• Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Nederland''s Megan Felley, right, runs alongside Lyons''s Kylee Udovich in the 1,600-meter run at the Boulder County Track Championships on Saturday.



LONGMONT — At the Boulder County Track Championships, there are teams that are powerhouses and teams that are underdogs.

The Nederland Panthers would easily pass for an underdog in the meet. The team sent just six athletes to compete on Saturday at Everly-Montgomery Field in Longmont — all of whom would be considered distance specialists. With some of the top teams and athletes in the area competing, it was yet another chance to see how they could fare with some of the best athletes at much bigger schools.

They will wear the underdog badge, but Nederland isn’t looking to prove any type of point to their competition.

“I think the biggest thing for us is just representing our school in a positive way,” Nederland junior Helen Cross said. “It’s not so much about the competition. It’s about being good sports and having fun with it.”

Cross is a returning state qualifier in all three distance events and reached the medal podium twice last spring. She ran in the second heat of the girls 1,600 meter run Saturday and looked to be on her way to a spot on the podium, but she would slide down the stretch to finish 14th in the final results.

“I could have paced myself better,” Cross said. “I’m still getting used to that with the shorter distances. I thought it was a good race with the competition of a bigger meet.”

Things were much better in her strongest event, the 3,200 meter run. Cross worked at a steady pace and used a fast final lap to finish fifth in the event with a time of 12:12.84.

Meg Feeley, the other returning state qualifier for the team in the 3,200, would race with Cross in the 1,600 and 3,200 on Saturday. Alex Sorokach and Ive Brundege ran the 800 and 1,600 for the Panthers and Eirwen McClish ran the 3,200. For the boys team, Hakan Chunton ran in the 800 and the 1,600.

The challenge of facing some of the top distance runners in the state is nothing new to the Nederland bunch. Because of their location, the school has chosen to compete closer to home with bigger schools than to travel further to face similar level teams during the regular season.

“The mindset at Nederland is that we are going to see the best athletes every week,” Nederland coach Kory Skattum said. “We’re not going to drive three hours to face other 2A schools. It is fun and exciting.”

Coaching at Nederland is a unique challenge for Skattum based on the community interest and the type of athletes he has coming out, but he has used that to their advantage. With a team of distance runners, they can put all of their focus on that type of training, and the higher level of competition they face prepares their top runners to make a push for state.

“It’s hard at Nederland. I’m the only coach there and all I know is distance running,” Skattum said. “It’s hard to create a well-balanced team with that. Nederland also has this mindset that they are big into Nordic skiing and things like that, so it’s a distance-oriented school. Distance has always been their thing.”

Their unique strategy puts no added pressure on the team and lets them go out and have fun when competing, Skattum added.

“Cross country is a big thing that keeps going for us,” Skattum said. “They are relaxed, so I don’t think about it too much. They are pretty relaxed all the time and that’s great for me as a coach. We don’t feel too much pressure, so it’s fun for us.”

Brandon Boles: or