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Niwot High cross country ace Elise Cranny is coming off of a victory at the University of Colorado's time trial last weekend.
Matthew Jonas
Niwot High cross country ace Elise Cranny is coming off of a victory at the University of Colorado’s time trial last weekend.

NIWOT — While nearly every cross country runner in the state attended the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede to get a look at this year’s state championship course, Niwot’s Elise Cranny started the 2012 season on a different foot.

Cranny wanted to try running with college runners in a meet that wouldn’t cost her eligibility. Since it’s just a time trial and an early-season warm up for the University of Colorado cross country team, Cranny chose the 2012 CU Time Trial 5.8K race on Sept. 1 over the traditional pre-state meet.

And she won.

The Cougars junior finished in 21 minutes, 56 seconds to take first place at the CU Time Trial.

“I just wanted to have the experience of running against them, and they could have run a lot harder,” Cranny said of the college runners. “It was a good experience to run with the college girls on their course and see how it works. It was also a little bit longer than a 5K so it was good to experience that, too.”

As a sophomore, Cranny finished runner-up at the 4A state cross country meet. She ran an 18:58.13 and is off to good pace again in 2012.

But after a disappointing outing while battling illness at the 4A state track and field meet in the spring, Cranny feels like she’s been forgotten by the rest of the state. Favored all season to place highly in all her events, Cranny settled for 10th in the 800-meter run, 11th in the 3,200 and did not compete in the 1,600.

“It’s just more of a motivator to go out and show people what I can do when I am healthy,” Cranny said.

While she may or may not be getting overlooked, Cranny has continued to work hard. Her expectation remains a first-place finish at state. Barring another untimely sickness, everything seems to be lining up for Cranny to accomplish her goal.

Last year’s winner, Denver South’s Sydney Scott, graduated. Cañon City sophomore Aubrey Till, who finished just over 10 seconds behind Cranny in fourth place, is the closest returning finisher from last year’s state meet.

Cranny had to deal with disappointment during track in the spring. She is prepared to do whatever is needed to avoid similar disappoint at the end of the fall.

“When you put in a lot of work and you get sick and it doesn’t work out, it influences me to stay healthy this year,” Cranny said. “I need to get good rest and eat healthy. Also, I can share that with the team.”

Her coaches and teammates have been surprised at how little attention Cranny has garnered. But Cranny herself was more surprised by the fact Niwot was left out of any preseason rankings for Colorado, including the Colorado Milesplit coaches poll.

“Maybe it’s because we have a lot of young girls and people don’t know about them yet,” Cranny said. “But they’re really strong and they’ve all been working hard this summer. When we start racing, they’re gonna surprise a lot of people.”

Cougars head coach Sam Catterson said the drop-off from Cranny to the next few runners is not as far as many might think.

Running her first race for the Cougars at the pre-state meet, sophomore Christa Boettiger finished sixth in the 4A Division I Varsity group with a time of 21:23.6. Freshman Kela Fetters ran a 22:44.0 to take 20th at pre-state and sophomore Rachel Sharpe finished 29th with a 23:25.6. Freshman Niki Marshall finished 50th with a 24:20.1

Mountain View, Broomfield and Centaurus were all Northern League schools ranked in the top 10. Catterson feels his team can run with all of those schools, especially with Cranny being the favorite to win nearly every race she enters.

“We’re a top-five team,” Catterson said. “That’s where we should be.”

Saturday’s St. Vrain Invitational in Lyons, which will include many of Colorado’s fastest 5A schools, will be a telling measuring stick for the Cougars. Cranny will compete with the Cougars in that race.

Cranny may have lost some of the acclaim she earned last year. But starting Saturday, she’s got a chance to reclaim the 4A spotlight.

“Anyone who is really in the know, knows that she’s gonna be the top one and that she’s the person to beat,” Catterson said.

Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradCochi

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