Tight-knit senior group leads Aspen High School girls cross country back to state
The steady progression by this year’s senior class is easily quantifiable when looking at their regional results. There was a fourth-place finish when the current seniors were freshmen in 2017, then third their sophomore year, second as juniors and as of last week they are now regional champions.
That’s consistent growth for the Aspen High School girls cross country team.
“I don’t even know how to put it into words. The team has meant so much to me,” AHS senior Kylie Kenny said. “We always talked about and joked about going 4-3-2-1 throughout the years and we never thought it was going to be possible. And then to have it happen is really fun and kind of exciting.”
Next up for the Skier seniors is one final trip to the Class 3A state meet, which is Saturday in Colorado Springs. And, like with regionals, their progression has been steadily upward in terms of state results. The AHS girls were 12th in 2017, seventh in 2018 and fifth in 2019, and coming off their regional championship could be a dark horse contender with a top-three finish reasonably possible.
The Aspen girls have one previous state championship in cross country, winning the 3A title back in 2002.
“We’re in a good position and I think the girls are excited and more nervous than I’ve ever seen them in my four years of coaching them,” longtime AHS coach Chris Keleher said of the seniors. “They’ve just been getting better every year and a little bit more focused every year. It shows that they train in the summer and they feed off of each other and they push each other and encourage each other. They like to compete, and that’s the best part.”
Of the six runners competing Saturday for Aspen, four are seniors. Along with Kenny, there is Kendall Clark, Eva McDonough and Edie Sherlock. Not competing is Macy Hopkinson, another senior who has played a strong role on the team over the years. Rounding out Aspen’s state lineup are sophomores Elsie Weiss and Michaela Kenny, Kylie’s younger sister.
The elder Kenny has arguably been the team’s best runner since she was a freshman. Kylie Kenny finished fifth at the regional meet last week in Durango and was eighth at state last fall with a time of 19 minutes, 31.1 seconds. She’s likely a long shot to contend for the individual title, but should again be the first Skier across the finish line, unless one of those sophomores has something to say about it.
“It’s a little scary, because it’s the last time but also I know that everyone here on Saturday is going to support each other because we’ve been doing this for four years and we are a total family,” Kylie Kenny said of her final high school race. “It just makes it all the more special. We are not an individual-based program; it’s just everyone running together.”
A big part of Aspen’s consistent rise over the past four years has been just how close they are as a group. As strong as Kylie Kenny has been, she’s never overshadowed any of her teammates and they’ve always taken a team approach to racing. Them being so tight-knit has paved the way to them becoming the strong team they are today.
“We’ve become really close because of that and it’s been really fun,” Sherlock said. “It definitely boosts, at least personally, my competitiveness because I’ve known these girls for however long, most of them forever, really, so seeing them go out and try their hardest always makes me want to try even harder.”
The Class 3A girls’ race on Saturday is scheduled for 12:45 p.m. at the Norris-Penrose Event Center. Because of COVID-19, the field is a bit smaller this fall, with each race being capped at 100 runners. The race itself will take place in waves, with the top runners from each regional getting to run in the first wave.
Kylie Kenny will be Aspen’s lone runner in the first wave, joining Basalt’s talented trio of senior Sierra Bower and sophomores Ava Lane and Katelyn Maley. Bower is the reigning Class 3A state champion.
Even so, it means something to enter the state meet as the regional team champion, and that has Kylie Kenny feeling good about Aspen’s chances.
“It gives me a bit more confidence. I have immense belief in the strength of the team we have here,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I think everyone is feeling a little nervous still. It’s definitely not a sense of overconfidence — there are a lot of teams that have been running really strong and everyone is trying to go out and run their hardest on Saturday. We’ll just run together and see what happens.”
For the Basalt High School state preview, click here.
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