Championship running is different. Thoughts of running personal best times have to be set aside to execute the team strategy. And when the going gets tough, when things are not going according to plan, when the runner knows they might be having less than their perfect race, the runner has to grind it out the best they can to hang on to every place and every point to help their team reach their ultimate goal. There were some stellar performances by the Angels on Friday at Central Park; and there were some performances that were probably less than what some athletes had hoped for going into the race – but every athlete gave it all they had all the way through the finish line, and that was enough to bring home both team titles for Denver East High School.
The Angels have mostly avoided serious injuries this season; good summer conditioning is generally good for that. However, going into the DPS Championships it was unclear whether East front runner Eamon Nussbaum was going to available to race due to some persistent “runner’s knee” pain. The junior was able to toe the line and execute his race plan – conceding the first two places to Charlie Welch (15:53) of George Washington and Ian Kleinschmidt (16:26) of Northfield to battle it out against a runner each from GW, South, and North for places 3rd– 6th. Nussbaum gamely finished 4thin 17:17, despite dealing with an injury all week. Meanwhile East sophomore Ben Hopper was having the best race of his young career, racing to a 7thplace, All-City 1stTeam, and finishing in 17:58 – and importantly, a single place ahead of South’s #2 runner. With the first eight runners across the finish line, East, South and GW each had 2 runners in and it was clear that it was going to be a close team race.
Spectators and coaches could be forgiven for not knowing exactly how scores were shaping up at this point; half of each team was running in the second wave 2-minutes back. But with East junior Charlie Kruger leading the second wave most of the way, and teammate and fellow junior Jack Kriekels not far behind, East fans were growing more confident that a team title was within reach. Kriekels would eventually pass Kruger in the final stretch for 10thplace in 18:21, while Kruger was rewarded for his effort with a personal best 18:22 for 11thplace (this after the times and places for waves one and two were combined). East Angel Grant Elliott had lost contact with his usual racing buddy Hopper early in wave 1, but would hold on for 14thplace overall in 18:30 as the top finishing 9thgrader in the race and wrap up East’s scoring total at 46 – ahead of George Washington with 54 and South with 69. Fellow ninth grader (and the 3rdfrosh across the line) Kai Luna finished 26thin 19:40.
Prior to the start of the season, it may have seemed a foregone conclusion that the Angels Girls would dominate DPS meets. Afterall, East was returning most of a team that had finished a historic best 8thin the Colorado State Meet in 2019, and were 3-time returning DPS League champs. South and GW had different plans, having put together strong seasons that have landed both teams in the top-10 in State 4A rankings, and included South beating the Angels just 6 days prior to the Championship meet.
From the first mile of the race it was clear that the race was going to be tough battle in which the runners were going to have to fight and scrap for every point. At one mile senior Laura Romero had planted herself in her usual spot at the front of the lead pack along with the top South runner and GW’s top two runners. Senior Julia Schor was uncharacteristically gapped from this lead group, while senior Maya Winfield was racing a bit further back in a pack that included South’s 2ndand 3rdrunners and the top 2 runners from North, with the 3rdrunner from GW and a single runner from Northfield in between Julia and this chase pack. Meanwhile, in wave 2, East senior Abby Howard shared leading duties with South’s #4 runner, with senior Maya Nussbaumer and junior Annabel Filippini in close pursuit along with the fifth and sixth runners from South and GW.
By the end of the second mile, it was becoming clear that it was now a 2-team race with several of the GW runners having dropped back. At 2 miles it was clear that Schor had paced herself well as she had caught and easily passed the top 2 GW runners to take a decisive hold on to 3rdplace, while Romero and South’s Anna Wexler continued to battle up front. Winfield’s pack of two North and two South runners continued to hang together a bit back of that in places 8th-11thfor wave 1. Howard and South’s #4 separated themselves from the rest of the second wave of runners and were chased about 10 seconds back by the trio of Nussbaumer, Filippini and South’s #5. These groupings more or less stayed the same all the way through most of the 3rdmile, and it became a matter of who could close the fastest for critical places. In a frantic final 300m, East’s Laura Romero outkicked Wexler for the individual championship in 18:40 and Howard outkicked South’s Grace McClung to win wave 2 and take 12thoverall in 20:39. Those two finishes proved decisive. With Shor’s 3rdplace finish in 19:11, Winfield 14thin 20:45, and Nussbaumer 16thin 20:49, the Angels snatched the Championship by single point, 46-47, over South while GW was just a handful of points back with a total of 53. Filippini finished 17thin 20:50 (ahead of South’s 6thrunner by 3 places, which would have been enough to break a tie in East’s favor had the teams been tied after the first 5 runners).
The Varsity teams have just six days to catch their breath before the next challenge: Thursday’s 5A Region 3 Championship at Monarch High School – Girls race at 10:45am, Boys at 11:45am. The top three teams and top 2 individuals qualify for Colorado State Meet on October 17. Due to COVID-19 meet scheduling and limitations, the Angels are in the unusual position of having not faced any of their Region 3 rivals this season. Fairview, Broomfield, Boulder, Monarch and Legacy could all present a challenge to the East Girls team which hopes to improve on last year’s finish at State. Ralston Valley and all the aforementioned Boulder County schools have excellent boys teams who will be a formidable obstacle to East’s young boys team. It will be a fun and exciting meet!