Basalt’s Bower breaks course record to win girls 3A cross country title

Sierra Bower was often up before sunrise, donning her sneakers in search of something more. She entered the fall with growing expectations and rolled out of bed at 5:30 a.m. most days to make those dreams a reality.

In many ways, the Basalt High School junior was expected to win Saturday, so her success came as no surprise. However, the dominance she showed in the Class 3A girls cross country state championship race at the Norris Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs was nothing short of eye-opening.

“She definitely made a statement. It was pretty much over by the mile. She just didn’t look back,” BHS cross country coach Ron Lund said. “I was a little surprised it was that dominating. I thought somebody might try and go with her or stay close to her early on, but like I said, it was pretty much over by the mile.”

Bower finished the 5-kilometer course in 18 minutes flat to win the 3A girls championship by 44 seconds over runner-up Sawyer Wilson, a freshman from The Classical Academy. According to the Colorado High School Activities Association, Bower’s official time of 18:00.1 broke the girls 3A state course record by 20 seconds. She nearly joined a group of only seven girls to have ever broken the 18-minute barrier at state.

“A lot of emotion coming through the finish line. It was very, very awesome,” Bower said. “I felt confident, for sure, and I knew I had to push it. My coaches were yelling and screaming that I was on record pace so I definitely pushed it there so I could get that done.”

While Bower will only be recognized as the 3A state champion, she did put up the fastest time of any classification on Saturday. The 5A girls state champion was Cherry Creek sophomore Riley Stewart, who finished in 18:12.3 on the same course. The 4A champion was Niwot senior Samrawit Dishon (18:11.9) and the 2A champion was Lyons sophomore Quin Gregg (19:24.9).

Bower is believed to be the first state cross country champion in BHS history. She also finished as state runner-up in the 3,200-meter run at the track and field championship back in the spring as a sophomore.

“That was a clinic she put on,” Aspen High School cross country coach Chris Keleher said of Bower’s performance Saturday. “So dominant, and from the gun. Just like, ‘Hey, come catch me.’ And it was fun to watch.”

Bower has made a meteoric rise up the cross country ranks. She was hardly a blip on the radar as a freshman in 2017, taking 35th at state in 20:23.2. As a sophomore in 2018, after her first regional championship, she improved to 24th with a time of 20:12 at state. A year later, after winning her second straight regional title — this time on her home course at Crown Mountain Park — Bower would cut more than 2 minutes off that time and leave the rest of the 3A field in the dust.

“I didn’t really have a time in mind. I was kind of going for placement,” Bower said, pointing out that she tries not to pay attention to the runners behind her. “I try my best to not really think about that when I’m racing. But yeah, I felt confident going into the last mile, but never playing it too safe.”

Not needing to worry about the runner behind you and crushing a course record is what comes from getting up at 5:30 a.m. every day to train.

“She just loves the sport and she is dedicated to her training and grinds down,” said Melinda Bower, Sierra’s mother. “As a parent, it’s easy to sit back and watch your kid that’s suppose to do well. Once we saw she had the lead, I think I sat back and just enjoyed it a little bit.”

Not only did Bower show substantial improvement over this past year, but the BHS girls team did as a whole. In fact, the Longhorns didn’t even send a full team in 2018 after missing the cut at regionals. Led by Bower on Saturday, the BHS girls finished third as a team in 3A with 119 points. Classical Academy won the 3A championship with 50 points, followed by Faith Christian in second with 88 points.

Aspen finished fifth, behind an eighth-place finish from Kylie Kenny.

According to Lund, it was Basalt’s best team finish since at least 2004, when his daughter and current BHS assistant coach Amy Rollins was on the team. Basalt has never won the team state championship in cross country.

“It was a little bit tougher course than we had been racing all year,” Lund said of the state course. “We kind of put the focus on faster courses, knowing what our regional was going to be, because you got to get here first. So that’s where the importance was put, to do good at regionals and this was going to be the icing on the cake.”

Basalt freshman Katelyn Maley just missed joining Bower in the top 10 on Saturday, finishing 12th in 20:00.8. Freshman Sarah Levy was third among Basalt runners, taking 23rd in 20:31.7, while another freshman, Ava Lane, was 34th in 20:51.5.

Other Longhorn runners included senior Lily Gillis (70th, 21:55.2), junior Sophia Moon (123rd, 23:42.5) and freshman Analyn Hoffner (148th, 26:12.8). BHS senior Tucker Bruce was the lone male runner from either Basalt or Aspen to compete on Saturday, finishing 98th out of 155 finishers in the 3A boys race in 19:04.1.

As she does, Bower is ready to get back to training. As Basalt does most years, a handful of runners will compete in the Nike Cross Regionals Southwest meet next month in Arizona. Bower won the small schools race a year ago, but plans to compete in the championship-level race this time, which includes the opportunity to advance to a national-level meet.

Not that she can’t take a second to enjoy her state championship. Maybe she can sleep in until at least 6 a.m. a few times this coming week to celebrate.

“It was definitely very exciting,” Bower said. “Going from not qualifying as a team at all to placing third is a pretty big deal, so it was super exciting having that happen, as well.”