Befitting a strange and unusual cross country season that morphed as the country did, it figured that it wasn’t the number of talented veteran runners from the area that stole the spotlight in 2020.
It was a freshman.
And she’s destined to stay.
Underneath the drama surrounding a sport forced to shift on the fly due to regulations for COVID-19, Niwot’s Mia Prok emerged seamlessly from a heralded middle school career, to a more than strong start to her high school career, to the BoCoPreps.com girls runner of the year honor.
In a season squeezed short, Prok won every invitational she took part of heading into the state meet — including the Battle Mountain Husky Invitational (19:15), the Fairview Invite (18:33), the Beet Juice Invite (17:38) and the 4A Region 3 meet (18:13). Her top time of 17:38 was the seventh-fastest in the state and 50th-best in the nation this fall, per MileSplit.
It all set the stage for the Class 4A girls race at Norris Penrose Event Center, where she went toe-to-toe with Air Academy fellow-frosh Bethany Michalak. The Kadets’ top runner eventually edged her out for gold by three seconds (17:59 to 18:02).
“She’s really nice and we’re pretty good friends,” Prok said of Michalak. “We actually ran club (cross country) in middle school — she was on Kokopelli and I was on Boulder Mountain Warriors. And we ran almost all of our meets against each other like regionals, nationals. She was big competition for me but was always (a lot) better than me. … and I’d always just try to close the gap with her.”
Along with the two’s friendly rivalry, the Niwot girls’ setup for extended success was among the takeaways coming out of Colorado Springs.
The 2020 Cougars — who coach Kelly Christensen thought had the strongest incoming freshman class since he came to the program in 2016 — ran away with their third straight 4A girls team title on the strength of their youth.
At the state meet, Christensen’s top six runners consisted of two freshmen (Prok and Sarah Perkins) and two sophomores (Madison Shults and Lex Bullen). And at the front of it all, he sees a star.
“(Prok) wants to go against people better than her and she appreciates people that challenge her,” Christensen said. “She wants to show people she can really run with anyone and compete.”
By the numbers, Prok was the fastest girl at the state meet from the BoCoPreps area across all classifications. Second in the area was Broomfield sophomore Maelynn Higgins, whose time of 19:01 was 59.5 seconds behind Prok.
Prok was also the second-fastest freshman at the meet behind Michalak. The next best was Loveland’s Elena Torres, 53 seconds slower.
“Mia just rises to the occasion and just has that ability to flip a switch,” Christensen said. “She has the right mindset all the time. She’s just a joy to be around. Her teammates love her for sure.”
Usually, Niwot would be preparing for Nike Cross Country Regionals and Nationals following the state meet. But with that canceled, the Cougars along with the top-15 teams in Colorado — both boys and girls — will face the top-15 teams from Utah in the Borders Wars. The meet is slated for Nov. 21 at St. George/Washington, Utah.