Klingbeil & Bergen Take Home State Titles and Lead Team to 1st and 2nd Place Finishes

Keegan Geldean, Reporter

On October 30th, the 2021 State Cross Country Championships were held at Norris Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs. Niwot looked to defend their state titles from the previous year. With the boys ranked 3rd in the nation and the girls ranked 1st, they were rightfully confident. To quote Head Coach Kelly Christensen, “This is not normal,” in regards to their rankings and how dedicated the team is. The most important thing going into the Championships was that team dynamic. Arriving at the meet, they were all nervous, even those not racing. 


On the line for the 4A Boys Championships was Freddie Ambrose, Zane Bergen, Carlos Kipkorir Cheruiyot, Jeremy Gillett, Stefan Haug, Joey Hendershot, and Isaac Robinson. At 12:20 p.m. on the dot, the race started. Immediately, Zane found himself at the front, and by the 800m mark he was sitting comfortably in the lead. Joey Hendershot, Jackson Shorten (the top Mountain View runner), and four Cheyenne Mountain boys were tracking Zane on his shoulder. They powered up the first hill disappearing into the woods. 


By the mile, Bergen was still in the lead with Hendershot, Shorten, and the Cheyenne Mountain runners quickly in tow – they drove up the most grueling hill of the course without faltering. Soon after the leaders had passed by, the fifth Cheyenne Mountain runner passed with Kipkorir Cheruiyot. Right behind them were Ambrose, Gillett, and Robinson, and Haug brought up the rear. 


At the halfway point Bergen was still in front, with Cheyenne Mountain’s Eric Le Roux, Kaden Levings, and Knox Eaton, all right beside him. Now Shorten was hanging on to the back of the pack, but little did they know what Bergen’s plan for this race was.


At the two-mile mark Bergen was at time 10:09, with the front group still on his shoulder. With one mile to go, Bergen had one mile to break Cheyenne Mountain and win the State Title. He covered the last 1.1 miles in a shockingly fast 4:40 pace. That move completely broke up the field, leading to a massive 14-second gap between first and second. But his successful efforts to break the field did not pan out on the rest of the team’s side as Cheyenne Mountain beat Niwot, 63 points to 26.


Bergen recollected his turn into the stadium, saying, “My first thought really was, “how much did I break Cheyenne”, because that was the goal of the day. I wasn’t really looking back but I was thinking what the next 30 seconds were going to be like and waiting to see what happens.” 


When asked what it was like to be a two-time state champion, Bergen responded, “It’s pretty cool. It’s a byproduct of hard work, and everything we do as a team, but I’d much rather have the team titles represented more equally.” Reflecting on his biggest inspirations this year, he cited that it was,  “… getting Niwot to a place where it doesn’t need me anymore.” His goal for the future of the team is, “…[that Niwot becomes] a team that isn’t a once every 5-10 year team – a team that is producing every year and works hard every year, with a culture that we have now.” 


For the 4A Girls Championships, Tessa Everett, Eva Klingbeil, Bella Nelson, Sarah Perkins, Mia Prok, Maddie Shults, and Stella Veith took the line. At 1:40 p.m. their race started. From the gun, the Niwot girls had command of the race. At the 800m point, the frontrunners were Prok, Klingbeil, Shults, Samantha Blair from Eagle Valley, and Bethany Michalak from Air Academy.


At the mile, Michalak had the lead, with Prok and Klingbeil right behind her. Tailing them was the second pack, with Shults, Blair, Nelson, Veith, Perkins, and Everett. They pressed up the hill, going into the second mile. 


After the steepest downhill, it looked like Michalak had a commanding lead as Klingbeil and Prok chased hard. Behind them were Nelson, Veith, Maggie McClesky from Centaurus, Perkins, Shults, Pueblo West’s Aspen Fulbright, Ella Hagen from Summit High School, Ella Johnson from Glenwood Springs, and Everett in tow. 


After the two mile, Michalak stumbled and fell and ultimately did not end up finishing the race. Now Klingbeil was pulling ahead of Prok. The field behind them was breaking apart, with Nelson and Blair chasing. Charging up the final steep hill, Klingbeil put 25 seconds on the field. Finishing behind her was Blair, who just barely outkicked Prok. Behind them came Nelson, the top 4A freshman girl and the second freshman in all classifications. Chasing her was Veith right ahead of Perkins, then Shults, and not far behind was Everett. The team had smashed their own record of 37 points from 2019 to an astonishing score of 20 points this year. 


Klingbeil recalled making the final turn: “I don’t really remember what was going on in my head, but I was really excited and overwhelmed by the fact that I was winning state, which I did not expect at all.” Up until that victory, Eva said she had never won a race. Proud of her win, Eva explained, “It definitely feels really good. I feel like it’s a big accomplishment for not just me, but for the team.” Her biggest inspiration going into future races is, “… definitely my teammates… they all inspire me to work harder.” 


As a Senior, Klingbeil reflected on her past 4 years all leading up to that moment. She said, “I try to push everyone on the team to work hard, and I try to help everybody out, and say good job to everybody, even the people who aren’t in the top group. I like to reach out to them to make sure they are always okay.” When she leaves for college she wants to “…leave a legacy of running for your teammates, and not treating it as an individual sport but as a team sport and just running for each other.” Lastly, she gave advice to incoming Freshmen who want to follow in her footsteps: “Trust the process, and know that it will take a lot of years to get good – there will always be bad times before it’s good.” 


(Eva Klingbeil crossing the finish line in first)

(The boys team with their trophy: Stephan Haug, Zane Bergen, Isaac Robinson, Carlos Kipkorir, Joey Hendershot, Freddie Ambros, Jeremy Gillett)

(Eva Klingbeil with the 4A first place trophy)


*All pictures by Dave Klingbeil*