Aspen’s Noah Hoffman ready to lead the pack | AspenTimes.com

Aspen’s Noah Hoffman ready to lead the pack

Nate Peterson

Aspen senior Noah Hoffman would just as soon forget last year’s 3A state cross-country meet in Colorado Springs.A weekend after winning a regional title on his team’s home course, Hoffman charged off the starting line with the lead pack and looked strong for the first mile. Then, about halfway through the 3.1-mile course, he hit the wall.”It just all went downhill,” said Hoffman, who settled for ninth. “I just kinda died. I got dropped out of the lead group, then just went backwards the whole race.”This fall, Hoffman hopes to make amends for that performance in his final cross-country season at Aspen. He is one of four seniors on a talented boys team that hopes to win a regional title after finishing second to Basalt last year.The Longhorns lost their top runner from last season, Collin Stewart, and junior Casey Weaver, their second-best runner from last year, hasn’t been running in preseason practices.”We’re all really excited,” Hoffman said of the boys team, which features seniors Barton Tofany, Jake O’Connor and Nate Marrs. “We’re actually more motivated than we’ve ever been running as a group and stuff. … It’s going to be fun to see if we can actually win a regional title. Last year we were pretty close.”Last year at regionals, Tofany was ninth, O’Connor was 12th and Marrs 16th, to give the Skiers enough points to edge Gunnison for second place. Aspen coach Chris Keleher fully expects the team to challenge for the regional title and a top-10 finish at state after its 11th-place showing last year, but he’s not setting the goals himself.”They’re actually going to set their own goals,” he said. “They’ll be aware of what they want and what they have to do to achieve those goals. I’ll let them decide.”Keleher also wasn’t quick to count Basalt out of the running for another regional boys title, despite the loss of Stewart.”Yeah, they lost some people, but Ron [Lund, head coach] does an amazing job and they’re always tough,” he said. “I don’t think it’s out of the question for those guys to run well and win a regional title.”Hoffman won two races last season, one at the Holy Family Invite in Denver, one of two Front Range races the Skiers are slated to run in this fall. He also won the Boogie’s Diner Buddy 5 Mile Race this summer, edging elite professional distance runner Bernie Boettcher of Silt.He said he feels stronger than ever entering this season. Along with the Buddy 5, he raced in a handful of races this summer, and also attended a cross-country skiing camp in Maine.”It was definitely a surprise,” Hoffman said of winning the Buddy 5, the biggest local road race of the year. “I’ve only run that race once before, a long time ago. … I was pretty sharp at all of the races I did this summer, so I feel pretty good about my form right now.” On the girls side, Aspen will miss Christy Severy, who wrapped up her senior season last fall with a 12th-place showing at state. Severy won an individual state title as a freshman as well as four individual regional titles.Senior Laura Hatanaka is the Skiers’ top returner, followed by sophomore Lindsey Wilkinson, junior Natalie Obermeyer and sophomore Brittany Marrs.While Severy’s shoes will be hard to fill, Keleher said the team as a whole should be stronger this season.”Christy led more by example,” he said. “She was not one to say, ‘All right, this is what we’re going to do now.’ I think Lindsey and Natalie and Laura, to a certain extent, are much more vocal leaders. They lead by example as well, but it’s a little easier to get them to lead by leading in the traditional sense, by helping people out and encouraging them.” The Skiers will get a preview of the regional course today when they run at Delta. Basalt will also be at the meet to see the course, and the meet should give both teams a chance to size each other up.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com