COLORADO SPRINGS — Tragedy cast a shadow over the final month of the Peak to Peak cross country team's season and even in winning a girls team championship on Saturday, the Pumas' emotions continued to be tested.
In a dramatic finish for the ages, defending Class 3A state champion Quinn McConnell found herself edging Denver North's Kayla Young down the home stretch of what looked to be her second state title as a sophomore. When Young fell with roughly 50 meters to go, it looked as though McConnell's bid for a four-for-four prep career would remain intact.
But mere moments later, McConnell's own legs gave out and she collapsed to the ground with 20 feet to the finish line. Young regained her footing and as she stumbled towards the finish, McConnell, exhausted, could not regain hers. The Pumas sophomore fell two more times before she crossed the finish line in second place.
"As I rounded the corner, I hear my coach yelling, 'Go, go, yes Quinn,'" Pumas teammate Anna Shults said. "Then I heard her say, 'No.' Then I see Quinn crawling on the ground and Kayla stumbling towards the finish line. It's unbelievable. Quinn is such a hard worker. I don't know what happened."
McConnell finished the 5K course at Norris Penrose Events Center in 18 minutes, 47.1 seconds. On a warmer day than most expected, Pumas head coach Kim McConnell, Quinn's mother, said the front-running sophomore probably went out a little too hard, too early in the race and it came back to bite her in the end.
On Sept. 16, Pumas co-captain Brandon Ries died after unexpectedly collapsing during a cross country meet in Broomfield. After all the heartbreak the team has suffered this season, the Pumas were hoping the state meet at least would go more smoothly.
"There has been a lot of drama this season and I wish there was no drama today but there was," Kim McConnell said. "It was difficult to watch Quinn go down as both her mom and her coach. She took it out really, really hard and she's mad that she didn't win. But we've been through a lot this season and hopefully she rallies back from this."
Shults finished just behind McConnell in 18:47.2. The finish was so close that she was initially thought to have finished just ahead of McConnell is second place and was recognized as such on the podium.
Even with all the finish-line drama, the Pumas, who took second last season, still were able to win the team title handily with a team score of 57 points. Classical Academy was second with 94.
"Last year it was a disappointment that we came in second but I think it just fired us up for this year," Shults said. "It definitely stoked the fire."
Pumas sophomore Tiana Bradfield placed 12th in 19:57.0, senior Rachel Metzler placed 21st in 20:20.5 and sophomore Elle Triem placed 23rd in 20:30.0 to round out the Pumas' team score. Of the Pumas seven-runner state team, six will return in 2017.
Led by a 71st-place finish from sophomore Cole Beasley, whose time was 18:31.21, the Pumas boys placed 15th.