Cross country: Local athletes shine amid top competition at Pat Patten Invite

Niwot’s Bella Nelson has area’s highest individual finish

  • Alissa Noe/BoCoPreps.com

    Niwot's Bella Nelson, left, and Centaurus' Maggie McCleskey pace each other along the course at Viele Lake during Boulder High's annual Pat Patten Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.

  • Alissa Noe/BoCoPreps.com

    Fairview's Timothy Churchill approaches the finish line at Viele Lake during Boulder High's annual Pat Patten Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.

  • Alissa Noe/BoCoPreps.com

    Centaurus' Max Heins runs the course at Viele Lake during Boulder High's annual Pat Patten Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.

  • Alissa Noe/BoCoPreps.com

    Boulder's Lindsay Cook races toward the finish line at Viele Lake during Boulder High's annual Pat Patten Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.

  • Alissa Noe/BoCoPreps.com

    Boulder's Morgan McCuen runs with the crowd at Viele Lake during Boulder High's annual Pat Patten Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.

  • Alissa Noe/BoCoPreps.com

    Fairview's Sierra Wall races toward the finish line at Viele Lake during Boulder High's annual Pat Patten Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.

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BOULDER — Late-season cross country meets serve as a good litmus test for athletes as they gear up for regionals and state.

It certainly helps when a meet assembles the best teams in both Class 5A and Class 4A and has a backdrop as stunning as the Flatirons. Boulder High’s annual Pat Patten Invitational at Viele Lake checked all of the right boxes as runners from Niwot, Centaurus, Boulder and Fairview stunned much of the competition.

“It’s become one of the most competitive meets of the year and we get the top teams,” Boulder coach Geo Tam said. “We’re real lucky with the venue. It’s absolutely gorgeous here, so I think teams love coming out here for the beauty of the Flatirons, the environment.”

Niwot’s girls, as always, proved their stock as the No. 1 team in the state when a freshman, Bella Nelson, placed third among some of the state’s top individual talent. At this point in the season, she’s not even sure if she’s on varsity or junior varsity for the Cougars. However, she crossed the finish line at 18 minutes, 26.5 seconds, just 13.50 seconds behind Valor Christian’s Keeghan Edwards, who won the whole thing.

Clearly, the high school newcomer didn’t let the pressure get to her too much.

“I ran in middle school, but those races only had a couple hundred kids. I get a little nervous but usually, when I’m on the line, that’s when I focus and I’m ready to race,” Nelson said. “Knowing they were the best, I wanted to beat them. That really pushed me through the race.”

Many of Niwot’s top girls took the day off after racing last week in the Desert Twilight Festival in Arizona, not that many spectators would have known. The Cougars finished fourth as a team behind 5A’s third-ranked Mountain Vista, fourth-ranked Valor and Fairview as Boulder placed fifth.

Maggie McCleskey clocked in next at fourth place, and the Centaurus senior was thrilled to see her high school career come full circle. It was, after all, what she had been working toward this season as the team leader is trying to propel her team into the state meet later this month.

Her 18:40.60 time should serve her well when regionals roll around.

“It’s really exciting,” McCleskey said. “I remember running the Pat Patten my freshman year and I ate an apple before and I felt terrible. It’s kind of fun to come back and do better because I like seeing that growth in running.”

Fairview’s Sierra Wall (seventh, 18:55.70) and Boulder High’s Lindsay Cook (ninth, 19:07.00) rounded out Boulder County’s top-10 performances as the local ladies shined a spotlight on the amount of talent that the area boasts.

The boys, on the other hand, were able to hold their own amid some of the toughest competition not only in the state but in the entire country. Cheyenne Mountain, which is ranked No. 2 nationally according to MileSplit’s Bobby Reyes, took pack-running to a completely different level as its runners placed first, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh and scored an astonishing 23 points.

Boulder senior Gavin Geer gave those boys a run for their money as he finished ninth in a pool of 111 with a stellar 16:12.50 time. And he didn’t even make it past regionals last year.

“Last year, I was farther down and I didn’t even end up going to state so it’s a lot more fun to be up near the top,” Geer said. “The team is definitely looking better than we thought. We started out with not a lot of our top returners because they graduated. I think we’re all really impressed with how the season is going so far.”

He wasn’t the only local athlete to showcase his speed among the best of the best. Centaurus’ Max Heins finished right on his tail at 10th and 16:16.70 as Fairview’s Timothy Churchill rounded out the top-15 performances with a 13th-place mark and 16:23.00 time.

Churchill, a junior, has found success this season in staying consistent with his daily runs and workouts.

“It feels fantastic,” he said. “I was not expecting it at all. I’ve never finished up this high before and I was expecting to finish behind the best person on our team, Eric (Sankey).”

Now that the local teams have one of the best regular-season meets behind them, they can now turn their focus for whatever the last few weeks of their slates may hold. Regionals will gear up the week of Oct. 21 as state is scheduled for Oct. 30.