‘Horns cross-country charging toward finish | AspenTimes.com

‘Horns cross-country charging toward finish

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado

BASALT Basalt harriers Brennan Roper and Chiara Del Piccolo took different routes to their second place finishes Saturday in Glenwood Springs.Roper vaulted to the front shortly after the start and held that position for the bulk of the Demon Invitational. Rock Canyon’s Joe Kappes made a late push with 400 meters to go to close a gap of nearly 50 meters and clip Roper by just two seconds.Del Piccolo was caught in a bottleneck during the course’s early section of singletrack and faded to the back of the pack. A mile and a half into the race, however, she had maneuvered her way into fourth. She picked off two more competitors on the way in.No matter what approach his runners take, Basalt head coach Ron Lund hopes the Longhorns can produce in this the season’s most pivotal stretch. The Longhorns host the 3A Western Slope regional in two weeks on a Crown Mountain Park course in El Jebel where, on Sept. 8, Roper and fellow senior Casey Weaver finished 1-2. There’s work to be done before then, however.First comes Saturday’s Chris Severy Cross-Country Invitational in Aspen. The meet, which challenges runners with a series of winding, steep nordic trails at high altitude, is widely regarded as the season’s most grueling.”At this point we’re still looking to get in some solid work,” Lund said Sunday. “Facing a hard effort like this makes everything else feel easier.”Uncertainty abounded when Basalt prepared to run in Aspen last season; the team left with little resolution. The Longhorns boys, hampered by injury and a lack of depth, had just two competitors. Roper was nursing an ankle injury and didn’t compete. Tyler Wilson and Weaver finished well off the pace in 40th and 46th, respectively. The girls took sixth. Lund expects results to be different this time.”We’re running a full boys team and scoring four … the key is going to be can our third and fourth guys close the gap and keep the score down,” Lund said. “Brennan and Casey should be in the top 10, if not the top five. That’s certainly realistic for both.”I look for [Del Piccolo and Annette Stenstadvold] to have a good go this weekend. They’re strength runners, and this is a strength course.”Because of a scheduling conflict, Stenstadvold lined up in the JV race in Glenwood Springs. Predictably, the sophomore outran the field, finishing in 20 minutes, 40 seconds. Had she run varsity, Stenstadvold would’ve tied Del Piccolo for second place, 14 seconds behind Glenwood’s Katrina Selsor.While the Basalt girls’ top three will be at full strength, Nuala Del Piccolo won’t run in Aspen – she is nursing a knee injury.”We’re hoping she gets better by not racing,” Lund said. “Our fourth and fifth girls are both coming on. The girls have their work cut out to be in the top three [at regionals].”The girls hope to improve on their third-place finish at last year’s regionals. So, too, is the boys team who took second. Basalt returns all the boys runners from that squad, which took 16th at state in Colorado Springs. Roper appears to be hitting his stride – he’s won three times this season – and Weaver has reverted to the form he showcased as a sophomore after a lackluster junior campaign.The Chris Severy Cross-Country Invitational, a meet every bit as tough as its namesake, will provide a stiff late-season test. It also will be a barometer for the Longhorns as they eye postseason success. “If we conquer this, we can handle our course,” Lund said.Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com