Youthful Aspen girls cross country team heads to state looking to surprise again

The Aspen High School girls cross country team practices on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, on the AHS track.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Only two of the runners had ever experienced a regional race prior to last weekend, so Chris Keleher didn’t fully know what awaited them at the finish line. But the longtime Aspen High School cross country coach was pleasantly surprised when the youthful AHS girls came in third as a team to qualify for this fall’s state championship meet.

“We put five new girls on the line and they ran great,” Keleher said ahead of Thursday’s practice. “I’m just pleased as could be that they ran so well at regionals.”

Despite no seniors and three freshmen in their scoring group in the Class 3A Region 1 meet held in New Castle, Aspen scored 90 points to finish third behind only Basalt (68) and Alamosa (31).

Now, those seven AHS runners will head to Colorado Springs for the 3A race on Saturday. The Skiers finished fourth at state in 2020, but most of those runners graduated, including top finisher Kylie Kenny, who was 12th a year ago.

Taking her spot as the team’s top runner this season is none other than her younger sister, junior Michaela Kenny, who finished ninth at regionals last weekend to lead the Skiers.

“Just coming to practice every day and hoping my teammates can support me like I support them, which they definitely are,” Michaela Kenny said of her rise up the ranks this season. “I’m really excited for states and I think we’ve worked really hard this season and it was definitely different to have a lot of freshmen and a bunch of people who have never been to states before, but I’m really excited to see what they can do.”

Kenny finished 25th at state last fall as a sophomore, second on the team to only her older sister, with a time of 20 minutes, 51.8 seconds. The only other returner from that state team is junior Elsie Weiss, who last year as a sophomore finished 32nd at state in 21:10.2. Weiss was 13th last weekend in the regional race.

“Michaela especially is running really well. She just continues to get better every day,” Keleher said. “Top 30 for both of those? I would love to see them top 30. Top 20 would be awesome. But who knows?”

The Aspen High School girls cross country team stops for a photo on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The state field on Saturday is expected to be deep with talent. The list includes Alamosa sophomore Sarah DeLaCerda, who won the Coal Ridge regional, and Basalt junior Katelyn Maley, the defending 3A state champion who was second in this year’s regional race.

Also representing the Skiers at state this weekend are junior Natalie Wesner, sophomore Yasmine Khan-Farooqi, and freshmen Julia Diaz, Eden Bohart and Darienne Kenny, the youngest of the three Kenny sisters. Another freshman, Mykenzie Roy, was the team’s other regional runner and is a state alternate.

“I would love to be top 10. Top 10 with five inexperienced girls would be stunning,” Keleher said of the team expectations at state. “The course is good for us. I think it favors a little more strength, but you can put up some fast times on it. I have really no expectations. My first one is to always go out and have fun.”

Aspen also had two runners qualify for the boys race as individuals in sophomore Edwin Ryerson and junior Eske Roennau. Ryerson was 13th at regionals and Roennau was 15th, and both are first-time state qualifiers.

“They both ran so well,” Keleher said of the boys’ regional race. “They put themselves in position early and hung on and passed a couple of people and took advantage of some of the other runners who had gone out maybe too hard. They ran very smart races, both of them.”

The Aspen High School girls cross country team practices on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, on the AHS track.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Like it is every year, the state cross country meet will be held Saturday at the Norris Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs. The 3A girls race is scheduled for 1 p.m., while the 3A boys will race at 2:20 p.m., the final race of the afternoon.

“I’m hoping for everyone to give it all that they have and just have fun,” Michaela Kenny said, “because it’s a great experience and all the hard work that we put into this season should hopefully pay off.”