Basalt’s Maley rallies to defend 3A state cross country title; Glenwood’s Johnson 4th among 4A runners
Aspen Times/Post Independent
Katelyn Maley’s recent dreams had been of the state championship course. Part of this stemmed from excitement, but most was from the mounting pressure of trying to repeat success.
The Basalt High School junior came into the weekend as the defending individual Class 3A state champion in cross country, and she knew she would be racing with a target on her back this time around. Maley also won the 3A girls 1,600-meter run as a sophomore back in the spring at the state track and field championships.
“It felt a lot different, actually. Last year I kind of felt like I had no pressure, like nothing to lose. And this year I definitely felt like I had more pressure; pressure I kind of put on myself,” Maley said Saturday afternoon. “I had to talk to my parents and talk to my coaches about it, and I had to fix my mindset, and whatever outcome would happen I was going to be happy with it.
“So I’m super grateful that it did work. I’ve been thinking about this race for a while. I have dreams about it.”
Last fall, Maley dominated the finale from start to finish. This year, she had to overcome warmer-than-usual temperatures and a tougher field of runners, but the outcome was the same.
When the finish line came into view at the Norris Penrose Event Center on Saturday in Colorado Springs, she left her competition behind to successfully defend her state championship and even cut a couple of seconds off her previous best mark on the course.
Blaming mostly the heat, Maley did lose her lead in the second half of the race but had enough time to regroup. Not only did she regain control of the race, she pulled away as she entered the finish arena and came in with a time of 18 minutes, 37.1 seconds, finishing more than 10 seconds ahead of second place, Stargate sophomore Allison Pippert (18:47.6).
Another top-5 finish for Ella Johnson
Turning in the top time on the Norris Penrose course among area female competitors was Glenwood Springs senior Ella Johnson. For a second straight year, Johnson claimed fourth place in the girls Class 4A state championship, crossing the finish line in 18:28.5. Johnson placed fifth at state her sophomore year.
Winning the 4A race was Niwot’s Eva Klingbell in 17:58.9, followed in close succession by Eagle Valley’s Samantha Blair (18:23) and Niwot’s Mia Prok (18:23.4). Niwot, the No. 1 girls cross country team in the nation, also won the team title with an impressive 20 points.
As a team, the Glenwood Lady Demons placed 11th with 285 points. Junior Sophia Connerton-Nevin was 37th (20:40.1), senior Maria Carlson was 76th (21:39); senior Alexa Helms was 89th (21:54.1), sophomore Taia Nykerk was 136th (23:42), senior Alicia Lowe was 144th (24:52.30), and sophomore Gracie Westphal was 145th (25:04.6).
“It was super fun to be back racing at the state course in its normal environment with a full stadium at the finish and hundreds of people cheering along the course,” Johnson said, comparing her experience Saturday to last year’s COVID-19-restricted setting.
“Niwot is just a fun team to even be racing with. I felt good about my race,” Johnson said, adding she also felt like she could have challenged for top 3 with a little extra push.
“But, in such a strong field, I am just happy to have had the opportunity to put up a strong performance,” she said. “It’s also so much more fun to go with my team, and it’s a great way for all of the seniors to end our high school cross country careers.”
In the girls 3A division, junior Mikayla Cheney placed 16th overall in 20:05, and senior teammate Araceli Ayala was 49th in 21:46.4. Rifle freshman Ana Robinson was 51st in 21:47.3.
In the 3A boys race, Coal Ridge junior Tyler Park was 50th in 18:20.3, and Rifle senior Jace Coller was 97th in 19:19.
Competing as a team in the girls Class 2A division was Colorado Rocky Mountain School of Carbondale. The Pearls placed eighth as a team behind the efforts of Morgan Karow (16th, 21:40.7), Ellis Hutchens (29th, 22:44.9), Mandy Lei (63rd, 24:03); Stella Guy-Warren (85th, 25:01.3), Chantel Hope (91st, 25:21.3), and Scarlett Kerr (93rd, 25:28.4).
Maley, coaches talk strategy
“She knew if she was going to win, she needed to go from the gun and really take it out hard and string out the field as much as possible,” said Amy Rollins, who coaches Maley and the BHS cross country team alongside her father, longtime head coach Ron Lund. “She just ran a really smart race. She put the pressure on the chase pack early on. She did get caught with about a half a mile to go.”
Maley wasn’t deterred.
“Something that I have been working on in races is not accepting a lower place. If someone makes a move, it’s easy to be, ‘Oh, second is fine,’” Maley said. “I just tried to stay mentally tough. I worked my way back toward her and then I caught her with a quarter mile to go and in that quarter mile you have a hill and then you go into the arena. So that last hill I really had to pump my arms and hope for the best. Going into the arena it was just everything I had left.”
Maley won the 2020 state championship in 18:39, so she was able to finish a touch quicker on Saturday despite the heat. It was the third consecutive individual title for the BHS girls, as then-junior Sierra Bower won it for the Longhorns in 2019 when she set the 3A girls’ course record in 18:00.1.
“She is such a seasoned competitor. She knows what she wants, and she knows how to race, and she showed that today,” Rollins said of Maley. “She kind of feels like she has a target on her back. But she also mentioned that she kind of likes that feeling. She likes being out front and knowing that’s where she belongs. There is no question that she belongs out front. She is comfortable up there. She has the confidence to know that’s her place and she seems to really thrive off of it. I think she handles it beautifully, and it doesn’t seem to get in her mind too much.”
Maley wasn’t alone in the top 10, as her junior teammate Ava Lane finished eighth in 19:16.1, with Maley saying “that is honestly more exciting than anything” to watch her friend land on the podium with her.
As a team, the Longhorn girls finished sixth with 143 points, while The Classical Academy (in Colorado Springs) defended its title to win a state record 14th team championship. Alamosa, which edged Basalt in the regional hosted by Coal Ridge, finished second.
“This 3A field was incredibly deep and probably one of the most competitive 3A state championships we’ve ever seen,” Rollins said. “So to come out with sixth place is great. We are thrilled. Everyone ran to their potential and stayed tough the whole time.”
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