Aspen harriers find ‘real cross-country’ at Middle Park
The Aspen High cross-country team knows a “cross-country” race when it sees one. As the Skiers warmed up on the course before Saturday’s race in Middle Park, it was apparent they had found what they were looking for. “This is what it’s all about,” coach Chris Keleher said.The five-kilometer course was hilly, muddy and lonely, following singletrack far out of spectator view, winding deep into Middle Park’s vast and colorful aspen. The wind wafted yellow leaves into the air above what seemed to be a gentle autumn mist. However, there was no mist, actually, but rather smoke from the 12-gauge shotgun that started each race. The echo of the blast stalled the racers before they could set off.The course exceeded Aspen’s expectations for a cross-country race. The Skiers also exceeded their expectations for themselves.”The kids did great today,” Keleher said. “Both the boys and girls teams are starting to realize that they can really compete with the rest of the state.”Especially when they are in their element. Junior Noah Hoffman, who was already acquainted with the trails at Middle Park from last year’s cross-country ski season, led the Aspen boys with an impressive third place finish, completing the challenging 5K in 18 minutes, 38 seconds. His only complaint about the “awesome” course was that the downhill was too long.”I pushed too hard on the uphill and pulled away,” Hoffman said. Eric Ndikuman and Jose Manilafaha, both of Denver North, caught Hoffman on the long downhill approaching the finish line as his legs fatigued.Junior Barton Tofany finished 12th, covered in mud, for the Skiers, and junior Nate Marrs finished 22nd, a season best. Strong finishes by senior Joe Oppenheimer (41st), sophomore Morgan Boyles (52nd), and sophomore Taylor Preusch (61st), helped the Skiers finish fifth in the team standings with 78 points. Denver North won the competition with 15 points.”It’s great to see the boys run so well,” Keleher said. “All the hard work is really starting to pay off.”Christy Severy led the girls team to a fourth-place finish. She placed second individually in 22:15 behind Platte Canyon’s Kristen McGlynn, who completed the course in a quick 20:30.With the judgment of an experienced senior, Severy started conservatively, knowing the difficult course would gradually bring back those less patient. By the top of the large hill, she was by herself in second place.”It was lonely out there – empty,” Severy said. “But I liked it.”Junior Laura Hatanaka, recovering from a cold, stepped up to finish in 20th place. She was just ahead of Natalie Obermeyer and Lindsey Wilkinson. Brittany Marrs and Katie Bird added a 38th- and a 44th-place finish for Aspen, respectively.Keleher was glad to take advantage of “real cross-country running.” He said he wants to work on improving his team’s strength, while still having fun on challenging and beautiful courses. The team will run on some flat, fast trails, however, in the coming weeks to prepare for similar courses at the state meet.”The state championship course is going to be flat and fast, and the competition likes that best,” Keleher said.Aspen next runs Saturday at the Summit Invitational. The team then runs at home the following Saturday in the Chris Severy Memorial Invitational, another race Keleher dubbed “real cross-country.”
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