Basalt’s Bower looks to defend state XC title while teammates keeping pace

When you have to chase down the defending state champion every day in practice, it provides the sort of fuel no other rival cross country teams will have. So for Basalt High School sophomore Katelyn Maley, having a star like senior Sierra Bower to keep pace with is a great thing.

“It definitely is a confidence boost and it’s really fun to be up there with her,” Maley said. “It definitely drives me. She is just a great role model and a great person to learn from. She’s had so much success and she’s a really cool person to be friends with.”

Bower will look to defend her Class 3A state title from last fall on Saturday at the state meet, held at the Norris-Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs. The BHS cross country team has developed a strong trio this season in Bower, Maley and sophomore Ava Lane, who took the top three spots at the regional race last week in Durango.

While Maley and Lane enter as relative unknowns on the state scene, there will be a lot of eyes on Bower. Not only did she win the 3A championship last year, she won it by a country mile. Her winning time of 18 minutes, 00.1 seconds set the 3A course record and kept her from becoming only the eighth girl to have ever broken the 18-minute barrier at the state meet, regardless of classification.

“It’s definitely a lot different this year, but I’m really excited and I think it will be fun, especially going with the team and racing all together,” Bower said of having to defend her title. “Because it’s my last year, I’m not really too nervous about anything. I’m just trying to stay relaxed pretty much.”

Bower, who is committed to run for Furman in college, probably won’t cruise to the state title this year, and her teammate might have a lot to do with it. Maley has come on strong this season, even beating Bower in a few races. This includes the regional race, won by Maley with Bower in second and Lane in third. Basalt took second to Aspen for the regional team title.

“I’m just hoping that Katelyn and Sierra are both on their game in the same race. Because they’ve kind of been going back and forth. One was on, one was off,” BHS coach Ron Lund said. “They are both pretty confident with what they got under their belt from the season that they can match anything that is thrown at them.”

While Bower won state last year by 44 seconds and stole the show, Maley quietly had a great debut. She finished 12th in 3A as a freshman in 20:00.8 and has carried that momentum into this season. Her sister, Megan Maley, also was a standout runner at BHS before graduating in 2019. Megan, who runs collegiately at Scripps College in Claremont, California, spent a lot of time running with her younger sister this past spring.

“During the quarantine, my sister came home from college because obviously everyone got sent home,” Katelyn Maley said. “So instead of taking some time off I really just ran with Megan, who I watched all throughout high school, which was really fun to run with my older sister. It was really motivating.”

Bower hasn’t minded the extra push from her teammates. Maley ended Bower’s two-year reign as regional champion last week, and even Lane only finished a second behind Bower at the state qualifier. If anything, this will help prepare Bower for college when she has to race against other elite talent on a daily basis.

“It’s definitely helped me in my training a lot,” Bower said. “Unfortunately we lost our fourth girl because of an injury, but I think it’s still really nice having somewhat of a competitive atmosphere every day in practice. That will definitely be something I experience in college, too.”

Basalt’s team title hopes took a big hit late in the fall when sophomore Sarah Levy’s season ended early because of a foot injury. The gap between the top three Longhorn runners and the next three is quite wide at the moment, and depth is crucial to winning the team title.

However, it’s not out of the question and a similar 1-2-3 finish like Basalt had at regionals is well within reason. Again, all eyes will be on Bower, but Maley in particular should be able to keep up.

“It hasn’t hurt to have the best in the state on our team. She knows how high the bar is set and having finished ahead of Sierra a couple of times, she is not afraid to run with her,” Lund said of Maley. “It will be interesting. I’m hoping they are both ready to go from the gun and push each other.”

The Class 3A girls’ state championship race is scheduled for 12:45 p.m. Saturday. For the Aspen High School state preview, click here.