Did any of you wonder why some of your cross country classmates were missing math so much? Not all of us were ditching – there was an annual cross country meet in Arizona on September 24th where both our girls and boys teams were projected to win in the championship race. Desert Twilight is the first Nike sponsored event of the year and it gives a good showing of some of the best teams in the nation. The race is unique in that it happens late at night at a low altitude course. This year nine boys and thirteen girls made the trip to Tempe, Arizona. Desert Twilight is something that most upperclassmen look forward to, and is filled with team traditions such as eating at In-N-Out Burger at 1:00 AM and spending a whole day at a strip mall. The team’s main goal was simple – bring back two first place trophies to Niwot.
The Girls Race: A Double Victory
Stepping off the bus, the team could feel the exciting buzz in the crisp night air. The girls knew that this was a prime opportunity to run faster than they ever had before. Opportunities such as this were few and far between—most races aren’t at nighttime and at low altitude. As the meet approached, an intense energy of focus began to set in along with the reality of the pain they had to face. The team came in expecting to win, but now at the actual race, it suddenly felt much more real and serious. The race drew closer still—30 minutes out, 15 minutes, 5 minutes out, and finally, at 9:30 PM, the gun went off.
The race went out fast and aggressive (most national races tend to) with all 187 athletes fighting for good position. Sophomore Mia Prok got to the front quickly, in the top pack from the gun. Her teammates Maddie Shults, Eva Klingbeil, and Stella Vieth were closely following, trying to stay as close to Mia as possible. As the race progressed, the top pack began to spread out, leaving Mia chasing two other competitors for the top spot. The rest of the team followed, trying to maintain their places and keep the pack time down. This was no easy task considering the elite competition of the meet, but the whole team pushed forward knowing it would be over soon.
And soon it would be. Mia Prok finished to the roar of the crowd in 3rd place with a time of 17:06, a top-20 national time this year. Her teammate Maddie followed closely behind in 6th place, coming across the line with a time of 17:11. Senior Eva Klingbeil finished just after Mia and Maddie, running a time of 17:19 and placing 8th. With three girls in the top ten, it was almost guaranteed the team had gotten first. “When I looked back and saw Maddie and Eva had already finished, I knew we had won,” said Mia Prok. Even with three girls in the top ten, it was not over yet. However, seniors Stella Vieth and Tessa Everett sealed the deal by coming in 13th and 21st respectively. Behind Stella and Tessa were Olivia Alessandri (26th), Sarah Perkins (35th), and Lex Bullen (36th).
Earlier in the day, the Niwot girls also performed well in the large school open race. Senior Sierra Parks took first place by nearly two minutes and four Niwot girls placed in the top 10. Sierra is unable to run varsity during cross country but was still happy with her race. “I was honored to be able to represent Niwot at the national level. I was proud to be able to help my teammates run faster and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season and especially to track where I will be able to run varsity after transferring from Broomfield.”
With all these great performances, the girls won first place by a large margin. They scored 44 points, which is quite impressive considering the size and competition of the meet. It was a special race for many athletes and for some it was the first time they had placed on a national level. “The race felt good and it was a large accomplishment for me since I’ve never performed that well before. I fell at the start so I was surprised I was able to recover and still race well,” said senior Eva Klingbeil.
All in all, the Niwot girls cross country team performed incredibly well in both the Sweepstakes Race and the Open Race. They proved they are one of the best teams in the nation and won a competitive race in decisive fashion. They are looking forward to the state cross country meet at the end of October and later to RunningLane Nationals in Alabama during December.
*All pictures were taken by John Hays at Milesplit (Desert Twilight XC Festival by John Hays Milesplit Sep, 25 2021)
The Boys Race: A Close Call
After months of hard workouts and high mileage weeks, our boys cross country team finally got the chance to race at sea level and show off their progress. “We had never won this race before,” says Joey Hendershot. Arriving at the meet, the sun was just disappearing below the hot Arizona horizon, and the bright overhead lights only made sections of the course visible. “Racing at night is always fun. You feel like you are going so much faster than you are,” said senior Zane Bergen. Tension was running high, as in order to win, the top five runners on our team had to be in the highest places possible. “The strategy was to stay up in the front,” Joey told me. He and Zane were supposed to get in the top ten at least, while the rest of the team was trying to pass as many others as they could.
Since the team lost three seniors last year, the new team consists of Juniors Freddie Ambrose, Carlos Kipkorir Cheruiyot, Jeremy Gillett, Stefan Haug, senior Isaac Robinson, and the first freshmen boy that Niwot has ever taken to Desert Twilight: Gavin Engtrakul. It was unclear how the new team was going to perform, which put more pressure on the runners. “I was super honored and excited to go as part of the team to Desert Twilight and to do my best to help the team in any way I could. The older boys have been super supportive of me all season and it really means a lot to me to compete with them,” Gavin said. To be a strong team when you compete, it is important to get to know one another. These boys have worked tirelessly to create an encouraging environment that would help them on the course.
At the finish line, the crowds shoved each other to get a glimpse of the final battle. A collective breath was drawn when Zane Bergen came around the corner. He crossed the finish line in first place, proudly representing Niwot with 14:50 as his time. This was the second time he had run under 15:00 in the 5k. “I was happy, but it made me even happier to see Joey and Carlos so close behind,” he said. A quick fifteen seconds went by before Joey was spotted in fifth place leading a pack that was right on his heels. Joey said, “When I found out that I was in fifth place I felt pretty good because I had never done something like that before. I think our training is paying off.”
A few more exhausted runners stumbled through the finish line before our third runner, Carlos Kipkorir, was spotted.
“After the race was a blur. I just knew that I finished and by the time I stood up, looked around, and was conscious of what was happening, the whole team had already come through the line and I knew that we had won,” Joey said. Freddie came in 35th place, Isaac Robinson in 40th, Jeremy Gillett in 61st, Gavin Engtrakul in 88th, and Stefan Haug in 97th place.
Coaches were scrambling to figure out what we had scored. In cross country you add up all of the finishing places, and the team with the lowest number wins. The final score was announced, and the boys erupted. For the first time ever, the Niwot boys had won Desert Twilight.
“I was really pleased with how the whole team did even though some of us were still under the weather. It means we’ve got more in the tank and we’ll be really excited to show it in the next few months to come,” said Zane. Their goal is to get first in the state, and then finish in the top three at Running Lane Nationals in Alabama.
*All pictures were taken by John Hays at Milesplit (Desert Twilight XC Festival by John Hays Milesplit Sep, 25 2021)*