Awards system spurs debate | AspenTimes.com

Awards system spurs debate

Jon Maletz

Dakota Ridge's Evan Apple and senior Collin Stewart of Basalt, right, battle for fifth place in the Severy Memorial 5K in October. Stewart was named to the all-state cross-country team; Longhorns sophomore Casey Weaver and senior Kate Wilson received honorable mention. (Aspen Times file)

By all accounts, it was a banner year in 3A for the Basalt boys cross-country team.

The Longhorns ” peaking at the right time during the season’s final races ” finished second out of a field of 24 at Aspen’s Chris Severy Memorial 5K on Oct. 8. Two weeks later, Basalt again made itself right at home in Aspen, running away with the regional team title on the strength of senior Collin Stewart’s second-place finish. Junior Duncan McDaniel and sophomore Casey Weaver were fourth and fifth, respectively.

Although the state championship course at Colorado Springs’ El Pomar Youth Complex wasn’t ideally suited to their strengths, the Longhorns managed to finish fourth ” a first in the program’s short history. It was an impressive ending to a season full of captivating performances.

But despite all of the success, and because there are no postseason conference awards for teams in this region, the Basalt boys had just two runners earn recognition.

All-state and honorable mention teams are determined strictly on results of the state meet. Only those who finish in the top 10 in their division earn all-state honors; runners who finish 11-25 receive honorable mention. The system does not reward athletes for a season of strong performances, and is therefore in need of revision, or at least discussion, Basalt head coach Ron Lund said Sunday.

“There is no voting or anything, and it’s kind of a shame,” Lund said. “This year, I saw a kid who was one of the top runners all season in the state in 5A. She bonked at the state meet and collapsed a few meters from the finish. To say she’s not an all-state runner is what I don’t like [about the current system], but they didn’t ask me.”

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It is an issue that hits close to home for Lund, who watched his oldest daughter, Meghan ” now a college senior ” black out at the 2 1/2-mile mark of the state championship in 2001. Meghan, who won three races and was consistently near the top of the leaderboards throughout the season, had to walk the final half-mile.

Her season was defined by one mishap that was out of her control. Ron Lund and his family would soon find out that Meghan was anemic ” a red blood cell deficiency that decreases oxygen in the blood, causing fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath. Despite a season full of accolades, Meghan was not recognized as an all-state performer.

Stewart, a senior at Roaring Fork High School, which has no cross-country team, was Basalt’s lone all-conference representative. Weaver received honorable mention. Senior Kate Wilson ” an honorable-mention recipient ” was the only Basalt girls team member to garner recognition.

Despite the impressive numbers ” top-six in nine of 10 races, including four second-place finishes ” the number that defined Stewart’s season was 1.3: Stewart finished the state course in 10th place with a time of 17 minutes, 20.9 seconds, just 1.3 seconds ahead of 11th-place finisher Jeremy George of the Classical Academy. Had he finished 1.3 seconds slower on the flat 5K course, Stewart’s breakout season would have resulted in honorable mention.

Weaver ran his strongest race of the season in Colorado Springs, finishing 15th, Lund said. Weaver performed well during the year, but it took time for him to figure out the correct pace. Often, he would go out too fast or too slow, which proved costly as he approached the finish line.

“He was pretty confident he knew what was a good pace to go out, effortwise,” Lund said. “The course set up nicely for him, and he got in the top 15 for almost the whole race. He hung in there.”

Weaver, a strong track runner who went to states in the 3,200 meters as a freshman in the spring, showcased his versatility on the hilly courses of Battle Mountain and Leadville, finishing third in both.

Wilson ” an all-state selection in 2004 ” finished 20th, with a time of 20 minutes, 48.5 seconds. Wilson struggled with her consistency during the season but felt confident on a course where she experienced previous success, and it showed, Lund said.

The reason more Basalt runners ” boys and girls ” did not make the all-state team was a function of increased competition, but also the course layout, Lund said.

“It was more of a road race than cross country,” Lund said. “We go down to race against the Front Range, and they put us on a track. We would’ve liked to see it a little more challenging, but it’s a function of what venue works best.”

The disadvantage for schools on the Western Slope is all about location, Lund said. Because sites need to accommodate athletes from all over Colorado, venues in the middle of the state automatically receive top billing. Holding a state meet on the west side of the state ” where the elevation and hilly terrain would suit teams like Basalt and Aspen, as evidenced by the two teams’ performance at regionals ” would be a major inconvenience. Colorado Springs is set to host the state meet for a third consecutive year in 2006.

The limitations on Western Slope cross-country teams only add fuel to the debate surrounding the need for postseason conference awards. Lund plans on raising the issue when cross-country coaches gather for a clinic in February. It is a logical argument that needs to be addressed, Lund said.

“I think it’s not a bad thing to mention,” Lund said. “If you didn’t end your season on the best note, that doesn’t mean the rest of your races shouldn’t be recognized.”

Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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