Glenwood’s Johnson, Connerton-Nevin score top-10 finishes at state meet

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

The chase was on for Glenwood Springs runner Sophia Connerton-Nevin, starting in the second wave of the 4A girls state high school cross country championships Saturday, 45 seconds behind junior teammate and partner-in-strategy, Ella Johnson.

The sophomore runner was up to the challenge, though, picking her way one-by-one into the front wave to score an eighth-place overall finish in 19 minutes, 7.19 seconds.

Johnson kept pace up front, placing fourth overall in 18:24 —25 seconds off the winning pace set by Air Academy’s Bethany Michalak, and one position and 17 seconds better than her inaugural state appearance last year.

Not having Connerton-Nevin at her side was a bit foreign for Johnson, but the lead pack made for some pretty good company. Niwot’s Mia Prok was second in 18:02.37, followed by Eagle Valley’s Samantha Blair in third, at 18:14.04.

“I didn’t really have a strategy going in, but the hills on this course definitely help me out,” Johnson said in a phone interview after the race. The state meet was held at the Norris-Penrose Events Center in Colorado Springs.

“Usually, we (she and Connerton-Nevin) team up and try to go on either side of someone to push the pace, but we couldn’t do that this race,” she said of this season’s COVID restrictions that require runners to start in waves every 45 seconds, rather than all at once.

Johnson’s fallback strategy was to keep Eagle Valley’s Blair in view, in hopes she might reel her in at the end. That didn’t quite happen, but it was one way to keep her from slowing down, she said.

Connerton-Nevin said she was just happy to have a chance to compete at state for a second straight season, which almost didn’t happen were it not for her teammates rallying at last week’s regionals to claim the third team qualifying spot.

“I had a couple of rough races coming into regionals, so it was nice to end the season this way,” Connerton-Nevin also said in a phone interview Saturday after the state meet.

“Starting in the second wave helped me be able to work from behind and pick off people as I went, so it was a different race strategy,” she said. “I was just happy to be here and share this with my team, and having them here for support helped me run a little bit stronger this year.”

Connerton-Nevin placed 16th at state as a freshman, and improved her time on the challenging state course by 12 seconds.

Finishing behind Johnson and Connerton-Nevin for the Demons squad, in order, were: junior Alexa Helms, 71st, 21:48.01; senior Maya Elia, 81st, 22:17; freshman Taia Nykerk, 86th, 22:29.65; and sophomore Ruby Patch, 88th, 22:38.36.

The Glenwood Springs girls finished eighth as a team with 223 points, behind state champion Niwot (55), followed by Battle Mountain (93), Air Academy (111), Durango (126), Denver South (167), Palmer Ridge (171), and Silver Creek (220).

“It was a great end-of-the-season performance, and we exceeded expectations every meet in the postseason,” Glenwood Springs head coach Justin Baum said.

The Demons had been ranked 16th among 4A teams before regionals, and came into state as the 10th-ranked team.

Johnson said she and Connerton-Nevin hope to improve and both place in the top five at state next season.

“It was an interesting season, but I think they handled it well,” Johnson said of meet protocols which, in addition to the wave starts, included mask requirements, limits on overall individual and team entries at meets, and limits on spectators.

“With what we had to work around, it was a good season,” Johnson said, adding she looks forward to basketball season in January, which also will be played under strict rules to prevent spread of COVID-19.

Cardinals runners finish strong

Competing in the 2A championship during the all-class state cross country meet, Grand Valley senior Alex Mendoza placed 13th overall among the girls, finishing in 21:40.20.

In the 2A boys race, the Grand Valley boys competed as a full team. The Cardinals’ top runner was senior Keaton Jansen in 41st (19:15.30), senior Nikolai Stammer was 63rd (19:51.70), senior Keenan Strauss was 65th (19:56.90), sophomore Kade Sackett was 80th (20:34.10), and sophomore Dominic Mendoza was 86th (21:11.60).

Running in the 3A girls championship, but unable to finish, was Coal Ridge sophomore Mikayla Cheney.