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Track and field: A jack of all trades, Niwot’s Taylor James ready for senior season

Before heading to Stanford, state titles the target

Niwot High School senior runner Taylor ...
Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer
Niwot High School senior runner Taylor James poses for a portrait on Monday, May 10, 2021, in Niwot, Colo.
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There’s not much that Niwot senior Taylor James can’t do in track and field.

The once-in-a-generation star has achieved her fair share of incredible feats. Plenty of high-caliber high school track athletes do. But very few have gotten to experience the sport outside of the United States, especially before they hit the college scene.

Last year, the National Scholastic Athletes Foundation selected just 12 high schoolers to represent the U.S. at the Reykjavik International Games in Iceland.

James was one of them. That experience opened her eyes to the world of possibilities that lie ahead for her.

“One of the crazy things was before you start a race here, you kind of hear chitter-chatter and then everybody hushes down, but you can still hear people talking when the gunman says, ‘Set,’” she recalled. “But complete silence out in Reykjavik. It was eerie. As soon as they were like, ‘On your marks!’ It was nothing. You could hear a pin drop and that was just like, ‘Wow.’ You take that all in. These people are into the sport. The fans were so invested in every athlete. Everybody wants to see other athletes succeed.”

Even on the world stage, James shined. She won silver in the 800-meter run with a time of 2 minutes, 11.59 seconds. During the summer of 2019, she won Tennessee’s Music City Distance Carnival in the same event with her second-fastest time at 2:05.83. Just a few months before that, she broke the Class 4A Colorado state track and field record with a 2:08.29 time as a sophomore.

She dropped 2.46 seconds off of her state record in a matter of a few weeks.

In just her first two seasons in the high school sphere, James earned five individual state titles in the 200-meter dash, the 400-meter dash, as a member of Niwot’s 1,600 relay team and twice in the 800. She also excelled at cross country in the fall, where she won second place at the state meet in 2018.

“I don’t know if you can have somebody that can run 17:30 (in the 5K) in her career to high jump 5-foot-8, to run 24.7 (seconds in the 200), 54 (seconds in the 400), 2:05 (minutes in the outdoor 800),” head coach Maurice Henriques said. “It’s pretty special. She can hurdle too. I kind of joke, I was like, ‘I’m going to have you throw the shot put one of these weeks.’ I don’t know if there’s anybody who came through who is that versatile in all the events.”

James was awarded the prestigious Gatorade Colorado Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year during the 2019-2020 school year. Although her 2020 season was ultimately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she still drew plenty of attention for that accomplishment and more.

The elite college programs started calling.

“My top five schools were Oregon, Vanderbilt, Princeton, Duke and Stanford,” James said. “Stanford, obviously, is very well-known for its academic and athletic excellence, so that was that perfect balance with something that I was really hoping to find somewhere. Talking to coach (J.J.) Clark and some of the girls on the team, it just really reminded me of an atmosphere and environment very similar to Niwot’s. That’s something that I hold very dear to my heart. Coach Clark is a specialist in the 800-meter and that happens to be my event category as well. It just really seemed like the best of both worlds.”

She’ll be following another former Niwot standout in Elise Cranny, whose previous state record James broke in 2019. Cranny, who graduated from NHS in 2014, also won Gatorade’s honor for the state and went on to become a 12-time All-American and two-time Pac-12 champion.

James, just like every current Niwot track athlete, draws on Cranny for inspiration and hopes to one day follow in her footsteps. She dreams of one day competing at the Olympic level, but for now, she’s focused on making the most of her senior season and helping her team succeed in any way she can.

After all, she’s a team player before anything else.

“Taylor James is so unique,” Henriques said. “I’ve been coaching her since seventh grade. It’s her senior year and she’s had all these accomplishments and still, she like never requests to do anything. All she said to me was, ‘Coach, there’s only one event that I really want to run: the 4×400 at state.’

“It gives me chills to talk about because there’s a lot of kids that you coach and they have success and they don’t want to buy in or they’re listening to their friends or listening to, ‘You don’t need to run that much.’ Not her. She truly enjoys being with her teammates and running for her team. As a coach, you just want to reward a kid like that. … I’m really going to miss that part about it. I expect her to be Taylor James. She’ll go out there and compete and be excited if her teammates win and she’ll be excited if she wins.”