Hotchkiss High School hosted the third cross country meet of the season last Saturday morning and Delta County runners enjoyed the home field advantage.
"It's a tough course. We run it every day so we knew what to expect," Bulldogs sophomore Kaiya Firor, a state qualifier last year, said after she finished third in the girls race.
"There's lots of different terrain. It's a challenge," Firor said. "We don't have our best times here usually but it's a home field advantage running on it and it makes us a lot better having all these hills."
Firor led the host Bulldogs, who number three this year along with Cedaredge sibling runners Hannah Hathaway and Grace Hathaway.
"It's a lot different. Last year we had two seniors and they pushed us really hard," Firor said. "We have to make sure we motivate ourselves because they're gone this year."
Runners enjoyed perfect weather as bright sunlight bathed the course in the adobes behind the high school.
Paonia's Brooke Hillman finished second in the girls race behind Montrose runner Madeline Chandler, who won in her time of 22 minutes, 29 seconds.
"I felt pretty good. I felt pretty consistent throughout the whole thing," Hillman said. The junior was in the Top 15 in the season's previous two races before her second place finish at Hotchkiss.
Hillman and Chandler chased each other up and down the 'dobes before Chandler pulled ahead right at the end of the race.
"At the last bit at the bleachers she kicked it and had a really good finish," Hillman said. "It was fun."
The Indians won the four-team girls race with 40 points. Paonia was second with 48, Delta third with 61 and Grand Valley rounded out the team scores with 70 points.
The Eagles had two other runners in the Top 10 as freshman Katya Schwieterman continued her strong start to the season and finished seventh. Sophomore Alexandra Eaton was right behind her for Paonia and finished eighth.
Another individual battle for Delta County runners came down between Firor and Delta sophomore Beki Atchley. The two pursued each other along the last ridge and down the steep descent toward the finish line.
"We ran next to each other for most of the race," Atchley said. "We kind of paced each other. This is definitely one of my favorite courses. I like it more with the hills. I was happy with the finish."
As for the boys race, the Panthers were well represented in the Top 10 and finished second overall.
"They did pretty good too," Atchley said about the Delta boys, who offered the only real competition to first place finisher Montrose.
The dominant Indians placed four of the Top 5 and six of the Top 10 individual boys finishers and won the boys team race with 19 points.
Like he did last year at this race, Montrose state champion Ian Meek let the field get ahead of him and stood at the start line for an extra 10 or 20 seconds before passing every single runner on the course to finish first in 17 minutes, 27 seconds.
Delta finished second with 52 points. The Panthers were led by Garrison Paniagua in seventh place overall and John Ames, who finished eighth.
The Paonia boys finished third in the competition with 95 points. Two-sport standout Caden Mielner, the backup quarterback on the Eagles football team, qualified for state last year in cross country but missed the meet in Hotchkiss so he could take the ACT.
"Today we missed Cade but Tim Helmer really showed up and did his job," Paonia coach Brandy Sparks said.
"One thing we've really been practicing is everybody pushing everybody and just encouraging each other," Sparks said. "We saw that today with all our boys. They all worked hard."
The host Hotchkiss boys finished fourth in the team standings with 100 points. Sam Rodriguez finished ninth to lead the Bulldogs while his brother Gabe Rodriguez and senior Zack Allen crossed the line shortly after to pace Hotchkiss.
The cross country season continues when Paonia goes to run at Gypsum Creek and Hotchkiss will be in Gunnison on Saturday.