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Cross country: Centaurus boys, Maggie McCleskey win Bernie Gay Invite

Warriors excel on home course

  • The varsity boys race begins at ...

    Alissa Noe/

    The varsity boys race begins at the 32nd annual Bernie Gay Invitational cross country race on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 in Lafayette.

  • Twin Peaks Charter's Aaron Jenkins runs ...

    Alissa Noe/

    Twin Peaks Charter's Aaron Jenkins runs the final stretch toward the finish line of the 32nd annual Bernie Gay Invitational at Waneka Lake Park on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

  • Centaurus' Maggie McCleskey and Peak to ...

    Alissa Noe/

    Centaurus' Maggie McCleskey and Peak to Peak's Annaka Rudolph (bib No. 833) lead the ladies out of the gate during the 32nd annual Bernie Gay Invitational at Waneka Lake Park on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (Photo by Alissa Noe/

  • Peak to Peak's Shriya Biddala runs ...

    Alissa Noe/

    Peak to Peak's Shriya Biddala runs the course of the 32nd annual Bernie Gay Invitational at Waneka Lake Park on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

  • Centaurus' Maggie McCleskey dons her first-place ...

    Alissa Noe/

    Centaurus' Maggie McCleskey dons her first-place medal after winning the 32nd annual Bernie Gay Invitational at Waneka Lake Park on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.



LAFAYETTE — On a course like Waneka Lake Park, strategy plays a large part in any runner’s success.

Centaurus’ cross country athletes knew that all too well when they hosted the 32nd annual Bernie Gay Invitational on Saturday morning and ran away with the competition, both individually and as a team. This was the first year the race was named for Gay, a beloved Warrior coach who died in May.

Practice makes perfect, and knowing the course inside and out played to the Warrior boys’ advantage as they collected the team win with 37 points, a full 27 points ahead of second-place Dakota Ridge. Senior Kyle Berg crossed the finish line first for Centaurus at second place overall and a 16-minute, 11.20-second time.

“If you don’t know this course, you’re in for some trouble because every hill you think isn’t a hill is going to take something from you in that last mile,” Berg said. “Even if you think the last mile is easy, it’s gravel. Compared to cement, compared to downhill, it’s going to take something out of you. It’s a really strategic course and that’s why course records are lasting for six, seven years here.”

Junior Max Heins (third, 16:34.40) and sophomore Christian Stein (seventh, 17:44.30) rounded out the top-10 effort for Centaurus. The ladies placed fifth as a team out of 11, but they did enjoy an outright win from senior team leader Maggie McCleskey, who beat out the second-place runner by nearly 13 seconds at 18:42.70.

The next Centaurus girl to finish after her, Ava Miller, clocked in at 21:10.00 and 15th place.

“It was really exciting,” McCleskey said. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Last year, we couldn’t have it so it’s just fun to be back. This meet is really fun. Our team wears silly shorts.”

In a competition that welcomed athletes from Class 2A all the way up to Class 5A, one small school stood out to stun some of the competition. Twin Peaks Charter Academy, led by senior Aaron Jenkins, placed fifth in a pool of 13 as Jenkins logged an eighth-place mark at 17:48.90.

He believes that’s just the beginning for what his boys can accomplish this season, and he’s looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks may bring.

“I think this is our strongest team that we’ve ever had,” Jenkins said. “We’ve got two guys (Jenkins and Giorgio Spensieri) that have a lot of potential to go under-18 (minutes) and then we have two other guys who are going sub-20 regularly and then another guy who goes sub-19, so that’s five guys under 20. I’m thinking we can get two finishers in the top 30 at state, and then maybe all four of our scoring guys could be in the top 50.”

Though cross country may appear to some as more of an individual sport, the athletes know better. Peak to Peak, a 3A school, has been operating under the motto “run as one” this season, and no two runners personified that more perfectly than sophomore Annaka Rudolph and junior Shriya Biddala, who crossed the finish line at the exact same time at 21:56.60, which placed them squarely at 27th.

They led their team to a seventh-place mark.

“Like our team captain said, we act as if we’re just running normally but we’re going race pace,” Biddala said. “We target each other, we pack run sometimes and we have supporters on the side pushing us to go faster. We aim to catch each other.”

Freshman Jack Cerullo (18:06.30) took the reins for the boys team as the Pumas continue to work toward achieving that coveted spot at the state meet.

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