Bower leads Basalt, Aspen into state cross country meet
GARFIELD COUNTY STATE QUALIFIERS4A girls Glenwood Springs: Ella Johnson, sophomore; Sophia Connerton-Nevin, freshman 3A boys Rifle: Jonathan Hernandez, junior Coal Ridge: Tyler Parker, freshman
Sierra Bower isn’t really looking at the numbers. She’s simply going to run the race alongside her Basalt High School teammates — itself a new concept for the BHS junior — and let the chips fall where they may.
“The rankings for times aren’t really measurable because there are different courses for everyone,” Bower said. “So I’m not trying to put too much pressure on myself. I find I always perform better when I’m relaxed, so that’s kind of the goal going into the race.”
Bower is among the expected contenders for the girls Class 3A state cross country title, which will be decided on Saturday at the Norris-Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs. The 3A girls race at 12:20 p.m., with the 3A boys getting on course at 1:40 p.m. Both Basalt and Aspen are fielding a full team of seven for the girls race, while only Basalt senior Tucker Bruce will be there to represent the boys.
“There is a lot of potential. I feel good. We’ll see what happens,” AHS coach Chris Keleher said. “The state course might favor us a little bit more than the regional course. It’s a little hillier. So we’ll see what happens. I hope it comes out really well.”
Basalt hosted the regional meet last week at Crown Mountain Park, taking the girls win with Aspen coming in second. Bower, who said she raced conservatively to better prepare for state, repeated as the regional champion while AHS junior Kylie Kenny came in second.
Both girls squads will firmly be in contention for a top-five team finish, if not more, in Colorado Springs.
“They are definitely feeling a bit more pressure than us because we like to be the underdogs. We are trying to fly under the radar,” Kenny said of Basalt. “Personally, I’m just kind of trying to do better than I’ve done in the past two years.”
Kenny was the top finisher from either school in the 2018 state meet, taking 17th overall in 19 minutes, 55.2 seconds. Bower was 24th a year ago in 20:12, while senior Kaylee Thompson of The Classical Academy won in 18:19.2.
Aspen finished seventh as a team in 2018, while Bower was Basalt’s only runner.
The Skiers have a young but still experienced contingent of runners competing Saturday. Along with Kenny will be fellow juniors Kendall Clark, Eva McDonough and Edie Sherlock, as well as sophomore Bronwyn Chesner and freshmen Michaela Kenny and Elsie Weiss. Weiss, an accomplished Nordic athlete, finished a surprising fourth at the regional meet, with Basalt freshman Katelyn Maley coming in third.
The AHS girls have won a state cross country championship before, winning it all in 2002.
“For most of the team, they’ve seen it all before. So it’s kind of like we are going for business,” Keleher said, giving a vote of confidence to Kenny that she can hang with the top runners on Saturday. “Of course, with that, it’s a little more rarified air to run when running in the front of the pack with the big girls. But I wouldn’t put anything past her. She is tough and she loves to compete.”
Basalt’s seven-runner lineup will include Bower and fellow junior Sophia Moon, the lone senior in Lily Gillis, and a freshmen foursome in Maley, Analyn Hoffner, Ava Lane and Sarah Levy. Other than getting to race alongside then-senior Carly Robinson as a freshman, this is the first time Bower has had teammates at the state meet.
Bower finished 35th as a freshman at state in 20:23.2.
“When I was a sophomore, I was ahead of her for a couple of races,” Gillis said of Bower. “But now she is just so good. I love it. I love her so much and it’s so awesome to see how dedicated she is to the sport.”
Bower’s regional title last year was followed by a runner-up finish in the 2-mile race at the state track and field meet last spring in Lakewood. She’s continued to up her game very chance she gets and likely will be near the front of the pack on Saturday.
“Definitely more fit going in this year. A little bit more prepared,” Bower said. “It’s definitely a lot easier going into it. It’s less stressful, compared to just being an individual. So it’s definitely been super motivating to watch all the other girls working super hard, too.”
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