LYONS — Ben Hershelman had a sneaking suspicion that his boys cross country team at Jefferson Academy might have the makings of something special.
It was just a mater of seeing it in action.
On Saturday in Lyons at the St. Vrain Invitational, Hershelman’s Jags proved their coach right, winning the Class 3A/2A boys race with an impressive score of 48 points, which easily bested second-place Peak to Peak’s 91.
“We’ve known for a long time that we’ve had a pretty strong pack and we didn’t now how strong that pack was until today,” said Hershelman, who is in his sixth year of coaching at JA. “During this week at practice, we challenged them to run the workouts together and keep pushing each other and inevitably to run the race together and see how hard they could push each other to stay together.”
It was just the third time in the school’s short history that they have won a cross country meet and the first time doing so since 2011, when they captured the Class 3A Metro League championship.
“This is a pretty big day for us,” Hershelman said. “I’ve had some of these kids with me for three and four years and we have a really good cross country community, parent community is really engaged. The kid community is really engaged.
“They had a great summer. They have worked hard since we’ve been going in early June, plugging away at the miles and making sure we were ready for the big stage in the fall.”
In the smaller school race, they ran six and scored four. All four of the Jags’ scoring runners — Ryan Lehmuth (9th in 18 minutes, 11 seconds), Josiah Raso-Valdez (11th, 18:15), Joe Raff (13th, 18:17) and Nathan Moore (15th, 18:25) — finished in the top 15 and their fifth-place runner, Christian Vancleave was close behind, finishing 20th in 18:30.
It doesn’t matter the style of the course, whether it is demanding or relatively flat, like the one on Saturday around Lyons High School, Hershelman feels like his team can run as a cohesive unit. And that will be tested later in the season, should the Jags, who just missed qualifying for state last season, have the chance to run in Colorado Springs.
“I don’t think it makes a difference if it’s a hill course or a flat course because the kids have to have the desire to stick together and run well as a team,” he said. “Our theme this year has been ‘Get Better.’ Our big goal from here is just to get better and keep working hard every week and seeing where we can place in some meets and prepare ourselves to be successful at the state meet in October.”
The Jefferson Academy girls finished ninth, led by Mariah Archuleta’s 19th place finish in 21:26. Rachel Schlagel was not far behind in 21:48.
In the big school boys race, defending Class 4A champion and newly 5A Broomfield had a good showing, finishing fifth in a field of talented teams with 154 points. Class 4A Palmer Ridge won the team event with 68 points and Boulder (84), Monarch (108) and Niwot (118) rounded out the rest of the top five before Broomfield.
The Eagles got top-15 runs from Jake Mitchem and Daniel Alvarez-Chao and are still finding some early-season rhythm and learning how to work together as a team out on the course.
“I’m pretty pleased, I got a PR in my first race,” said Mitchem, who comes from a long line of Mitchem family runners that includes his freshman sisters on the Broomfield girls team. “I feel a little bit of pressure, but at the same time, it is a pretty new team. So it is a matter of working with them and trying to improve.”
Like the boys, the Broomfield girls also finished fifth and the aforementioned Mitchem sisters, freshmen Katelyn and Emily, along with senior Regan Vandepol all finished in the top 20.
It was a great finish considering what the Eagles have already been through in the early season. They lost one of their top runners and a state qualifier, Kara Skattum, to a broken leg. But Katelyn Mitchem is not worried.
“We still have really good pack times,” she said. “And we still have enough people. We are talented enough to do that.”
Finally, Holy Family — now running in Class 4A — finished 13th on the girls side and 15th on the boys side. Olivia Bartoletti led the Tigers girls with a 74th place finish in 21:59, one second ahead of teammate Krista Napierkowski. Ryan Wells was the quickest of the boys, finishing 88th in 18:16.
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