LAFAYETTE — At the Colorado cross country state championships each year, the final race day of the season usually provides a fair amount of unpredictability for teams in contention for a title.
The Centaurus boys learned that the hard way in 2017.
Unexpectedly hindered by some jostling and a fall or two, the Warriors finished runner-up to Class 4A state champion Palmer Ridge. Even under perfect circumstances, the Warriors likely would not have outscored the Bears last fall. But what they did learn, and what will be a defining theme of the Warriors' campaign as they look to challenge for the 4A title again in 2018, is that anything less than a team's best is rarely enough to win it all on the final day.
"Last year, we finished runner-up and our biggest strength was that we had seven runners who were super strong and super close to each other in terms of times," Warriors senior Cooper Brown said. "We lost our number one runner and our number three runner from last year but that being said, we still return five strong from last year's state finish. We're trying to bring some of the freshmen up to run with us to make us better but at the end of the day, I think our goal is to bring back the title to Centaurus. I think we have a decent chance if we're just at our best on that final day."
Losing pace-setter John O'Malley and fellow senior Alex Hooten to graduation last school year, the Warriors now look to Brown to lead the way. He placed 16th at state as a junior and also recorded one of the top 20 5K times in the state last season, a 15:41 that he ran at the Northern League meet last October.
Though he has wanted to break the Centaurus school record since he was a freshman, Brown is doing his best to align his personal goals with the lofty aspirations of his Warriors boys squad that returns four seniors and a sophomore from last year's state team. O'Malley currently holds the school record and the Centaurus boys are intent on challenging top contenders like Palmer Rdige, Niwot, Air Academy and Durango, and winning the school's first title since the Warriors won a 4A boys title in 2011.
"Being a captain, I'm not super self-oriented this year and I really want to focus on the team aspect this year," Brown said. "But I guess a top-seven finish and being first team all-state would probably be ideal. As a team, we have four seniors returning from last year's state and I've just trained with those guys for so long that I think all of us just want to look back at our senior season and say we accomplished the feat that we could have."
While the boys finished one spot off the top of the podium, the Centaurus girls placed ninth in the state last season and return their entire lineup from the 2017 state meet. Leading the way are a pair of juniors in Riley Geldean and Katie Hooten, who placed 10th and 18th, respectively, last fall.
"We've got a huge team coming out this year," Warriors head coach Devin Rourke said. "Centaurus is growing this year so we have a lot of freshmen and a bunch of them are pretty exciting. We've been working hard all summer like everyone does but our boys got pushed around a little big at state last year so they have a little chip on their shoulder and they're hungry.
"On our girls side, we're looking great too. They have big goals. They want to be the best Centaurus team that we've ever had and that would mean placing in the top four. We have awesome leadership on both sides so we're really excited."