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Track and field: Lots of miles, lots of accolades for returning runners

Niwot in search of third straight state title on boys and girls side

Niwot High School's Zane Bergen celebrates winning the Boys 1600 Meter Run at the Boulder County Track Championships at Everly Montgomery Field in Longmont on Saturday, June 5, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
Niwot High School’s Zane Bergen celebrates winning the Boys 1600 Meter Run at the Boulder County Track Championships at Everly Montgomery Field in Longmont on Saturday, June 5, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

The cost of success isn’t lost on Niwot distance runner Zane Bergen.

Coming off three state titles last track and field season, followed by his second straight individual win in cross country, the thousands of miles dedicated to training for year-round distance nuts like Bergen can wear like treads on an old pair of their shoes.

Worth it, the Stanford commit noted, if the narrative is right.

“You have to be ready to sacrifice a lot for it and if it means sacrificing other things in life like social time and all that stuff, it’s for the betterment of the group,” said Bergen, who’s long avowed the Cougars’ team accomplishments over his own.

“In the end, that’s what’s going to bring you all closer together and towards a common goal.”

Bergen’s star power won’t likely be overshadowed this spring season — but the spotlight isn’t his alone.

The region had 32 runners from 11 different local schools place inside the top 30 at the state cross country meet in the fall. Most of them will next look to take a step forward — always edging left — as looping round and round a track picks up steam.

As it stands in the area, Bergen’s Niwot remains the long-distance standard of excellence.

It’s proven as much in-state and out.

Senior Eva Klingbeil won last fall’s 4A XC title to match Bergen’s win for the Cougars. The girls’ team then won a fourth straight state title in October and followed it with a national title at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships in December.

And now both the boys’ and girls’ teams will go for a third straight title in track and field come this May.

At state, “I’m hoping to contribute a lot and score 40 points (meaning: four wins) for the boys,” Bergen said. “And then just make some fun memories along the way.”

Other notable local names that could be in line for sparkling finishes in the 3,200 and 1,600-meter races (if they return this spring) are 2A XC champ Tyler Ball of Lyons, Centaurus’ steadfast talent, Maggie McCleskey, Boulder’s Gavin Geer, Fairview’s Eric Sankey and Legacy’s Mia Mraz.

Mraz is among the runners who have steadily crept up the running rankings during her high school career. Asked about her fit on the local distance scene, the senior talked about a tight-knit community of teammates and rivals, and how it fuels her.

She touted Broomfield’s Maelynn Higgins, a runner during the XC season that had regularly been neck-and-neck with her and returns to the track this spring. The Broomfield junior is coming off a dazzling 2021, where she took second in the 800 and fourth in the 1,600. Mraz, meanwhile, was the top local finisher at the 5A XC meet in the fall, taking 15th.

“It’s really cool that you can have both elements,” Mraz said. “Like you can be supportive of them while still pushing yourself to the next level when running against them.”

Mraz hopes to end her high school career on the podium in the 1,600 and 3,200 before heading to run at Northwestern. Like her, the spring will spell the end for 5A’s top local talent on the boys’ side, too.

Sankey of Fairview, like Mraz, has big goals first.

The Dartmouth commit, somewhat still new to the 12-month grind of dedicated running, made a sizable leap in progression last fall, in which despite injury, he finished third at the 5A state meet.

Among his sacrifices for the sport was giving up lacrosse after last spring.

“I think part of the change was just focusing solely on running,” said Sankey, who after state XC, went on to take 41st in the nation at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country championships.

Now overcoming another injury, the senior noted that he still must “focus a lot on being smart with how I build up to peak races and prevent over-training.”

Other top-15 guys from the fall state XC meet who should be monitored include Twin Peak’s Aaron Jenkins, Lyons’ Cole Thomas, Jefferson Academy’s Evan Mills, Longmont’s Andreas O’Malley, Erie’s Evan Kraus, Niwot’s Carlos Kipkorir Cheruiyot and Joey Hendershot, Fairview’s Tim Churchill and Boulder’s Geer.

