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Silver Creek freshman Mikayla Gaffney helped the Raptors' girls cross country team qualify for state for the first time.
Matthew Jonas
Silver Creek freshman Mikayla Gaffney helped the Raptors’ girls cross country team qualify for state for the first time.

LONGMONT — Silver Creek freshman runner Mikayla Gaffney doesn’t know what it’s like not to qualify for the state cross country meet alongside a girls team of her Raptors peers.

But young Gaffney is the exception to the rule in her school’s cross country program.

Until last Thursday, the Raptors had never qualified a girls team to compete at the 4A state meet. The wait is over.

Behind Gaffney’s eighth-place finish at the 4A Region 4 meet, the Raptors girls finished third to earn a team berth to the state meet for the first time in school history.

“I don’t know what it’s like not to do it, so for me it just feels like the beginning of my high school experience,” Gaffney said. “We’re all really excited. We feel really proud and just more united as team. I don’t think any of the girls have felt this close before because there wasn’t as big of a team and we haven’t accomplished this much as a team before.”

The Raptors freshman posted a time of 19 minutes, 28 seconds at the regional last week. Behind Gaffney, sophomore Maiya Jazwierska finished 16th in 20:20, senior Allison Howlett finished 18th in 20:24, sophomore Taylor Stinson took 22nd in 10:53, sophomore Sage Madden took 32nd in 21:27, junior Brissa Ramirez placed 44th in 21:54 and junior Samantha Koski came in 45th with a time of 21:55.

These seven runners will be the Raptors’ first to compete at the state meet as a unit.

The Raptors qualified their boys team for the first time in 2009 and had numerous individual qualifiers since the school opened. Though the Raptors boys team did not qualify for this year’s state meet, senior Connor Christofferson and freshman Andrew King will compete as individuals in the boys race.

It wasn’t until this year’s surprising group showed up to push the girls team over the state-qualifying hump that 12th-year head coach Barbara Keith could add a girls team qualification to the program’s list of accomplishments.

“The first couple weeks, we were really discussing about how this could be the first girls team,” Keith said. “After we saw them run a couple of meets and started seeing the numbers, we said, ‘This is going to be the first girls team.’ We’ve had some pleasant surprises and some great senior leadership and we got the job done. It’s a great victory.”

Adding to the excitement surrounding this year’s team qualification is how far the Raptors were from going to state as a team in 2012. The addition of Gaffney and Jazwierska, who is running cross country for the first time as a sophomore this season, were major reasons for the jump. But it also took an increase in participation numbers and the returning runners challenging themselves to improve.

Leading the way was Howlett, a senior who was determined to end her prep career at the state meet.

“This was my last chance to do it and I’ve been thinking about state since the end of cross country season last year,” Howlett said. “For me, I ran about eight to 10 miles every day all summer and I also think that the incoming runners like Maiya and Mikayla really helped the team out. Everybody decided to work a lot harder this year and it paid off. It’s special for me to leave having helped raise the standard here at Silver Creek.”

As hard as they worked, the Raptors didn’t breeze through the regional barrier that has blocked them from state by any means.

Top teams Mountain View and Thompson Valley scored 32 and 37 points, respectively. Scoring 96 team points, the Raptors edged Windsor for third by just seven points.

“We knew we were good enough to make state but it was going to take a good day from all of us,” Jazwierska said. “We were all so excited when we saw the sheet that posted the results that everyone started dancing and jumping and screaming. To be the first girls team here to qualify for state is a huge milestone for us.”

The milestone has been passed and the Raptors are venturing into uncharted territory. The state meet is all that remains of their record-setting 2013 season and it’s bonus time for the Raptors.

“Regardless of how we do down at state, just having gotten to that level is a real point of pride for us,” Jazwierska said. “It sets the pathway for other girls to do it. Obviously, we’re going down there to do the best we can. But I feel like the biggest thing for us was just to be able to get there.”

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