The Paonia High School cross country team had its best finish of the year last weekend and the Eagles are building toward qualifying for the state meet.
The boys squad missed Caden Meilner and the girls were missing Nora Dransfield but both Eagles teams finished fourth overall in a competitive field at Ouray.
"All of our runners looked really strong," Paonia coach Brandy Sparks said. "That's a very hard course. The first mile is pretty much full of switchbacks, it's all uphill and it's pretty steep. It's a fun course but it's a slow course and our runners responded really well to it."
Paonia's girls team was the top finisher among 2A teams in Ouray. Alex Eaton continued her outstanding season and finished 16th overall in the girls race while standout Brooke Hillman crossed the line second overall.
The Eagles boys were paced by senior Tim Helmer, who finished 18th overall.
Paonia will have Delta County homefield advantage in the next two meets at Sweitzer Lake and Confluence Park, the so-called flat courses. The Eagles ran a flat course in Basalt but that was also at elevation and was the first meet of the year.
"I'm excited to see what we'll do on a flat course that has no elevation," Sparks said. "We have high hopes. We have no injuries; we're running on flat courses so we should see some PRs (personal records)."
Qualifying for the state cross country meet as a team is very difficult but both the Paonia boys and girls squads have that goal in sight.
"With a lot of teams it comes down to athletic ability. With Paonia teams it comes down to heart. Who wants it? We have a pretty big heart," Sparks said. "Our team talks about how it's a second family for them. It's very neat. It's very special what our teams have."