This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Boulder High girls cross country team.
Heck, even for Satchel Caldwell and the Panthers boys team, the unknowns out-weighed the knowns at the beginning of the season.
Slowly but surely, the Panthers started to get some answers among their rather large group of runners. Seconds dropped like the temperature after an autumn sunset, and a couple of freshmen quickly emerged as forces on the state’s running scene.
Instead of focusing on the future, the Panthers are sharpening their claws for the Class 5A state championship meet this Saturday. Both the boys and girls teams qualified after their regional performances, and in many ways the team feels satisfied with what they have accomplished in 2014.
That’s not to say they’ll have nothing to race for at the Norris-Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs, where the masses will gather to crown teams and individuals from all classifications after a grueling season.
“It’s been a lot of fun, and I just really love my team,” said Claudia Burgess, a freshman whom coach Mark Muggleton calls ‘the real deal’. “The team spirit is awesome and I’m so happy that we got to work together and make our way to state as a team.
“I still think we all have a little bit of pressure. It’s not that much but we still all want to do really well together.”
Entering the season, Boulder had just two returning runners — Caldwell and Dave Rieder — who had qualified for state in 2013. The girls, of course, graduated stud Erin McLaughlin, who placed second overall as the only qualifier.
But with freshmen Burgess and Lauren Neugeboren jumping on scene, the rest of the purple-clad clan took shape. At regionals, it was those two youngsters who paced the girls team, with Burgess finishing third and Neugeboren 10th.
Now, the Panthers girls are placing certain expectations on themselves.
“I feel like we want to prove ourselves, that we can do well at state,” said Neugeboren. “But we’ve already made it to state, and that’s already such a big step from where they were before. That’s exciting for the whole team, and we’re excited to race on Saturday.”
“It’s a lot of fun to finish a race and know that you pushed yourself as much as possible,” Burgess said. “The end of (regionals) was exciting because I knew our team had done really well.”
Burgess has made a pattern of pushing herself late in races, and because of that she might just be the state’s biggest surprise among the big schools. Muggleton said she has found a drive to succeed, and that was evidenced in her making up tons of time in the regional race and separating herself by 32 seconds with the pack she was running with toward the end of the event.
Muggleton firmly believes that if Burgess can perform as she is capable and without succumbing to nerves, she could easily finish top 10 on Saturday. The Panthers will also have Ali O’Donnell, Lauren Jortberg, Amanda Worthy, Alysa Rogers and Kristin Thomas scoring points for BHS.
“Claudia and Lauren have already ran the sixth and 11th-fastest times in Boulder school history, and considering who has ran here, wow,” Muggleton said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for both teams, particularly the girls.
“I really didn’t think we’d have a great girls team (at the beginning of the year). They ran absolutely great at regionals.”
In Caldwell, the boys also have a contender for a high placing. However, the Panthers have an outstanding shot at placing as a team higher than eighth — which was their standing a year ago. While winning regionals, the Panthers had seven runners finish in the top 19. That meant that Evan Westman and Luke Zacharias, who finished 18th and 19th, didn’t even score points for BHS.
This time, they’ll get a chance to help their team. So will Tristan Santos, Sean Reidel, Reider and Zach Westman.
Caldwell said he would not have thought before the season that the Panthers would be in a better position than last year. In addition, he’s hoping for a better day.
“The team definitely came together and worked off each other, and the final result was we were better than I thought we would be,” Caldwell said. “They’ve all stepped it up completely, and it’s a group effort. Regionals was a real morale booster, just huge for us as a team.
“I do not have good memories about state last year. I think a big part of it was I got way too excited and went out way faster than I should have. I learned some lessons. If we just all stay relaxed … we need to treat it like any other race.”
Follow Adam on Twitter: twitter.com/AdamDunivan24