A fight to the finish at Longhorn Invitational | AspenTimes.com

A fight to the finish at Longhorn Invitational

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times

EL JEBEL ” One week after running away from the field, Basalt’s Chiara Del Piccolo attempted to run down Middle Park’s Samantha Berggren.

A mile and a half into Saturday’s Longhorn Invitational at El Jebel’s Crown Mountain Park, Del Piccolo had worked her way through the pack and was on the heels of Middle Park’s super sophomore.

The race for first was on.

Del Piccolo knew about Berggren’s kick. She knew she needed to make a move and gain as much ground as possible on Berggren.

“That’s easier said than done,” Longhorns coach Ron Lund said. “[Berggren’s] got a good kick and she’s also really strong. That’s a good combination.”

That combination served Berggren well during a freshman season in which she logged a runner-up finish in the 3A state cross country championships, then won four events at the regional track meet during the spring. That combination served her well last week when she won a race in Fort Collins.

That combination served her well down the stretch Saturday. Del Piccolo momentarily seized the lead, but Berggren pulled away on the last straight-away, striding strongly and confidently to the line. She finished five seconds ahead in 19 minutes, 42 seconds.

Del Piccolo, who was sixth at the state championship and won last week’s season opener in Delta, settled for second. Annette Stenstadvold (22:02) took fifth for the Longhorns, who finished fifth out of six.

Brittany Marrs’ eighth-place finish propelled the Aspen girls to the team victory. Brianna Morse, Lindsey Wilkinson and Keaton Doyle finished 14th through 16th, respectively.

Everyone was chasing Berggren.

“I started my kick a little before the 3-mile mark,” said Berggren, who won the 200, 400, 800 and the mile at regionals. “At that point I felt really good, a lot better than last week.

“I just did the usual. Get a strong start and try and hold onto it.”

Berggren vaulted to the front as runners funneled onto a gravel path moments after the start. Del Piccolo, who settled in near the middle of the field, slowly worked her way to the front.

One mile in, she was in the lead pack of three. Minutes later, she and Berggren were all alone as they jockeyed for position.

“I just wanted to stick with her,” said Del Piccolo, who struggled against Berggren during the mile at both regionals and state. “I was excited. It’s great to compete against someone like her. She’s fast, and she really pushed me.”

Del Piccolo pushed Berggren, too. Berggren finished nearly 30 seconds ahead of last year’s regional-winning pace set by Stenstadvold on the same Crown Mountain course.

Del Piccolo’s race was impressive in its own right. She finished in 20:27 at last fall’s regionals, when Basalt runners went 1-2 in both the girls’ and boys’ races. She was 10 second slower than last weekend in Delta ” but on a tougher course with an elevation nearly 2,000 feet higher, Lund said.

“It was good to see them duke it out,” the coach added. “I think they pushed each other, and that’s why the times were so solid.

“I think it will [benefit Del Piccolo in the long run]. She knows it’s attainable and she knows what she has to do to neutralize that kick. She’s got all season to do it.”

In other action Saturday, Tyler Wilson (19:37) was eighth, Connor Roper (19:44) 10th, Gulio Del Piccolo (21:02) 22nd and Andy Delany (21:07) 23rd for the Longhorns boys, who finished fourth out of seven.

“We still have some things to work on, but I liked what I saw,” Lund said.


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