Dynamic dynasties: Niwot girls track remains a 4A powerhouse

Cougars have won four of the last seven team championships in Class 4A

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Niwot girls track and field have shared plenty of smiles over the past few years with event championships and team state titles.

There was a time when Niwot had a pretty good girls track team that would have been happy with a top 10 finish at the state meet. For those who have only been paying attention for the past decade, that’s probably difficult to picture.

Starting in 2010, the Niwot girls started working their way up the top 10 in Class 4A and the 2013 squad won the program’s first team championship. The Cougars haven’t looked or let up since.

In the seven seasons from 2013 and 2019, the Niwot girls have cultivated a dynastic presence in Class 4A, winning four state titles in that span and never finishing lower than third. These days, state championships are the expectation for Niwot girls track and it’s a bad bet that’ll change anytime soon.

“I would start off with Boulder County and being BoCo champs against the best in this area in all the classifications,” Niwot head coach Maurice Henriques said. “And when we won that first state title, it was the toughest and the most nerve-wracking. Now, it’s the expectation. And it’s not even me or the coaches anymore, it’s the kids who come through it that are saying things like, ‘If we don’t win, it’s a disappointment.’”

The Cougars’ emergence started at the Boulder County Championships and they have won the last 10 in a row. As for their dominant run at the state meet, they won three straight 4A championships from 2013-15. Niwot was third in 2016, runners-up to Air Academy in 2017 and runners-up to Valor Christian in 2018 before reclaiming the title in 2019, a victory made more satisfying when the Niwot boys also won the 4A team title to complete the sweep.

Had the 2020 spring season not been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Henriques said he thinks this past year’s girls team would have been the program’s best yet. That type of sustained excellence from a high school athletic program, Henriques said, is the result of a winning culture that took years to root itself and is now being cultivated as much by the athletes as the coaches.

“Once they bought in and the mindset changed, a lot of things started to take care of themselves,” Henriques said. “That was the goal and now the seniors and the older girls are the ones pushing the new girls and showing them how to do the work it takes to win. We’ve had a lot of great assistant coaches and a lot of kids with special intangibles that have kept our program where it’s been.”

When discussing the unique combination of talent and intangibles that have kept Niwot at or near the 4A pinnacle for the better part of a decade, a few names come to mind.

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Niwot’s Elise Cranny, left, races her way to victory in the 1,600-meter run in 2013.

Distance star Elise Cranny won half dozen individual state titles before graduating in 2014 and heading off to Stanford University. During her time at Niwot, she was also named Gatorade Colorado girls cross country runner of the year and broke state records in the 1,600 and 3,200 that were more than two decades old.

Alexis Carroll (Colorado-Colorado Springs) won three titles between the hurdles and jumps. Mary Gillett (Stanford) was a two-time individual champion and all-around team scorer who once did four events on a single rainy day at state to help her team contend for the team trophy. Mackenzie Fidelak (Stanford volleyball) placed in 15 out of the 16 events she entered at state in her high school career and is the program’s all-time leading point scorer with 71 points.

Taylor James, who will be a senior this upcoming school year, is a four-time individual champion who won the 200, 400 and set a state meet record (2:08.29) while also winning the 800 at state last spring. On Thursday, Gatorade named her Colorado girls track and field athlete of the year despite her junior season being wiped out by the global pandemic.

The list goes on and on and many former athletes are quick to praise Henriques, who has worked with at-risk youth for over 20 years, for his leadership and guidance.

“For me, Niwot girls track was the first real example of powerful women in sport,” Gillett said. “It’s just such a great group of strong young women who have each other’s backs. The coaches pushed us, empowered us and challenged us to hold up the program’s high standard of hard work, service and character. Especially now that I can look back on it, it was the strongest character formation I could have had.

“One of the reasons the Niwot girls have rallied behind coach Mo for all these years is because he is such a man of integrity in all areas of life.”

Many Niwot athletes also train year-round with Henriques’ track and field club REAL Training. Many alumni like Deyja Enriquez, who was a senior at Niwot when the team won its first title in 2013 and has been a Cougars assistant coach ever since, maintain close contact with the program after they graduate.

Enriquez said the desire to give back is prevalent in the Niwot track program and has been the key to its sustained success.

“It’s been pretty incredible to see,” Enriquez said. “Once I became a coach, I really started to see how much work was being put in behind the scenes. Just the lineup and how strategic coach Mo is with everything. Seeing all that being put together, I realized why we were so good. It takes a lot of effort from everyone around the team and everyone buying in to create that culture.”

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Mary Gillett, left, and Alexis Carroll, both of Niwot, on the podium for the long jump during the 2017 4A state championships.

Details of the Dynasty: Niwot girls track and field

Coach: Maurice Henriques

Dynasty years: From 2013 to 2019 under Henriques, the Cougars won four Class 4A girls track and field state titles in seven seasons, including three in a row in 2013, 2014 and 2015. In the years the Niwot girls didn’t win, their lowest team finish was third in 2016. The Cougars were runners-up to Air Academy in 2017 and to Valor Christian in 2018. Had the 2020 spring season not been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reigning 2019 champion Cougars were the heavy favorites to repeat and Henriques believes it would have been the program’s best team yet.

Major players: Alexis Carroll (three-time individual champion, program’s fourth all-time scorer at state with 53.5 points); Elise Cranny (six-time individual champion, 2013-14 Gatorade Colorado cross country athlete of the year); Mackenzie Fidelak (program’s all-time career scoring leader at state with 71 points); Mary Gillett (two-time individual champion); Taylor James (four-time individual champion, 2019-20 Gatorade track and field athlete of the year, program’s fifth all-time scorer at state despite not having a junior season).

Most dominant moment: Perhaps the Cougars’ most dominant victory was the 2015 state title that completed their three-peat and cemented their dynasty. Despite having lost to an excellent Mountain View team at the league championships only weeks prior, the Niwot girls rallied at state to edge their conference rivals for the state championship, 85 to 59.5. In the process, the Cougars’ 800-meter relay team – Kela Fetters, Lauren Sharpe, Rachel Sharpe and Mackenzie Fidelak – set the 4A state meet record with a 1:41.13.

* In 2019, the Niwot girls and boys swept the 4A team titles at the state meet for the first time in program history.

2020: COVID-19 pandemic

2019: 4A champions

2018: Runners-up to Valor Christian

2017: Runners-up to Air Academy

2016: Third place

2015: 4A champions

2014: 4A champions

2013: 4A champions