With a total of nine runners, Hotchkiss High School's cross country teams are small in numbers this year, but big on goals and enthusiasm for the coming season.
Hannah Hatheway is in her second season at Hotchkiss. "I like the small team," said Hatheway, a senior at Cedaredge High School and state-qualifying 800-meter runner and relay runner for the Cedaredge track team. Hatheway said she could play softball at Cedaredge this season, but wants to run in college. She and two other Cedaredge students commute daily with head coach Kelly Cowan.
With such a small team, she said, "I'm excited to see how everybody works together and pushes each other in practice."
Coach Cowan said he's looking for continued improvement this season from all of his runners.
With no cross country program, three Cedaredge students will compete for Hotchkiss this fall. On the girls' team, Hatheway's sister, Grace Hatheway, is a second-year sophomore who improved last season to finished 31st in the region. Freshman Isabella Spano and junior Mariah Griffith round out the team. Griffith is a two-time state qualifier who ran last season for Paonia.
On the boys' side, senior Sam Rodriquez will lead the Bulldogs. Rodriguez finished ninth at regionals last season, and 45th at state. His goal is to finish in the top 10 this season. Last year was a good season for improvement, said Rodriguez. In track he qualified for state in three events, medaled in the 800-meter run and ran on the 4X800 team that placed fourth. "Hopefully that transfers into cross country," and means better times, said Rodriguez.
Sophomore Tevin Keller, juniors Will Ela and Nick Jung, and freshman Kenny Drbohlav complete the boy's team. Keller is a first-year cross country runner from Cedaredge who ran track as a freshman, and Ela is also a first-year cross country runner who ran track for Hotchkiss last spring. Cowan said Ela liked running so much that he decided to join the team.
Jung, a third-year runner who improved his times dramatically his freshman year, and grew more solid last season as the year went. He is already showing improvement this season, said Cowan.
Hotchkiss opens the season this Saturday at the Devil's Thumb Hill Climb at Devil's Thumb Golf Course in Delta. The race was supposed to have its inaugural run last season but was canceled due to weather, making this a new course for Hotchkiss. That's a good thing, said Rodriquez. New races and new courses offer benefits to runners for two reasons. They allow the team to run against competitors it might not otherwise see, and unfamiliar courses present a good test of skill and strategy.
Hotchkiss has arguably the toughest course on the western slope, and Hotchkiss runners like to be tested. Unlike the flat trails of the Confluence Park course at Delta, the Devils' Thumb course starts at the golf course, then goes up onto the dobie hills. "It should be a good challenge," Rodriguez said.
On Sept. 9 Hotchkiss hosts its annual meet. The team travels to Gunnison on Sept. 16, and on Sept. 22 Hotchkiss runs at the Ouray-Ridgway Ramble at the Reservoir at Ridgway. This is also a new course for this team, said Cowan. The meet historically has been scheduled for the Friday before the annual Hotchkiss Invitational, but running two tough courses in two days is a bit much.
Cowan said the team will forego the Montrose Relays the week before the Region 4 meet at Confluence Park, and will compete at the Rifle Invitational. This is also a new course for the team, said Cowan. While the relays offer cross country runners a day of fun competition that includes alternating mile runs with other teammates, they chose the more challenging option ahead of the regional meet.
Running cross country isn't for everyone, and is both mentally and physically challenging. Hatheway said the biggest challenge for her is staying motivated in the middle of a run. In practice, running in the dobies where it's hot and no other runners are in sight, it's tempting to take it easy or to walk.
It's easy to make excuses in running cross country, said Rodriguez. Physically, everyone's in good shape, "But mentally, that's where it gets tough. You have to tell yourself that it's going to be tough and you've just got to keep going." Rodriguez is considering running in college and said he reminds himself during those difficult times that hard work will pay off.
The varsity girls will race at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by the varsity boys at 11 a.m. Middle school boys and girls will race beginning at noon. More information and results can be found at scottmeets.wikispaces.com.