

On the course, the Regis Jesuit girls ran with their six runners split into two waves because of the presence of powerhouses Cherry Creek, Arapahoe and Cherokee Trail, which finished in the top three spots at last season’s 5A state cross country meet.

Colsman came out of the opening heat to finish in 20 minutes, 28.9 seconds, to get the first individual qualifying spot, while Smith ran in the second wave and crossed the finish line in 20:48.0, five seconds in front of teammate Alexandra Collins.

“Mikayla has been our No. 4 all year and she can a great race,” Drysdale said. “As the only senior on the team, I’m so over the moon that she gets the chance to run at state. I’m thrilled for her.”

Drysdale had hoped the same for Ben Phillips on the boys side, but he missed out on one of the two qualifying spots after he finished 11th in 17:37.80. That finish would have gotten him into state in a normal year, but not with the fields capped due to the pandemic.

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports

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...