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Girls cross country: Niwot’s Ritzenhein is Longmont Times-Call runner of the year

Niwot freshman Addison Ritzenhein poses for a photo upon being named Times-Call girls cross country runner of the year. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Niwot freshman Addison Ritzenhein poses for a photo upon being named Times-Call girls cross country runner of the year. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

You’d assume Niwot freshman Addison Ritzenhein was fully ingrained into the world of long-distance running from birth. As if her parents would say, as soon as little Addy was walking, she was running – 5Ks.

The daughter of University of Colorado running greats, her father Dathan Ritzenhein is the former American record holder in the 5,000 meters and her mother Kalin (Toedebusch) is a high school and college All-American.

Though when asked where her love of running truly blossomed, Addison instead told the story of a middle school girl who’d just moved and was just trying to make new friends.

“We moved (from Michigan) to Colorado when I was in seventh grade and it was during the pandemic, so I didn’t really have many friends,” the Longmont Times-Call girls runner of the year said. “But there was a cross country team started at Niwot for middle schoolers and I wanted to try that out. And I really found my groove and found a bunch of friends I like.”

That continued into her freshman season with the Cougars, where she noted she made “even more friends” on the team and where her personal standing in the sport grew in turn.

In her first high school season, Ritzenhein joined a girls running dynasty that had been so great these last few years, she admitted to being a bit intimidated at first. The Cougars were coming off a national girls cross country title in December and a third straight track title in the spring. But she quickly found her place.

“The seniors and upperclassmen definitely made me feel welcome,” Ritzenhein said. “And eventually they became my best friends, and they taught me so much about the team and the sport.”

At the state meet in late October, a team that Niwot coach Kelly Christensen told that day to “just go race and have fun”, Ritzenhein used the chance to carve her own place in history for the running empire.

She was Class 4A’s runner-up, coming behind only Summit’s Ella Hagen in a time of 17 minutes and 56.50 seconds on the course in Colorado Springs. Leading five Niwot runners in the top seven, she helped the Cougars win a fifth straight cross country title while tying their own class record with just 20 points.

For reference: second-place Battle Mountain had 122.

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 at the Norris Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

“The (other girls) talked to me about the experiences they had in previous years, and I was like ‘that’s going to be so fun’,” Ritzenhein recalled. “But I just kind of tagged along with them at first and eventually we made so many other memories together.”

Niwot’s girls team went on to win the Nike Southwest Regional Championships in Arizona on Nov. 19, then took second at the XC Nationals in Oregon last weekend.

Ritzenhein was the first of her team to cross in each, finishing ninth and 18th. At nationals, she was the top freshman runner in the country, beating the next by nearly 30 seconds while running a personal-best time (per MileSplit) in 17:38.40.

“The first thing about Addy is that she is an incredible human and a high-character individual who has high morals and ethics,” Christensen said. “She’s incredibly kind, and fierce when she needs to be and has always put her teammates first. She has a calm confident demeanor and focuses on putting her best effort into everything she does. She has a natural ability to compete and race to her strengths and has improved in every workout and race she completed this year. She loves her teammates and just wants to work with them as they all work towards their goals together.”

Asked about her future in running, Ritzenhein said she is thankful to get insight from her parents, who she said love to chat about the sport and help her where they can.

This running identity is no tag-along, though.

“I really hope we make nationals as a team the next three years and win one of them,” Ritzenhein said of her next goals. “I hope the team keeps growing. I hope to one day break 17 minutes in the 5K.”