COLORADO SPRINGS – It’s never wise to expect the best possible outcome to come to fruition, unless of course, you run track or cross country at Niwot High School in the year 2019.
Though they weren’t necessarily counting on it happening, the Niwot cross country program pretty much realized its dream scenario at the state championships on Saturday. Dominating the course at Norris Penrose Event Center, the Cougars girls won both the individual and team Class 4A championships early in the morning, and the boys followed suit an hour later by doing the same.
They were all favored to win, so the all-around sweep wasn’t really that much of a surprise. What was a surprise, however, was Niwot senior Cruz Culpepper setting a 4A course record of 15 minutes, 36.1 seconds.
Even Culpepper said he had no plan to attack the record and had no idea he had shattered it until he had crossed the finish line.
“I didn’t know it at all,” Culpepper said. “I’ve been in really good shape lately and I felt really good after about two miles, and normally on this course I feel pretty bad after about a mile and a half. I felt good so, yeah, I don’t know.”
The previous 4A record was 15:42.1, set by Valor Christian’s Cole Sprout in 2017, and Saturday’s was Culpepper’s second consecutive individual title.
Niwot won three out of four possible state titles in 2018, but the boys team championship escaped the Cougars despite Culpepper’s individual victory. This year’s four-for-four sweep was the first time a single program claimed all four state titles – boys individual, girls individual, boys team and girls team – at the same state meet since Estes Park (3A) did it in 1995.
With Culpepper leading the way, the Niwot boys placed their five scoring runners in the top 27 to win the team title. Their 70 points were well ahead of runner-up Durango’s 119. Zane Bergen was 12th, Grayden Rauba was 21st, Joaquin Herrera was 23rd and Joey Hendershot was 27th.
Ranked No. 8 in the nation, the Niwot girls battled injury and inconsistency early in the season. But the Cougars peaked at the right time, claiming the top five spots in a dominant performance at the 4A Region 3 heading into state.
That dominance continued at state, where the Cougars girls placed all five scoring runners in the top 13 to claim the team title behind senior Samrawit Dishon’s individual championship. Dishon crossed the finish line with a time of 18:11.9. Amelia Philofsky was sixth, Madison Shults was 10th, Taylor James was 11th and Joelle McDonald was 13th.
The sweep of both 4A individual titles and both team titles capped an incredible calendar year for the Cougars runners, who also won both the boys and girls track and field team titles in the spring.
“We’re definitely really proud of all those team titles,” Dishon said. “We always imagine both scenarios: failing and winning. I think that helps us but I knew in my heart that I had 100-percent faith in my teammates that we could get it done just based on how hard they work. I didn’t tell them that but I knew we could do it.”
The Battle Mountain girls were second with 71 points, 34 points behind Niwot.
In the 4A boys state race, Centaurus junior James Overberg placed eighth with a time of 16:15.4 and the Warriors were sixth as a team. Mead junior Keegan Caldwell placed 19th with a time of 16:38.4. Longmont sophomore Connor McCormick, who just started running cross country this season, was 29th with a time of 16:53.4.