Mountain Vista knew the pressure would be on throughout the season after having won the Class 5A boys state cross country title a year ago. Yet it was that pressure that, more than anything, seemed to lift the Golden Eagles to their second title.
Senior Connor Weaver led the way for Mountain Vista with his third-place finish in the individual competition behind Denver East's explosive Cerake Beberkidane, and he turned in a close effort behind runner-up Zachary Alhamra of Pine Creek.
Beberkidane was clocked in a course record 15 minutes, 48.2 seconds over the challenging mountainous course at the Norris-Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs. Alhamra ran 16:29.0 with Weaver coming through with a 16:34.5.
That third-place finish helped key a second-straight state championship for Mountain Vista, coached by Jonathan Dalby. The Golden Eagles tallied 110 points and were followed by Fort Collins (179) and Arapahoe (203).
“Back-to-back is cool and it's something I will remember all my life,” Weaver said. “I hoped for second individually, but I'm not disappointed in third. I'm thrilled with the results for myself and our team and thrilled we won. After losing four seniors from last year's team there were some doubts. But we put in a lot of hard work and we won.”
Andrew Walton, a senior, finished 21st with a time of 17:13.8 for the next highest finish for Mountain Vista. Junior Tyler Matzke was 25th (17:16.8) and senior Blake Graff, 26th (17:16.9) to round out the scoring for the Golden Eagles.
“Overall this season we worked hard and we were able to focus,” said Walton, who would like to attend Brigham Young University as does Weaver. “We just wanted to do the right things every day and we felt confident. I wanted to do better individually and it was not one of my better races. At the end of the hill I thought I might have more energy, but at the bottom I just didn't seem to have a lot of energy left.
“It was always questionable that we would be able to repeat, but we knew we had the chance if we stayed focused,” Walton said. “It was a fine ending to a fine year for all of us. Now, it's get ready for track in the spring.”
Dalby felt from the beginning his squad had a chance to repeat. But, he was cautious.
“We knew we had to go out,” Dalby said. “Arapahoe, Heritage and Fort Collins all looked good coming into state, too. I felt the kids had the chance to win, but they knew they had a target on their backs. We've been unbeaten all season and this was a great way to close out.
“The boys just ran well on the whole,” Dalby said. “It was a great run for Connor, but also for all the boys. The course is tough, but it turned out to be a special day for the kids. I was just excited for them. We'll be heading to Arizona for the Nike Regional competition in Phoenix, Ariz., in a couple of weeks.”
Geberkindane, who placed third last season in state, was really never in trouble.
“I just wanted to get in the low 16 minutes, but was able to push hard,” Geberkindane said. “I took the lead about 300 yards into the race and was able to extend. I wanted to get first or second last year, but didn't as my brother Ashi was the champion. He's now at Harvard. I trained hard and really wanted to win to continue the family tradition.”
Alhamra, a junior, and Weaver ran close throughout the race. It was on the final stretch that he was able to prevail for second.
“I really didn't feel any pressure to win and it's an honor to finish second,” Alhamra said. “Cerake is such a strong runner and it was going to be challenge from the start just to stay close to him. That last half-mile was tough against Connor. But I was able to pull it out.”
One can say that Arapahoe finished third in the team competition in “the Nick of time.” The Warriors were helped along by three runners named Nick, and by Chris Retzlaff, Steven Goldy and Louis Hood. The Nicks are seniors Nick Petersen (31st, 17:19.1) and Nick Moore (48th, 17:30.1) and sophomore Nick Maddalone (44th, 17:28.1).
“It was good with stiff competition,” Petersen said. “That hill was tough. After we calmed down it went well. We're all close and that certainly was a key to our success. Third, not bad, today.”
“We all came out with grit and, of course, to try and run our hardest,” Maddalone said. “We all challenge each other, too, and that's a key for us. It was a good day. Mountain Vista's tough, but we knew what to expect.”
Added Moore, “I was our second year to be here and we started kind of cautious. We just wanted to make sure we were up with the leaders and to try and stay in striking distance.”
Cherry Creek's Noah Westfall, a senior, finished ninth with a time of 16:50.1, the highest for the Bruins, who finished fifth as a team.
“I'm happy to run on this course,” Westfall said. “It's hard, but one that I felt I could do well on. I wanted to stay consistent. The uphill is difficult, but we all face it. My teammates were very supportive. We wanted to run with confidence and I think we did.”
Class 5A state cross country results
Team standings: Mountain Vista 110, Fort Collins 179, Arapahoe 203, Heritage 212, Cherry Creek 235, Chaparral 249, Monarch 263, Boulder 269, Smoky Hill 277, Pomona 282, Rock Canyon 310, Rocky Mountain 321, Rampart 331, Grandview 402, Pine Creek 406, Thornton 407, Poudre 412, Fairview 414, Denver East 417, Fossil Ridge 445, Cherokee Trail 460, Dakota Ridge 460, ThunderRidge 484, Mountain Range 488, Fruita-Monument 568.
Top 10 individuals: 1. Cerake Beberkidane, Denver East, 15:48.2. 2. Zachary Alhamra, Pine Creek, 16:29.0. 3. Connor Weaver, Mountain Vista, 16:34.5. 4. Joshua Joseph, Thornton, 16:40.4. 5. Sean Paiz, Thornton, 16:46.5. 6. Blake Yount, Smoky Hill, 16:47.9. 7. Ben Dingman, Rampart, 16:48.4. 8. Dom Compoz, Chaparral, 16:49.0. 9. Noah Westfall, Cherry Creek, 16:50.1. 10. Paul Miller, Poudre, 16:54.6.