Other top-15 girls from state XC are Lyons’ Quin Gregg, Centaurus’ McCleskey, and Niwot’s Mia Prok, Bella Nelson, Stella Vieth, Sarah Perkins and Madison Shults.

Last spring, Bergen and former local high school athletes Allison Beasley of Peak to Peak and Lucca Fulkerson of Niwot won state distance titles in the 1,600 and/or 3,200.

Cream of the crop: 2021 boys all-region team
Boys first team (Name, 2020-21 class, school)
Luke Werner, Sr., Boulder; Gavin Schurr, Sr., Fairview; Ryan Chacon, Sr., Frederick; Connor McCormick, Jr., Longmont; Zane Bergen, Jr., Niwot; Simon Saia, Sr., Niwot; Holy Family 400-meter relay (Conor Byrne, So.; Pierce Kunz, Jr; Dominic Neely, Jr., Grayson Arnold, Jr.); Erie 800-meter relay (Sean Thomas Francisco, Jr.; Mason Veve, Sr.; Blake Donaldson, Sr.; Quentin Hartel, Sr.); Frederick 1,600-meter relay (Garrett Colvin, Jr.; Alexander Carrillo, Jr.; Wyatt Schroth, Sr.; Ryan Chacon, Sr.); Niwot 3,200-meter relay (Grayden Rauba, Sr.; Joaquin Herrera, Sr.; Curtis Volf, Sr.; Zane Bergen, Jr.); Aaron Strauber, Sr., Jefferson Academy; Aidan Graziano, Sr., Peak to Peak; Eddie Kurjak, Sr., Longmont; Chrisly Kelly-Cannon, So., Jefferson Academy; Braelon Tate, Jr., Legacy; Timo Heine, Sr., Monarch; Brody Welch, Sr., Holy Family; John Pastore, Jr., Erie.

Boys honorable mention
Baylor Baessler, Fr., Broomfield; Nathan Bailey, Sr., Mead; Kyle Berg, Jr., Centaurus; Benden Cantanon, So., Mead; Will Chiang, Sr., Fairview; Aidan Christiansen, Sr., Fairview; Benjamin Classen, So., Niwot; Jacob Crookston, Sr., Jefferson Academy; Jack Culp, Sr., Holy Family; Andrew Descalzo, Jr., Holy Family; Quin Dukes, Jr., Mead; Jacoby Ennis, Fr., Centaurus; Quinn Featherson, Sr., Longmont; Adam Granger, Sr., Holy Family; Connor Grant, Sr., Niwot; Jose Guevara, Sr., Longmont; Lukas Haug, Sr., Boulder; Luke Hixson, Jr., Holy Family; Aaron Jenkins, Jr., Twin Peaks; Caleb Johnson, Jr., Longmont; Brecken Khleif, Sr., Longmont; Justice Lillie, Jr., Longmont; Kaleb Lorenz, Sr., Broomfield; Tyler Mayer, Jr., Mead; Sean Medlock, So., Mead; Aidan Miller, Jr., Silver Creek; Ryan Montera, Sr., Legacy; Andreas O’Malley, Jr., Longmont; Dayne Ortega, Sr., Broomfield; James Overberg, Sr., Centaurus; Corte Peterson, Sr., Peak to Peak; Benji Schatz, Sr., Centaurus; Joseph Silva, Jr., Holy Family; Kailer Smith, Sr., Centaurus; Tyson Spradling, Sr., Legacy; Nicholas Stade, Jr., Niwot; Jackson Stone, Sr., Broomfield; Leo Sundstrom, Sr., Fairview; Cole Thomas, So., Lyons; James Thomas, Sr., Broomfield; Tavon Underwood, So., Mead; Kyle Varra, Sr., Centaurus; Dominic Warner, Jr., Longmont; Craig Wright, Jr., Niwot.