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Boys cross country: Niwot’s Cruz Culpepper named runner of the year

Senior defended his title from 2018 while leading Cougars to a team title

Niwot's Cruz Culpepper set a new 4A course record time of 15 minutes, 36.1 seconds at state.
Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer
Niwot’s Cruz Culpepper set a new 4A course record time of 15 minutes, 36.1 seconds at state.

NIWOT – Cruz Culpepper has a lot going on with cross country, school, recruiting, and a laundry list of other stuff he has to juggle on a daily basis.

That means the Niwot senior typically has to have a plan for how he’s going to manage everything, and continue to achieve success at a high level. Well, Culpepper’s plan for this past fall unfolded perfectly.

Despite battling illness and fatigue resulting from one recruiting trip after another on top of his rigorous training program, Culpepper peaked at the right time and won the Class 4A individual state championship at Norris Penrose Event Center on Oct. 26. In doing so, he set a new 4A course record time of 15 minutes, 36.1 seconds. And on top of that, Culpepper led the Niwot boys to a team championship.

Culpepper is the cross country boys runner of the year for the second season in a row. He managed to do it all this season and it all went according to Culpepper’s master plan.

“It was kind of the plan the whole time to have it unfold this way,” Culpepper said. “Going on recruiting visits and stuff, I knew I’d be coming around late. I was getting into really good race shape at the right time so it worked out great.”

With Culpepper defending his title from 2018, the Niwot boys won a track and field state championship this past spring and followed that up by holding off Durango for a cross country team title in the fall. The Cougars boys – Culpepper, Zane Bergen (12th), Grayden Rauba (21st), Joaquin Herrera (23rd) and Joey Hendershot (27th) – placed all five scoring runners in the top 30 to with by a total of 49 points.

The Niwot girls cross country team also won the team championship with senior Samrawit, the girls runner of the year, winning the individual title. It was the first time, apart from Lyons doing the same thin in 2A, that a single program won all four possible championship – boys individual, boys team, girls individual and girls team – in a classification.

“It’s hard to come in and execute,” Culpepper said. “The girls obviously executed and we did our part. That’s obviously a really tough thing to do so we’re really proud.”

Culpepper’s ability to manage his many responsibilities and still accomplish his goals for the prep season impressed Niwot head coach Kelly Christensen, and the pair is hoping for fewer interruptions once they hit the postseason national circuit in the coming months.

“It ended how we wanted it to,” Christensen said. “He had a lot of visits to Division-I schools and every time he came back, he got sick. We never really got a chance to get in a flow with his training so we knew he wouldn’t be able to race a lot until the end of the season. It was impressive that he was able to bounce back as quick as he did.”

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