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Niwot High School's girls cross country ...
Niwot High School’s girls cross country team celebrates with the Class 4A first place team title after the 2022 State Cross Country Championship at the Norris Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

COLORADO SPRINGS — Sophomores Ella Hagen of Summit High School and Cloe Ruth of Silver Creek found themselves in a green mess Saturday afternoon. They knew that meant they were in good shape.

Hagen and Ruth sandwiched around five Niwot runners in the top seven of the Class 4A girls race at Norris Penrose Event Center as the Cougars went on to win their fifth straight state cross country title.

Scoring five runners, the Cougars tied their own class record from last year with 20 points. Battle Mountain placed second with 122.

The girls had come in with a national cross country title in December followed by its third straight state track championship in the spring.

“That was exactly the plan, just run as a pack, stay together and honestly just have fun together,” said Mia Prok, who finished third in 18 minutes, 18 seconds — her third straight top-three finish at the state cross country meet. “It’s just another kind of more high-stakes workout. We were just having the mindset of staying calm and running together.”

As part of their two-through-six finish, freshman Addison Ritzenhein — the daughter of CU Hall of Famer and former American 5,000-meter record holder Dathan Ritzenhein — finished eight seconds behind winner Hagen (17:48) in 17:56.

Niwot High School's Addison Ritzenhein sprints ...
Niwot High School’s Addison Ritzenhein sprints toward the finish line in the Class 4A girls State Cross Country Championship race Saturday. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Mia Prok, Bella Nelson (18:24), Madison Shults (18:29) and Lex Bullen (18:35) followed, while Mia’s younger sister Anna Prok was just behind Silver Creek’s Ruth (18:44) in eighth (18:45).

On the course, Ritzenhein and Hagen were stuck together through two miles before the Summit runner pushed out to a noticeable lead in the third. The first-year runners Ritzenhein and Anna Prok became the fourth and fifth freshmen to place inside the top 10 for Niwot over the past five seasons.

“I was so excited to join this team,” freshman Ritzenhein said. “When I was in middle school, I always saw the high school team running around town and I was like ‘Oh my God, I can’t wait to do that next year.”

In the boys’ 4A race, which was highlighted by the surprise individual victory from Mead’s Nolan Hoffman, Niwot finished second in the team race to Cheyenne Mountain for a consecutive year.

Without All-American runner Zane Bergen, who is now at Stanford, and another runner suffering an injury on the course Saturday, the Cougars finished 16 points behind the Red-Tailed Hawks (92-76).

Freshman Rocco Culpepper, brother of former two-time state champ Cruz Culpepper, finished 10th (16:01). Their other scoring runners were Carlos Kipkorir Cheruiyot in 15th (16:08), Jeremy Gillett 19th (16:23), Gavin Engtrakul 25th (16:33) and Frederick Ambrose in 31st (16:42).

“We haven’t had a healthy year,” Niwot coach Kelly Christensen said. “We have one boy in the tent right now with the ambulance and one of our seniors has had heart issues. I think they’re going to be disappointed. It’s a big letdown, they wanted to win. Cheyenne Mountain is a great team, but I think it speaks to the expectations and the culture they have.”

Before their runner-up finishes, the Cougars won the boys’ XC team title in 2019 and 2020.

Niwot High School's boys cross country ...
Niwot High School’s boys cross country team celebrates with the Class 4A runner up trophy Saturday afternoon. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)