NIWOT — Mackenzie Fidelak finished runner-up in both the 100 and 300 hurdles at the state track and field meet last season.
Since she was just a freshman, and it was teammates Alexis Carroll and Kela Fetters who beat her out for the 100- and 300-meter hurdles titles, Fidelak wasn't too upset about coming in second. Then there was the fact that the Cougars won their third straight team title.
Thrilled as Fidelak and the Cougars were last season, the Niwot girls are returning all three of their top-tier hurdlers and expect to compete for a fourth straight team title in 2016.
"We definitely have a team focus again this year," Fetters said. "You have to sacrifice comfort and work hard to drop time in all your events. We have Alexis coming back and Mackenzie coming back, plus we have a bunch of freshmen that we're really excited about. We're all focused and we're in it together."
Fetters, a senior captain, won the 300 hurdles in 44.10 seconds last season. Carroll, a junior, won the short hurdles race in 15.141, edging Fidelak by three thousandths of a second.
Despite returning the top three 4A hurdlers in the state, head coach Maurice Henriques said the Cougars might even have a pair of up-and-coming girls in Sophie Grant and Mary Gillett who could challenge the duo for either title. According to Carroll, who also took third in the state long jump finals after entering the preliminaries seeded 14th last season, the Cougars' depth of talent stems from their myriad athletic backgrounds.
"Kela and I both want to repeat but it's really all about contributing all the points we can for the team," Carroll said. "At the banquet last season, Coach Mo told a story about how the coaches showed up to find out that their hurdlers were a 6-foot volleyball player, a 5-3 gymnast and a cross-country runner. Our talent comes from the diversity that we can each bring."
Fidelak is the volleyball player, Carroll the gymnast and Fetters the distance runner. Given their all-around athleticism, it's no wonder the Cougars set the 4A state record in the 800-meter relay and exceeded their preliminary seeds in nearly every event to win the team title at the 2015 state meet. Henriques, who was named U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association girls coach of the year in 2015, is expecting his girls to be contenders in the team race yet again.
"This year, our model is sacrifice," Henriques said. "To the girls, it's hard to sell to them, 'Hey guys, let's try to finish top five.' Their goal is to win again. Kela, who is one of our captains, told me before the season that she wasn't going to hear that, we have to get the four-peat. So, that's the goal. We'll probably have to do it a little bit differently but it's always a team effort. The girls are committed and they're focused on running for each other, working hard for each other and they want to go for it again this year."