Young, hungry Tigers on the trail |

Young, hungry Tigers on the trail

Practice was short and sweet for the Summit High cross-country team.

After class Wednesday afternoon, about 18 members of the team gathered on the brown (yet recently snowy) grass at the high school practice fields for warm-ups and a quick jog through the nearby trails. Then, it was back inside to cool off, relax and start mentally preparing for 4A Regionals at Connected Lakes State Park near Fruita this afternoon.

"Our season has been great," head coach Heather Quarantillo said before her team headed to the field. "It's been a terrific growth year for us and our team has learned a lot about the sport. … They have continued to surprise us each race. There's a steady stream of improvement, both individually and team-wise."

Earlier this autumn, Quarantillo predicted the season would be a "building and teaching season" for her young and untested team. After graduating a slew of seniors last year, including four-year state qualifiers Ruthie Boyd and McKenna Ramsay, the head coach of more than a decade took over a team with just one returning senior, captain Katie Mason, and nearly a dozen underclassmen. Her crew was untested, untried and unfamiliar in the newly restructured 4A Region 1 — and that was fine with her. So far, just about everyone has set (and beaten) a personal record, and the team now heads to a flat-and-fast course that plays to its strengths.

"I believe that anything can happen," Quarantillo said of the qualifying for state at Regionals. "Our top-two kids on both squads have the potential to make that happen, but it's something we're really shooting for next year. It would be icing on the cake if they got it."

Looking ahead

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Based on the season, Summit's chances of qualifying either a boy's or girl's team are pretty slim. The top-four teams and top-15 athletes for both genders make it to 4A XC State finals on Oct. 29, and neither Summit team has placed higher than sixth overall during the season.

Instead, Quarantillo set a different goal for her crew: beat at least two of the 11 teams at Regionals, which is stacked with deep teams from Glenwood Springs, Evergreen, Eagle Valley and the expected winners, Battle Mountain.

"They have depth that we just haven't built yet," Quarantillo said of Battle Mountain, which has a team of nearly 80 runners, yet is only allowed to start nine per gender like all other teams. "They're just enormous, and it won't be easy to pick a team. It's a hard decision for a coach, but I hope to someday be back to that dilemma."

Junior Ryan Davidson is one of the few Tigers with experience at Regionals. He competed last season for the first time and now feels confident he can reach a personal goal: finish in under 19 minutes to beat his personal record of 19:06, set at the first meet of the season in late-August.

"I'm not totally sure what to expect," Davidson said of Regionals. "I know that it will be very competitive, but I'm personally focusing on breaking 19 minutes. It's been my goal this entire season and with any luck I'll break it at the end."

Davidson's teammate, freshman Max Bonenberger, has led the boy's team most of the season with times in the high 18-minute and low 19-minute range. He set a personal record of 18:02 at the Anna Banana Memorial Wildcat Invitational on Sept. 24 — the last time the Tigers were at the Connected Lakes course — and expects to break the 18-minute mark today. His biggest personal challenger: Colin Szuch of Evergreen XC, a regular top finisher at the summer-long Summit Trail Running Series.

"I'm nervous and excited," Bonenberger said of Regionals. "I think it's a good way to prepare, since we've been there before, and that will help me mentally."

On the girl's side, sophomore Morrison Donovan is one of the few Tigers XC veterans. Like Davidson, she's been to Regionals before when she made the varsity team as a freshman. Her best race of this season was the Windjammer Invitational on Oct. 8 in Englewood, where she ran a 20:47. Her goal for Regionals: beat the 20-minute mark.

"I just have to be really focused for that to happen, but I definitely think it's doable," said Morrison, who traded the top Tigers spot this season with freshman Lexie Morici. "There was so much pressure as a freshman on the team to run at the same level as the seniors (but) they taught me about pacing and preparation."

For Morici, a West Virginia native who moved to Summit less than a year ago, running with a tight-knit team has been more important than top finishes. She and Donovan run together and push each other, and she now has the same sub-20 goal as her friend.

"We have the motivation to run harder, and it helps you when you're passing people in a race," said Morici, whose personal record is a blazing 19:55. "I think I just need to be more motivated through the race and prepare for it. That's eating healthy, getting mentally ready — all of it."

The Tigers load the bus at 7 a.m. this morning for the drive to regionals.