NIWOT — The Elise Cranny era is officially ended at Niwot High School.
While the sun has set on one of the most dominant individual prep distance running careers Colorado has ever seen, the Cougars have little to fret about. In fact, despite Cranny’s departure, Niwot feels its best shot at winning a team title could be right now.
“We’re aspiring to go all the way to the top and we have the manpower and womanpower to do it,” first-year head coach Tim Flamer said. “The girls especially are really rallying around the team concept. Our expectations are really high and if everyone keeps supporting each other the way we have been so far this season, there’s nothing stopping us from reaching our goals.”
The winner of the past two 4A cross country state championships, Cranny has moved on to the Stanford. With her departure the Cougars, who were last year’s 4A state runner-up in the team scoring, have concocted a new recipe for success that employs a delicate balance of flavors instead of one overpowering ingredient.
Spearheading the Cougars’ team-oriented attack is senior Christa Boettiger.
Having placed 12th at the 4A state championships last season, Boettiger has plenty incentive to focus on her own potential to see how high up the podium she may climb. But Boettiger believes her greatest strength can be found within her teammates.
“We have a lot of talented girls and if we can keep improving throughout the season, I think we’ll have a shot,” Boettiger said. “I’d obviously like to improve on last season and going into every race knowing it’s the last time I’ll be running that race, there’s obviously some extra motivation there to compete at the best of my ability. But this year is really about the team.
“We’ve been racing as a pack and working as a team. With coach Flamer coming in, he has a really good energy and he really emphasizes the team spirit.”
Boettiger might not even be the fastest runner on her team, either.
At the annual pre-state Cheyenne Mountain Stampede, Boettiger placed fifth with a time of 20 minutes, 59.40 seconds. Sophomore teammate Jenna McCaffrey, who finished in 27th place at last year’s state meet, took second with a time of 20:37.80.
Strengthening the Cougars’ team title chances, junior Emily Cranny returns after placing 59th at state last year, as does senior Katie Gillett, who placed 62nd. Returning juniors Kela Fetter and Nikki Marshall, who are coming off outstanding track seasons with the state-champion Cougars in the spring, were also state qualifiers in cross country last season.
The team’s talent already has the Cougars reveling in their collective potential. Flamer said all they needed was a leader like Boettiger to help pull it all together and keep it on track. Rising to that challenge, Boettiger’s team-building efforts have not gone unnoticed by her teammates.
“She’s great. We’re really close in our times so it’s always fun to run with her,” McCaffrey said. “We all have high goals this year and she’s been really positive and supportive of everyone on the team.”
The Cougars boys team also returns five state qualifiers from last year’s seventh-place team.
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