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Boulder High's Sam Lewis is a senior and eyeing a state title this fall in cross country.
Chancey Bush/The Camera
Boulder High’s Sam Lewis is a senior and eyeing a state title this fall in cross country.

Sam Lewis had just run the breakthrough race of her cross country season last fall — a second-place effort at regionals — and the Boulder High junior felt she was peaking just in time for a special performance at the state meet.

She finished just 19 seconds behind dominant teammate Kelsey Lakowske. Had Lewis done the same at state, she’d have finished third. Lakowske and Lewis were feeling more like 1-2 would be appropriate.

Sickness, however, set in for Lewis on the eve of state. By the first mile of the race, she was feeling miserable as heatstroke kicked in as well. She battled to take 20th place and help the Panthers notch runner-up honors as a team. But it wasn’t the race Lewis — fourth at state as a sophomore — had envisioned.

“I was frustrated with how it turned out,” Lewis said recently. “But I learned a lot from it and I am stronger than I was at this point last year.”

Now a senior, Lewis is no longer racing for second place. With two-time state champ Lakowske graduated and attending Duke, Lewis has designs on a title of her own, even if she chooses her words carefully in expressing that goal.

“I’m just looking forward to going out there and racing with everyone,” she said diplomatically through a confident grin.

Lewis has taken home plenty of hardware in her career. In addition to her sophomore finish in cross country, she took fourth at state in the 3,200-meter run and seventh in the 1,600. She was top-10 in both races again as a sophomore before taking third in the 3,200 as a junior.

That’s not to mention the junior national snowshoe title she won over the winter.

This summer, BHS coach Monique Guidry said, marked Lewis’s best summer of training yet.

In addition to ample core and strength work and a concerted effort to improve her mechanics, Lewis also did her best to see the sunny side of life, focusing heavily on keeping positive thoughts in her head while training.

The result, she said, is that she’s not only in the best shape of her life — despite a sore shin that has hampered her training the last month — but she’s also “so much more confident in myself.” A grueling week-long stay at Steens Mountain Running Camp in Oregon over the summer only helped her mindset as she surpassed her own expectations for what she thought she could endure physically.

“I am my only limit,” she said.

Taking state won’t be easy.

Fourteen of the top 20 finishers from last year return. That group includes Fort Collins junior Erin Hooker, last year’s runner-up, Liberty senior Hannah Everson (4th) and Monarch sophomore Claire Green (7th).

Guidry likes Lewis’s chances, though, on an Arapahoe County Fairgrounds state meet course that proved nasty for many runners last season.

“It really works into her strength,” Guidry said. “She eats up the hills and she has a great base.

“I’m excited. This is her year to shine and that’s well-earned. There is absolutely nobody who works harder than Sam Lewis.”

The Panthers, state runners-up as a team two years in a row, are eager to bring home a trophy again even with the graduation of seniors like Lakowske and Cilia Jaeger.

Sophomore Erin McLaughlin (31st), junior Erin Davidson (59th) and junior Madi Lohmann (115th) all return off BHS’ state squad, while freshmen Emery Bradlina and Emma Merryman figure to add some scoring punch.

“I think it would be unwise of any other team to discount us,” Lewis said.

The young Panthers might take a while to reach their full potential.

For one thing, Lewis doesn’t figure to compete until mid-September as she rests her shin. The injury has confined her training mostly to the pool, bike or elliptical machine for much of the last month.

But Lewis — whose top college choices right now include Washington and Oregon State — said the move to avoid running lately has been largely precautionary to prevent burning her body out before state and other national postseason meets.

“When I get out there, it’s going to be like a tiger breaking out of its cage for the first time,” Lewis said.

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