New-look Basalt cross country team has potential | AspenTimes.com

New-look Basalt cross country team has potential

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

BASALT – The circumstances are familiar for Ron Lund.

Last fall, the Basalt cross country coach did not know what to expect after losing his two top runners (Brennan Roper and Casey Weaver) from a boys team that finished fifth at state. All his largely unproven squad did was nab the fourth and final team berth at regionals, then finish eighth in the state meet at Fort Collins.

In 2009, new faces will once again litter the top of the roster after the departure of Tyler Wilson and Andy Delany, the team’s second- and third-best runners. But Lund said Thursday that this young group, with only one senior in the top eight, could have as much or more potential than 2008’s squad.

“We’ve got 11 boys out, and they’re looking pretty good. The first race will tell me a lot,” said Lund, whose team kicks off the season at Saturday’s Delta Invitational. “Our first guy [Conner Roper] is back, and we know he’s going to be faster. Our fourth guy [Giulio Del Piccolo], I’m expecting him to be a little stronger and faster.

“I’m excited to see some of the other guys, and how they do as the season progresses.”

Conner Roper is healthy and once again poised to anchor the Longhorns. The junior, who finished 22nd at state last fall – good for second among sophomores in the field – has overcome a shin problem that hampered him at the end of the spring track season.

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After two weeks of practice, Lund said Roper, Del Piccolo, Jason Ingram and freshman Jacob Besser have already distinguished themselves.

“I don’t want to put pressure on him … but I think he’s thinking top 10 [at state] is pretty doable,” Lund said of Roper. “If he can stay healthy, he’ll definitely be a factor.”

The same can be said of Longhorns girls team. While the squad currently has only three runners – one shy of the number needed to qualify as a team – two of those runners have amassed impressive resumes. Senior Chiara Del Piccolo won five races, including the regional, last fall and finished in the top 10 at state for a second consecutive season. She’s the first female to accomplish that feat in Lund’s tenure.

While the 3A field is stockpiled with talent – including state champion Kaitlin Hanenburg of Classical Academy and Middle Park’s Sam Berggren, whom Del Piccolo finished second to at meets in El Jebel, Denver and Aspen in 2008 – Lund said another top 10 for his top runner is not out of the question.

“I don’t see why she can’t continue to improve,” he added. “She’s in one of the best classes I’ve seen in a long time … there’s some incredible talent there, and it’s tough to crack the top five. But I think she’s going to run a little better than last year.

“The unknown is what new freshmen are coming out that will be right at the top in their first year. … Underclassmen always fill up the top 10 at the state meet.” Annette Stenstadvold did just that in 2007, when she out-kicked Del Piccolo down the stretch to take fifth. The junior was slowed by an illness last season that forced her to sit out the first meet.

She wound up 24th at state. Lund expects her to improve this time around.

“She got off to a slow start … and it took a while for her to get going,” Lund said. “She’s in better position right now, so we’ll see. I’d say she’ll finish in the top 20 at state.”

Aspen would settle for any state appearance after failing to send one runner to last year’s biggest meet. At regionals, Hotchkiss edged the Skiers girls by one point to claim the final team spot and top finisher Brianna Morse also missed out by the slimmest of margins after finishing 16th; the top 15 runners advanced.

Aspen will have to replace key contributors Brittany Marrs and Lindsey Wilkinson. It will lean on Morse, Kelsey Tofany, Taylor Quist, Erica Heaphey Grace Nichols and Allie Parker to fill the void, Aspen coach Chris Keleher said Thursday.

On the boys side, the Skiers return just one runner – sophomore Nate Hanson – from a team that struggled. He’ll be joined by Luke Smith, a transfer from Wyoming, and Desmond Duggan, a standout lacrosse player and the squad’s only senior, among others.

The boys are inexperienced, yet talented, Keleher said. He’s excited to see how they progress in the coming weeks. Aspen, which hosts this year’s regional, opens the season Saturday in Fort Collins – site of this year’s state championship.

“The boys have been really fun to watch, because they’re getting better with every workout,” Keleher said. “They’re feeding off each other. … I’m looking forward to Saturday’s race and seeing where they stack up and how much more work we have to do. Hopefully we’ll be back there on Oct. 31.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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