When Sierra Bower won her regional cross country race last fall at Aspen Golf Club, she went all in and that may have cost her a week later at the state meet. Friday at the regional meet at Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel, the Basalt High School junior dialed it back with bigger goals in mind.
“Last year I had a super awesome race at regionals and then kind of had a terrible race at state, so I was a little more conservative today,” Bower said. “Just playing it safe for next week. It was definitely still a challenge, though. It wasn’t an easy win.”
Even though she took it relatively easy, Bower still won the Class 3A Region 1 meet, hosted by the Longhorns, in 19 minutes, 8.3 seconds for back-to-back regional championships. Aspen High School junior Kylie Kenny was second in 19:23.4.
It was on overall dominant day for both the Basalt and Aspen girls, who finished 1-2 in the team standings to qualify for next weekend’s state championships in Colorado Springs.
“She had that luxury (to dial it back), but next week she is going to pull out all the stops and we’ll see where she lands,” Basalt coach Ron Lund said of Bower, who will have teammates to race alongside at state unlike last fall. “It’s going to be huge for Sierra because the last two years being there without her team, that’s a different dynamic, for sure. And it just adds an extra element. She is not just racing for herself; she is racing for her team. She has really helped bring the team along and it was just fun to see today how it all unfolded.”
The Basalt girls won Friday’s regional with 35 points, followed by Aspen’s 41 points, Moffat County’s 85 points, and then Gunnison and Pagosa Springs, who tied for fourth with 103 points. The top four teams qualify for the state meet.
A year ago in Aspen, the Basalt girls finished fifth as a team and did not qualify for state. Bower made it in by qualifying individually with her regional win. She also went to state as a freshman alongside then-senior Carly Robinson, although this year will be her first having a full team to compete alongside.
“It definitely feels really good. A lot better this year with the whole team qualifying, so it was definitely a successful day out here,” Bower said. “I’m definitely going into it confident. I trust my training and just having the whole team really adds to that excitement. Just super excited to be going down there with everyone.”
Basalt freshman Katelyn Maley was third overall on Friday in 19:43.3, while AHS freshman Elsie Weiss was fourth in 20:01. Basalt freshman Sarah Levy was sixth (20:06.3), while AHS juniors Kendall Clark (8th, 20:12.9) and Eva McDonough (9th, 20:18.6) also finished in the top 10.
“It was so tight the whole way and just the give and take … it was so much fun to watch them run,” AHS coach Chris Keleher said. “The girls all ran great — every single one of them. Kylie was up front the whole time and Elsie, she ran a very, very smart race. Kendall and Eva both ran great.”
The Aspen girls will be sending a full squad to the state meet yet again. They finished third as a team when they hosted the regional last fall. This year’s group has a little more depth than in 2018, however, and could be more of a factor in Colorado Springs.
“They are really excited for the state course,” Keleher said. “There is a lot of excitement about going down there and getting out of the mountains and running fast at the state meet.”
Bower should be among the favorites at the state meet, which is Oct. 26 at the Norris Penrose Event Center. She’s consistently been under 19 minutes this fall in meets, including a best time of 17:40.25 in Delta earlier this month. Bower was 24th at state last fall, finishing in 20:12. Classical Academy senior Kaylee Thompson was the 3A state champion in 2018 in 18:19.2.
“I don’t think it’s really been one workout specifically or any one thing I’m doing differently,” Bower said of her improvement this season. “Just kind of staying focused throughout the season and working with the team. Just the basic stuff.”
It’ll be a much smaller contingent for the boys, with only Basalt senior Tucker Bruce qualifying for state next week. He finished 13th on Friday in 17:52.7 to make it inside the top-15 required to qualify individually. Gunnison’s Alex Baca won the boys race in 16:12.4, followed by Bayfield’s Elco Garcia (16:31.4) and Moffat County’s Wyatt Mortensen (16:40.7).
“It feels awesome just to have the satisfaction that all my training has really worked out for me,” said Bruce, a first-time state qualifier. “I definitely knew I had a very solid chance going in. Last year I knew I had a solid chance going in, but injury kind of put that back a little bit. I was extremely nervous, but I knew I just had to trust my training and that I could do it.”
Aspen’s top finisher in the boys race was sophomore Brenon Reed, who was 30th in 19:00.4. Gunnison won the boys team title with 53 points, followed by Bayfield (63 points), Moffat County (70 points) and Pagosa Springs (104 points).