Niwot’s Elise Cranny hopes to win a second consecutive Class 4A cross country state title as she begins the final year of her stellar prep career.

NIWOT — Illness hindered Elise Cranny’s junior track season and her preparation for the cross country season last fall.

The Cougars junior still came from way back to win the Class 4A state cross country championship at Norris-Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs.

Coming off one of the best track and field seasons in Colorado prep running history, Cranny is in the best shape she’s ever been. For someone like Cranny, who is constantly trying to outrun her own accomplishments, having a head start is a welcome feeling.

“Having trained consistently through track and having been building a base, I feel much stronger,” Cranny said. “I just have to stay healthy and it being my last season, I want to make it my best.”

Focusing on national competition and moving into the heavy college recruiting period of her prep career, Cranny has a lot on her plate. A spring highlighted by three individual state track and field titles and breaking a handful of records, including Melody Fairchild’s 22-year-old one-mile mark, provides little evidence contrary to her repeating as 4A’s cross country champion.

Cranny is trying to maintain a balance between running, school, researching colleges, and her personal life. At practice, though, she’s just excited to train again and see if she can do a little better.

The state’s running community is watching to see how Cranny might top her performance at Norris-Penrose Event Center, where the state meet will be held again in 2013. So is second-year Cougars head coach Sam Catterson.

“It’s her senior year. It’s her last year,” Catterson said. “Everything went so well last year and she just wants to build on that and make it even better. She gets to run those same courses again and we get to go down to that same state course. Whatever she does, I’m sure it will be even more impressive.”

Cranny will have to contend with Air Academy sophomore Katie Rainsberger, who she passed at the last second to edge out for the state title last season, again this year. Greta VanCalcar from Palisade, who kept with Cranny for seven laps of the 3,200-meter run at the state track meet in the spring, is back too.

Despite the wealth of young competitors nipping at her heals, Catterson said Cranny has her eyes fixed towards the finish line and isn’t looking over her shoulder.

“She trains so hard, it’s just to be the best at every level,” Catterson said. “Having them there doesn’t affect her that much. She’s not out to train one way or some little aspect to be able to kick by them at the finish. Her goal is just to just be a whole step above.”

With Cranny in the lead role, Catterson said the Cougars girls feel good about their chances at competing for a team title, especially after the track and field team won its first state title in the spring. Five of the seven point-scorers from last year’s state cross country team scored points at the state track meet.

The Cougars took 10th-place last year and the whole team is back. Christa Boettiger, who placed ninth, Katie Gillett, Niki Marshall, Louise Vandenberghe, Rachel Sharpe, and Emily Mercier were all sophomores and freshmen a year ago.

“We’re going to try to win a state title as a team in cross country,” Cranny said. “It was amazing to be able to do that in track. I think, to carry that momentum over and to have a lot of young girls that are really talented, we have a good chance. Everyone is excited to work really hard for it.”

Catterson said the Cougars boys, who finished 14th last season, will surprise many people this season. Motivated to keep up with the girls team, the boys’ top runner Jake Fish is still a junior and senior leader Austin Schuler will be tough as well.

“We had a lot of underclassmen last year and we’re all definitely stepping it up,” Fisk said. “We’re looking good right now. Me, I didn’t do as well as I was hoping last year. This year, I’m going for the top 10.”

There’s always an air of optimism surrounding Elise Cranny at the outset of each season. With that air permeating the entire girls and boys teams, the Cougars have much to be excited for in 2013.

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