LOUISVILLE -- They are not clones with identical skill sets.

The Monarch girls cross country team, though, does boast a pack mentality, which seems fitting.

Coyotes, after all, are pack animals.

When the Coyotes attempt to defend their Class 5A state title Saturday at the Norris Penrose Events Center, don't be surprised to see all seven of their runners bunched together on the Colorado Springs-based course.

"That's been one of the biggest things this season, because in past seasons we had pretty set positions in our top seven," said Taylor Floming, Monarch's lone state-bound senior. "This year it's been changing around a lot, which is a good thing. We've been really close together, which is good for scoring."

As the Coyotes cruised to the 5A Region 3 championship last week, only 34 seconds separated the Coyotes' top five runners.

"I would say it's been a really strong team effort," Monarch coach Kent Rieder said. "If you look at some of our races, the pack time between the No. 1 runner and the No. 5 scoring runner has been really small."

Not to imply that the squad is so interchangeable that Runner X could replace Runner Y with no deviation of result. But the closely-knit group could prove paramount at state in regards to the team race, with most already anointing Cherry Creek's Jordyn Colter as the individual winner (and wisely so).

"Jordyn's going to win it," Monarch junior Claire Green said.

Pine Creek's Heather Bates and Fort Collins' Erin Hooker also are standout individuals, so Monarch's ambition is solely rooted in the team title.

The Coyotes have their favorites for a high finish, most notably Green. She was Monarch's top overall finisher at regionals last week and at state the past two seasons. She placed seventh as a freshman, then fifth last season, when the Coyotes obliterated second-place Fort Collins at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds.

Classmate Kaitlyn Benner usually isn't far behind (10th at state last season, ninth at regionals). But several others -- including Floming, sophomore twins Elissa and Karina Mann and juniors Ashley Litoff and Alyssa Reese -- generally are right in the mix as well.

"There are about three of us who could finish in the top 10 if we all have an ideal day," said Green, who has been in contact with the University of Nebraska but hasn't intensely begun the recruiting process.

The Coyotes are familiar with the Norris Penrose Events Center, having participated on the course in the pre-state meet on Aug. 31. The course drew comparisons to the Arapahoe Country Fairgrounds, which proved to be such a kind host to Monarch last season.

"Obviously we want to repeat the state title, and it does give us a little confidence knowing we won on a hilly course and that's what this is again," Benner said. "And this year, with us having a really lower pack time than before, it will be really beneficial for us at state."

Rieder believes that the 2011 title has been a boon for his particular group of girls because they haven't let it get to their heads. If anything, it has sparked increased confidence and renewed focus.

This season has been a stark contrast to last in that, when the Coyotes returned in 2011, they still were disappointed with a fourth-place team finish in 2010.

"Our program has been pretty successful for the past three years, so I guess there's been that target on our backs for awhile now," said Floming, who is considering Montana State and also has peeked at Boise State and Oregon State. "I personally don't think that winning state has changed that a lot, just because there are so many competitive teams. But I think it's changed how we view ourselves more than anything.

"It's a confidence builder."

While the pack mentality is noble, a point in the race naturally comes when Coyotes runners will go rogue in quest of a personal high finish. For Green, it's usually sooner than the others.

"I always take it out fast so I don't get caught back," Green said. "I don't race well if I have to move up. I race better if I'm in the front of the race and I try to maintain."

For Rieder, it has been an interesting year of coaching in that he never knows where his runners will finish amongst themselves. He can easily predict that they'll be close together, but not in what order.

"If anything, what I'm looking for at state is for all them to run their best race at once," Rieder said. "We really haven't had that this year."

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