Autumn Parry / file photo
Peak to Peak sophomore Quinn McConnell is the girls runner of the year for the second straight season.

LAFAYETTE — The season didn’t end quite the way Quinn McConnell had hoped, but that type of disappointment frequently accompanies athletes who carry the highest of expectations.

The 2015 Class 3A state cross country champion, McConnell entered this season and the 2016 state meet as the favorite to repeat. The Pumas’ talented sophomore came up just short of her lofty goal, placing second in 3A with a time of 18 minutes, 47.1 seconds at the cross country state championships in October.

McConnell did achieve another goal, which was to lead the Pumas girls team to the 3A team championship. So while she didn’t repeat as individual title-winner, McConnell did repeat at the girls cross country runner of the year.

“Obviously, coming into the season, the girls team as a whole had a lot more press and a lot more expectation,” McConnell said. “The best part was winning the team title at state and all the work that went into it. I really surprised myself this season and that made me reassess my goals for the future.”

Really, McConnell’s season could have been declared a success long before the Colorado state championships. In one of the biggest breakthroughs she has made in her career, McConnell ran a big-time personal best time of 17:12 to place second in the sweepstakes race at the Desert Twilight XC Festival on Sept. 30.

Once the state meet rolled around, McConnell simply out ran her own body’s limits on a hot day at Norris-Penrose Events Center in Colorado Springs, collapsing from exhaustion and losing the lead coming down the home stretch.

“That was really hard,” McConnell said. “Going into the race my season had gone so well, I had surpassed my expectations and I was really confident and excited. I was just running for my time because I had put down really good times the weeks before. I went into it thinking I should run my own race so I was running at a really fast pace, which I probably shouldn’t have been doing in that heat. I probably should have stayed with the leaders and then pulled away.

“Coming into the last 400, something hit me and I just hit a wall. I really don’t even remember that part. I’ve seen it on video. The heat just took control and it was pretty scary. But it was a great learning experience.”

The 2016 season was a learning experience for all of the Pumas. They learned to deal with adversity and despair following the loss of captain Brandon Ries, who died after collapsing at a cross country meet in December. But Pumas head coach Kim McConnell said she was amazed at the way the team rallied together throughout the campaign.

“First and foremost, this season was about the way that the team bonded after Brandon’s death,” Kim McConnell said. “That was the strongest factor in our season. The girls are a very good team and they did a very good job at state and throughout the season. There were so many things that happened that were really tough so I was so proud to see them come together as a group and bond. It was important for them to do well in the results but also to do it while having fun. They truly bonded through great adversity and made it a great season.”

The entire Peak to Peak girls team and five Pumas boys runners are going to Nike Cross Regionals Southwest this Saturday in Casa Grande, Ariz. Quinn McConnell missed last year’s meet with illness, so she’s looking forward to a chance to compete this time around.

Brad Cochi: or