Lyons Senior/Middle graduate Paul Roberts has reached a level of collegiate cross country that many who saw him as a high school runner believed him to be destined for.
It took, however, a bit longer than some expected.
Seeming for all the world like the prototypical Division-I recruit while dominating in high school, Roberts instead chose the D-II route and signed with Colorado State-Pueblo for a number of reasons that included joining his sister Miriam and remaining closer to home. It wasn't long before Roberts began to pine for a higher level and after one year in Pueblo, he transferred to the University of Wyoming this past June.
At the NCAA National Championships on Nov. 17, Roberts finished 20th in the men's 10-kilometer race with a time of 29 minutes, 41.36 seconds. Roberts' All-American performance led the Cowboys to place 12th as a team, which was the program's third-highest finish and best since placing third in 1977.
Just two weeks prior, on Oct. 26, Roberts captured the Mountain West Conference title in San Diego, finishing the 8-kilometer race in 24:34. He's just the second ever UW male to win the race.
Roberts couldn't resist the allure of competing at the top collegiate level and, true to the form that has made his career so special to this point, made a name for himself immediately upon arrival.
"Coming in I didn't really know what to expect," Roberts said. "I wasn't really sure how fast I'd be able to run either but how the season progressed was really fun. I wouldn't even call it a roller coaster. It was pretty much an upward progression the whole time, so that was great. I'm really proud of what our team was able to do and I'm really excited to see what we are capable of moving forward."
Before he transferred to Wyoming in June, Roberts already was a Division II All-American cross country and 3,000-meter indoor track runner at CSU-Pueblo. Prior to spending a year at CSU-Pueblo, he was one of the most decorated prep runners in Colorado history.
At Lyons High School, Roberts won seven individual track and field championships, two relay championships and two Class 2A track and field team titles. He was the first male athlete to win four individual cross country titles and also led the Lyons Lions to four cross country team titles in four seasons. He was named Colorado High School Male Athlete of the Year in 2015 by the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and was Colorado's Gatorade cross country athlete of the year in 2015-16.
Roberts was the BoCoPreps.com cross country runner of the year all four years in high school. He was BoCoPreps.com track & field athlete of the year as a senior in 2016 — when he set a 2A state meet record of 9 minutes, 26.17 seconds in the 3,200-meter run and a second state meet record of 4:19.54 in the 1,600 — and was Times-Call boys track and field athlete of the year twice before that.
His senior year at Lyons, Roberts placed fifth at Foot Locker Cross Country Nationals and 11th at Nike Cross Country Nationals.
Roberts' illustrious prep resume garnered him several D-I offers but he instead has taken a more circuitous route to becoming a Division I All-American. It appears he has found a home at Wyoming with men's cross country coach Scott Dahlberg, who recruited Roberts when he originally was coming out of high school while he was coaching at Colorado State University.
"I had a good relationship with coach Dahlberg already," Roberts said. "When he came to Wyoming, I thought that was pretty cool and that definitely influenced my decision to transfer. Also, him knowing coach (Kelly) Christensen at Niwot and knowing my family made me more interested. I just felt like I could take the next step at Wyoming. It was really hard to leave the program and the community I was a part of at CSU-P, but we parted ways on good terms and I'm really happy here."
The Wyoming cross country team graduates just two of its top seven runners for next season and Roberts said the team has hopes of becoming a top-10 squad.
Brad Cochi: email@example.com or on Twitter @BradCochi