LAKEWOOD – Niwot’s dominance in girls track and field this season left very little doubt about the Cougars’ ability to win a team state championship.
The boys team, on the other hand, took the drama to the wire.
While their paths were very different, the result was the same, as Niwot swept the boys and girls teams titles for the first time ever at the Class 4A state meet on Saturday at Jefferson County Stadium.
“It’s so exciting just to bring in the team title on both sides,” sophomore Taylor James said. “It’s the first time the guys have ever won, and it’s just crazy to us because we’ve worked so hard this season. For it to finally happen that we win on both sides is just incredible. It’s an amazing feeling.”
While the boys won their first title, the girls won their fourth, but first since three in a row from 2013-15. The Cougars were runner-up the past two years.
Led by James, who won three individual events and helped the Cougars to a relay win, the girls scored 123 points to cruise to the win. Battle Mountain, with 58, was second.
Cruz Culpepper’s victory in the 1,600 meters led the boys, who outlasted Pueblo East 66-60.
Down 60-56 going into the final event, Niwot needed a top-five finish in the 1,600-meter relay to take the title. The Cougars did better than that, winning the race at the wire when Durango’s anchor runner – who was barely in the lead – fell just inches short of the finish line. Niwot’s Jack Kenkel fell, as well, but as he was crossing the line. Niwot’s time of 3 minutes, 22.86 seconds beat Durango by .24 of a second.
“It sealed the team win, which is the most important thing,” said senior Nolan Johan, who teamed with Kenkel, Jensen Douillard and Milo Ostwald for the relay win.
Culpepper, who watched the relay team pull off the win, said, “It was sweet. I had a feeling they would be able to get top five pretty easily, but it was an awesome race, seeing them win that.”
Earlier in the day, Johan had a fifth-place finish in the 110 hurdles and Douillard a third-place place finish in the 300 hurdles.
“This whole meet has been for the team,” Douillard said. “We wanted the state title because that’s just the way to end it your senior year. We did and that’s really all that counts.”
Culpepper contributed with a pair of state titles, winning the 800 on Friday and the 1,600 on Saturday.
“I just wanted to slow down the pace,” he said of the 1,600. “I went to the front right away and then had a good kick at the end. It was a good race.”
Senior Ares Reading ran well in the 1,600 also, placing fifth.
The girls team got points from a variety of sources on Saturday, including Elise Gillett with a runner-up finish in the 100 hurdles and Margot Diasabeygunawardena and Kelia Portis both winning a pair of medals. Portis was third in the 300 hurdles and ninth in the triple jump, while Diasabeygunawardena placed seventh in both events.
In addition, the Cougars had two placers in the 1,600-meter run with Samrawit Dishon (fifth) and Lucca Fulkerson (sixth), while Julea Trank-Greene was eighth in the 100.
Gillett, Trank-Greene, Princess Sagala and Kayla Nowlin also teamed up for a second-place finish in the 400 relay. Then, Erika Timbang, Nowlin, Portis and James teamed up to win the 1,600-meter relay and put a cap on a great weekend for the Cougars.
“We’re just so stoked,” Nowlin said. “This was my whole goal this year – all four years, actually – just winning state.”
Although all the Cougars were able to share in the joy of victory, James was the unquestioned star of the weekend.
After winning the 800 on Friday, she won the 200 and 400 on Saturday before anchoring the 1,600 relay win.
“I haven’t really had time to think about it, honestly,” said James, who now has six career state titles. “It’s just been go-go-go, the whole time. It’s so exciting. The fact that I was able to get the most points I possibly could for the team, that is, in the end, the best part of the whole experience.
“To come out on top in all of my events and win with the team, it’s awesome.”