LAFAYETTE — One of the many great things about running is that it gives you a chance to be at one with your thoughts and sort of drown out the rest of the world around you.
It is something that the harriers at Peak to Peak have learned to do very well over the last month of the season since the tragic death of their teammate, brother and friend Brandon Ries.
The entire Pumas team could have gone into a shell and nobody around the state would have blinked an eye at them. But the resilient group, which has dedicated their season to Ries, has performed at an even higher level and head to the state meet Saturday at the Norris Penrose Events Center in Colorado Springs with a chance to bring home some 3A hardware.
"We are so excited that the boys made it and it was fun to see what they did at regionals and qualify especially given Brandon's loss," said Peak to Peak coach Kim McConnell, whose boys finished third at the Region 3 meet. "So as a team that trains together, both guys and girls, we are as excited for the guys and their potential for the future as we are for the girls."
Saturday's proceedings get underway with the Class 4A boys at 9:20 a.m. and culminating with the 2A girls at 2 p.m.
The Peak to Peak boys ran together as a pack last Wednesday in Thornton against a very good field at their regional. Their top five runners were separated by 36 seconds, with the top two of Cole Beasley and Ethan Monaski leading the way.
"Since the beginning of the season I've been telling them how excited I am for the boys team as much as I am the girls," McConnell said. "They don't get nearly as much press and they are all sophomores and freshmen.
"I'm not surprised at all, but you never know on the day how it'll work out."
McConnell's girls are the clear cut favorites on the 3A side. Led by defending state champion Quinn McConnell — Kim's daughter — and Anna Shults, Tiana Bradfield and Rachael Metzler, the Pumas have found their way into the national rankings as well.
It was almost a monochromatic top five finish at the regional meet last week with Peak to Peak going 1-3-4 with McConnell, Shults and Bradfield. It has been a recurring theme all season, but one, especially Quinn McConnell embraces.
"She a fighter and she likes the pressure," Kim McConnell said of her daughter. "I joke with the kids that I don't want them reading a lot of articles the week of a big meet because you don't need that in your head and she usually responds with 'Mom, that just fires me up.'"
The 3A races will be well represented with BoCo runners especially on the boys side, where Jefferson Academy's top tandem of Ryan Lehmuth and Christian Van Cleave have hovered around the top 10 in most of their races all season. Holy Family's girls finished second in the Region 3 meet last week and have the talent to record a top five finish.
In Class 5A, Boulder, Broomfield, Fairview and Monarch all have legitimate teams and depending on how the day goes will figure into the team races.
At the 5A Region 3 meet last week Monarch's boys went 1-2-3, led by defending state champion Isaac Green, Charlie Perry and Zach Litoff and scored 33 points.
"It was a good meet for us and I feel like we can still get better, but I'm sure every coach says that," Monarch coach Kent Rieder said. "I think we will be able to close the gap between our three (Litoff) and out four at state.
"They've all run it so they know the course. The biggest thing we talk to them about is making sure they take care of all the little things going into the race."
But as impressive as Monarch was, so to was Boulder. All five of the Panthers scoring runners — Luke Zacharias, Sam Primozich, Sean Riedel, Orion Pipersky and Gage Hornung — finished in the top 11.
Coach Greg Weich's Broomfield girls team — led by Ivy Gonzales, Madison Mooney and both Emily and Katelyn Mitchem — has a great chance to bring home some hardware if not add a banner to the Eagles Gym. Also keep and eye on legacy freshman Brynn Siles, who has a chance to be a top-10 finisher.
In Class 4A, Silver Creek's remarkable season has been fun to watch. Regional champion Brock Dykema leads a group of Raptors that will be looking to fend off a deep field of teams, including Niwot, for a spot on the podium.
Perhaps one of the best runners in out region that you might not know about is Centaurus freshman Riley Gildean. Not only did she win the Class 4A Region 3 meet last week by 30 seconds, she helped pace the Warriors to a regional crown.
In Class 2A, the story remains the Lyons Lions. They took care of business last week in Yuma at their regional meet. Freshman Isaac Roberts will try to continue where his brother Paul — a four-time 2A state champion — left off last season. Both the boys and the girls figure to challenge in the team races.