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Cross Country: Third straight 5A crown within reach for Monarch

Monarch seniors, Claire Green, left, and Kaitlyn  Benner, will run at the 5A state cross country championships this Saturday -- part of a strong contingency for the Coyotes that has them gunning for a third straight team title. Cliff Grassmick
Monarch seniors, Claire Green, left, and Kaitlyn Benner, will run at the 5A state cross country championships this Saturday — part of a strong contingency for the Coyotes that has them gunning for a third straight team title. Cliff Grassmick

LOUISVILLE — It just kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? Coyotes should be able to maneuver quite swiftly through an open field, right?

This pack certainly does, and according to senior Claire Green, Monarch’s girls are more in tune with each other than they ever have been as the state cross country meet quickly approaches.

With two consecutive state titles under their collective belts, the girls know the time is now to finish off the quest for a third. And with six of the seven runners from last year’s championship team back and fully healthy, the Norris-Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs should once again see a steady flow of black and gold running into the stadium early on.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been more excited for a meet, and I don’t think the competition has ever been as intense as it is this year,” said Green, who finished last year’s meet in 20:02 and will be gunning for a top-five finish on Saturday morning. “I also don’t think our team has ever been better prepared than we are right now, so it’s exciting.

“We have two more defined packs, but we’re really learning how to run as a team which is something we haven’t really talked about before this season. That’s giving us a huge advantage over what we did last year, just because we know how to work together more during the race.”

In the ultra-competitive prep field, through the classes no less, winning a state team title is extremely difficult. And the Coyotes last year were a perfect example of winning by committee, as Elissa Mann’s ninth-place finish was tops among the team. She finished in 19:50, with three others coming across the line within 20 seconds of each other.

More so than ever, fellow senior Kaitlyn Benner said, the team is focusing on what they can do as a unit to make sure they add more hardware to the trophy case.

“I have some goals individually as well, and I think will help push our team over the edge if we all have some individual placing goals,” Benner said. “Ultimately, it is about winning as a team so everyone is trying to get the best place they can so we get the team score that with push us to the win.”

The Coyotes are buoyed by Benner, Green, Elissa Mann, Karina Mann, and Ashley Litoff. Freshmen Holly Bent and Audrey Lookner join the fray with an aura of confidence about running the course Saturday for the first time ever.

It’s a course that is unforgiving, no doubt. So much so, Monarch coach Ken Rieder elected not to have his teams participate in the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede at the season’s outset because the experienced girls had run the course twice in 2012 and already know it’s one that will beat a runner up a little bit.

It’s fairly obvious the Coyotes have a plan of attack despite not running the course in a year, and Green settled into the idea of flying by the seat of their pants this year.

“At first I was a little worried that we weren’t doing (the Stampede), but just seeing the way the team’s progressed and how strong we are I don’t think it’s going to make a difference,” Green said. “I know that all our girls are strong enough to tackle the hill, and that’s the main reason that a team would go and run the Stampede. I think we’re strong enough mentally and physically to tackle that.”

Green will likely be surrounded by several of her teammates throughout Saturday’s run, but she also is looking forward to competing against a few more of her good friends that may be wearing other colors. Fairview’s Isabelle Kennedy and Boulder’s Erin McLaughlin are just a couple of girls Green feels rather close to for being competitors, and she and Kennedy both agreed the gloves come off, so to speak, before and after races.

Last week at regionals in Broomfield, the trio finished 2-3-4 and basically ran together for most of the race. Don’t expect that at state, Kennedy said, but the girls definitely have a good rapport.

“One of the things I love about running and the running community is that we all support each other, and I think that comes out in our relationship,” Kennedy said in anticipation of a heated race. “In the middle of a race, we can get kind of nasty and throw some elbows, like you can’t pass me right now I’m going to beat you today kind of thing. Afterwards we’re all super supportive. Running is such a mental sport and we all experience the same thing.

“I’m going into it with the mentality I’m going to do what I need to do to win, and that strategy can be different for Claire and it can be different for Erin. We’re going to be supportive of each other no matter what, though.”

“I love those girls,” Green added. “The cool thing about all the BoCo girls is we get along great. It’s like we’ve known each other all our lives … when you’re racing it’s kind of like you’re racing teammates. During the race, because you know each other, the competition is way more intense than when you’re running against a stranger.”

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