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Dynamic dynasties: Monarch ushered in new level of talent

The Coyotes won three straight titles from 2011-2013

CLIFF GRASSMICK
Taylor Floming, left, and Claire Green, both of Monarch High, celebrate their 5A team title Saturday.
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Going back a decade, the area made way for another running dynasty: Monarch’s girls cross country team, maybe better known as an assembly line for top-flight running careers.

In the early 2010s, Monarch exploded as an overnight powerhouse, piecing together three straight state titles around two narrow misses in Class 5A. From 2010-2014, it was Colorado’s seedbed for elite girls runners.

Today, Coyotes coach Kent Rieder does his best to pin down how many collegiate All-American selections are spread amongst those rosters. Then, there’s college national champions and professional running careers left to count.

“There was absolutely no lack of talent from those girls,” the longtime XC coach said. “They were athletically gifted and still are. Many of them are still running and competing.”

Mark Wetmore’s iconic program at the University of Colorado proved to be the biggest recipient of Monarch’s dynasty pipeline. With standout careers from the likes of Maddie Alm, Kaitlyn Benner, twin sisters Karina and Elissa Mann, and Holly Bent, the Buffs built a national champion in 2018 — their first since 2004.

Others from Monarch scattered across the county to further their careers — some staying in the Pac-12 Conference, including Claire Green (Arizona) and Audrey Lookner (Oregon State).

Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera
Holly Bent’s third-place finish was a big factor in Monarch’s team title at the annual St. Vrain Invitational.

They’re brought back by the memories.

“I think it really was this serendipitous coming together of girls who happen to have a lot of talent,” said Green, who was a part of all three state title teams and now runs professionally. “But talent can only get you so far. … The talent helped us get that first team title, but it was the friendships and the support as teammates that pushed us to continue to be successful.”

These days, Green is currently in California, running for a club team, and writing for RunGrl, a media platform for Black women runners’ voices. She said her former Monarch teammates have stayed close over the years despite the distance and college rivalries between them.

“I’d love to race with them instead of against them for a change,” Green cracked.

Just like old times.

Under Rieder, Monarch didn’t want to indulge simply in individual performances, instead fostering pack running. The focus was to stay as a group — both on and off the course. The hope was that the strength of the whole would speak for itself.

Through the 2011-13 seasons, the Coyotes placed four runners inside the top 20 for all three championships but never had an individual winner. Each time a different girl — Green (2011), Elissa Mann (2012) and Ashley Litoff (2013) — led the way.

“They ran for each other,” Rieder said. “In cross country, you almost have to have that mentality. If you’re running for yourself, then you’re not going to be very successful except for maybe yourself.”

The Coyotes eventually won their first state title in 2011, but the spark likely came from the season before.

Loaded with future college runners in 2010 — from seniors Alm, Mariel Fulton, Lauren Elvig and Mattie Stanford, to newbie freshmen Green and Benner — the Coyotes suddenly looked to have enough in their arsenal to challenge perennial-power Fort Collins.

Instead, they settled for fourth at Arapahoe County Fairgrounds as one of its top runners was unable to finish.

“I remember Fort Collins was a dynasty back then and they won that year,” Rieder said. “Their coach, Chris Suppes, who I have a lot of respect for, came up to me afterward and he said, ‘You know, you guys had the most talent in that race but the thing about winning is everything has to go right on that certain day.’”

And mostly, it did for the next three years.

After going on to place 15th at the Nike Cross Nationals later in 2010, the Coyotes returned to the state meet in 2011, trouncing past second-place Fort Collins by 70 spots.

Moving the state meet to Colorado Springs in 2012, little changed. The Coyotes remained champs over the next two fall championships at Norris-Penrose Event Center. In 2013, they scored just 49 points to nab a three-peat before going on to place fifth at Nike XC Nationals a month later.

“I honestly don’t think I would have been as good of an athlete if it wasn’t for that team,” said Karina Mann, who went on to run at CU. “I don’t know if any of us would be as good as we are today if not for that team aspect.”

Added Green: “It was the joy that we got from being with each other that kept the sport fun.”

Daily Camera file photo
Monarch’s Elissa Mann, rear, is greeted by teammates at the finish line after the Coyotes raced their way to a second straight Class 5A state cross country title on Saturday in Colorado Springs.

Details of the Dynasty: Monarch girls cross country

Coach: Kent Rieder

Dynasty years: From 2010 to 2014, the Coyotes won three state titles around two near misses, and produced two national top-20 placings at the Nike Cross Nationals (the 2010 team taking 15th and the 2013 team taking fifth). The program also served as a springboard for more than a handful of D-I running careers. At the dynasty’s arguable end in 2014, Monarch just missed winning a 5A-record fourth straight despite losing most of its varsity core from the year before. It finished second, just five spots back of Fort Collins.

Major Players: Most of the varsity runners from the 2010-2014 teams went on to run in college. The list includes: Maddie Alm (CU), Kaitlyn Benner (CU), Holly Bent (CU), Lauren Elvig (St. Olaf), Taylor Floming (Montana State), Mariel Fulton (Drake), Claire Green (Arizona), Ashley Litoff (Rhodes College), Audrey Lookner (Oregon State), Elissa Mann (CU before grad transferring to San Francisco), Karina Mann (CU), Alyssa Reese (Willamette), Rebecca Richmond (Navy), Mattie Stanford (Boise State).

Most dominant moment: The 2013 team scored just 49 points at the state meet, the second-fewest of the decade in 5A. (Mountain Vista had 44 points in 2018). With six of the top seven going on to run at D-I schools, Litoff, who ran at D-III Rhodes College, crossed first from Monarch at that year’s state meet, fifth overall. Green followed in seventh, Benner eighth, Bent 13th, Lookner 24th, Karina Mann 27th and Elissa Mann 59th. A month later, the Coyotes took fifth at Nike Cross Nationals, their highest national finish ever.