A trackless blue sky stretched over the hilly trails behind the Colorado Mountain College campus at Leadville Saturday morning for the Lake County Invitational cross country meet. Cars overflowed the parking lot, stretching bumper to bumper along the side of the road. The field by the starting line swarmed with clashing colors as the teams mingled together — the bright red of Coronado, purple Salida, and of course the deep green of the Summit High Tigers, among others.
The Lake County Invitational marked the second cross country race of the season for Summit High, following last week’s meet in Colorado Springs on what will be the state championship course. Leadville’s race is a difficult one and not just because it takes place at over 10,000 feet in elevation. The 5k trail starts on a short flat stretch that quickly turns uphill. It looped several times, alternating between uphill and downhill. Runners made one last hill climb before the final sprint to the finish line. Spectators jogged from one vantage point to another, their cheers and ringing cowbells echoing through the pine trees.
Senior and team captain Katherine Pappas took second place in the girls varsity race, a first for her and beating last year’s fifth place, at a time of 21:05.
“She was in striking distance of the leader from Salida,” head coach Heather Quarantillo said.
Pappas said she was pleased with her performance on the difficult course, having started out with the goal of finishing in the top 10.
“I know I’m good at hills, so I tried to focus as much energy as I could on those and try as hard as I can on the downhills,” she said of her race strategy.
Although it was only her second cross country race ever, junior Krista Gutzel came in 13th place at 22:54. Emily Pappas came in next in 29th place at 23:48. The girls team finished fifth overall out of 14 teams, despite having two top runners out sick.
“All the girls who raced today really stepped up and did a great job,” Quarantillo said.
Coming in first for the Summit High varsity boys was Robert Koegel in 22nd place at 19:15. Teammate Kevin Curnutte placed 53rd at 20:46. Tyler Shaw followed in 57th place at 21:03. The boys placed 10th overall out of 14 teams.
“We’re really happy with how this squad did together, especially our boys … (who) were all so close together. To have that much depth with so many of our runners close together shows we are a strong team and when they make a push closer up toward the front of the race, they’re all going to push together,” Quarantillo said.
The junior varsity girls team finished strongly in second place overall out of 13 teams, while the junior varsity boys came in seventh out of 13 total teams.
The Tigers will race again next week at the Eagle Valley Invitational in Gypsum. Quarantillo hopes to have two full teams, with no sick-related absences, racing.
“We’re looking to rest up this week, get everyone super healthy and have our entire team in full force for the next race.”