Junior Jason Sturgis is keenly aware that he still has another year remaining on the Paonia cross country team. "I'm just kind of running for fun still," said Sturgis, who is the top-ranked runner for the first-year Eagles team.
Sturgis ran the previous two seasons for Hotchkiss, and competed at state in 2011. Since the top 15 racers automatically qualify for the state meet, he's got a good shot at it.
Paonia ran at Saturday's Montrose Relays, where teams of two runners each completed a staggered mile until both had run three miles. "We're taking it more as a fun race because it's really close to regionals," said Sturgis at a practice session last week. They don't want to be recovering from a day of fun.
While the regional meet "kind of snuck up on me, I think I'm pretty prepared," said Sturgis, who set his all-time record of 17:44 at the Sept. 29 Anna Banana meet. "I can cut that time down. That's what I'm hoping for."
Teammate Jacob Helleckson, a senior, is ranked in the top 20, and his times have steadily decreased. He'll have to run the best race of his career to qualify for state. "I think he can do that," said head coach Richard Hypio after the Oct. 6 Chris Severy race in Aspen.
Taylor Polson is the top runner for the Paonia girls team. When asked if she knew where she was ranked, she replied, "No. I don't really follow that stuff."
Polson doesn't consider cross country to be her specialty. "I like cross country, but I know it's not my strength," said the junior, who runs hurdles and mid-distance relays for the Paonia track team and has run at state the past two years. "It keeps me in shape for track."
While keeping in shape, Polson has placed in the top 15 in all but one race this season, and set a personal best time of 20:09 to place 16th at the Anna Banana invitational.
Polson also placed a respectable 16th at the 3A state meet in 2011. As a 2A runner, her goal is to qualify for state and run a sub-19:30.
The Paonia girls team is one of the strongest in the league and in the state, where they are ranked fourth behind Lyons, Denver Christian and Hotchkiss.
Teammates Chelsy Reed, Chelsea Meilner, Braiden Clement and Mandy Bushta are all ranked in the top 15 in the region, and the girls are ranked second behind Hotchkiss going into today's meet.
Polson wasn't fazed by that statistic, but she has faith in her teammates and in her own ability. "As a team we're just going to all go out and run as hard as we can," she said. "Hopefully we'll be in the top two."