Cherokee Trail’s Hunter Strand (220), Reuben Holness (209) and Brady Smith (218) give the Cougars a heavy presence on the 2022 Sentinel Colorado All-Aurora Boys Cross Country Team. Four Cherokee Trail runners, two from Grandview and one from Regis Jesuit make up the city’s top unit for the season. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

The Cherokee Trail boys came into the season with particularly high goals given the return of the majority of the team that finished third at last season’s Class 5A state meet.

Coach Chris Faust’s Cougars won the Centennial League and Region 1 championships in consecutive weeks leading up to the state meet, but found a number of teams that rose to the occasion at the state meet to jam up the standings.

Cherokee Trail finished in sixth place and the top four scorers — seniors Hunter Strand, Evan Armstrong and Reuben Holness and junior Brady Smith — earned spots on the 2022 Sentinel Colorado All-Aurora Boys Cross Country Team, which is determined by performance at the 5A state meet at the Norris Penrose Events Center.

Joining the Cougars on the city’s top squad is the Grandview duo of senior Andrew Fox and junior Owen Zitek plus rising Regis Jesuit junior David Flaig.

Strand was at the front of all the big races for Cherokee Trail as he was the individual Centennial League champion and placed third at the regional meet, while he again came out on top at the state meet. He came into the stadium with a group that surged to the finish line and he finished with a time of 16 minutes, 12.5 seconds, which put him 15th.

Strand clocked his PR at the Liberty Bell Invitational on Sept. 10 as he crossed the finish line in 14:50.30, which was less than two seconds behind Fort Collins’ Christian Groendyk, who would go on to win the 5A state championship.

Smith — whose emergence last season helped Cherokee Trail take third place — had the next-best finish for the Cougars in 20th place (in a time of 16:16.30), while Armstrong came in 44th (in 16:38.40) and Holness 51st. All three earned spots on the All-Aurora team for the second straight season.

All four of the Cougars set their personal bests at the Liberty Bell Invitational, a traditionally fast race, as Smith ran 15:21.60 to finish 16th, Holness crossed the finish line 25th in 15:39.90 and Armstrong came in 40th with a 15:51.90.

Grandview had a strong season under new coach Brian Manley (who coached at Smoky Hill in the past) and qualified for state despite missing some of its key runners at regionals.

At the state meet, the Wolves were paced by Zitek, who earned his second straight All-Aurora spot with a 24th-place finish (a rise from 46th in 2021), while Fox — who finished in front of his teammate in the regional race — came in 44th.

Zitek, who finished in the top 10 in three races throughout the season, ran a 15:38.30 at the Liberty Bell Invitational for his personal best time. After the season, he turned in a third-place finish in the boys large school race at the Nike Team Cross Southwest Regional in Mesa, Arizona.

Fox had four top-10 finishes in races that he ran during the regular season and his PR of 15:44.50 came on at the Liberty Bell Invitational. He ran four seconds faster at state than he did in 2021, when he was 26th in the 5A state race.

Regis Jesuit qualified for state as a team with just two seasons and Flaig led the way for coach Chris Boyle’s Raiders with his 19th place finish. Flaig came into the stadium with Smith and beat him to the finish line by just 0.4 of a second to get inside the top 20.

Unlike the other All-Aurora performers, Regis Jesuit didn’t run at the Liberty Bell Invitational, so Flaig’s personal best time of 16:08 came at Centaurus’ Bernie Gay Invitational on Sept. 10. His best stretch of the season came when he followed up a second place finish at the Rim Rock Classic in Lawrence, Kansas, by winning the Salida Cross Country Classic over a field of 169 runners.

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected]: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports

2022 SENTINEL COLORADO ALL-AURORA BOYS CROSS COUNTRY TEAM

First team: Evan Armstrong, sr., Cherokee Trail; David Flaig, jr., Regis Jesuit; Andrew Fox, sr., Grandview; Reuben Holness, sr., Cherokee Trail; Brady Smith, jr., Cherokee Trail; Hunter Strand, sr., Cherokee Trail; Owen Zitek, jr., Grandview

Honorable mention: Caleb Aex, soph., Regis Jesuit; Alex Bennett, jr., Grandview; John Burns, sr., Regis Jesuit; Danek Colson, jr., Grandview; Braeden Focht, soph., Regis Jesuit; Beck Gutjahr, sr., Cherokee Trail; Logan McGowan, sr., Cherokee Trail; Dylan Smith, fr., Cherokee Trail; Liam Sullivan, jr., Regis Jesuit; Matthew Tartell, jr., Regis Jesuit; Zion Taylor, sr., Regis Jesuit; Evan Valencia, soph., Grandview; Gavin Utroske, sr., Grandview; Colton White, soph., Grandview

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