Heading into his senior year at Delta High School, John Ames set a goal: he would get a second opportunity to compete at the state cross country championships. On Friday, Ames made that goal, running to an impressive fourth-place finish at the 3A Region 1 meet at Aspen with a time of 17 minutes, 20.60 seconds.

It was a beautiful, cool morning. The race course wound through the Aspen City Golf Course, an 18-hole course dotted with mature trees, surrounded by snow-covered mountains and covered by a clear blue sky.

"I just kind of took it all in today," said Ames. "I was running and at about mile two and a half I just kind of took a deep breath, I looked around, and I just started smiling." There's nothing like that feeling, he said. "You don't feel tired, you're kind of on you're runner's high. You just kind of look around and you say, wow!"

Early in the race the top four runners separated themselves from the pack. Ames kept sight of Gunnison senior Colton Stice. Stice didn't have the overall best time. That was held by Ames. But Stice, a senior, did have the best average time, won this year's aptly-named Devil's Thumb Hill Climb at Delta (Ames ran at Battle Mountain that week), and despite not having the fastest time, was ranked first in the region. "I figured he was going to win," said Ames.

Ames said he didn't much like the course. The wet grass was slippery and tough to stretch his pace on. And while he'll go all out at state, he wasn't about to risk getting hurt in the state-qualifying race. The first mile, he said, "my legs were just super dead."

The two other top-ranked runners, Alex Baca of Gunnison and Wyatt Mortenson, were also sticking close to Stice. Ames said he stuck with them for a while until they went after Stice. At that point, Ames said it was pretty clear that the four runners were going to be evenly spaced out on the course. "My legs were tired, but I was feeling pretty good," he said. He was well on his way to making that goal. He finished 40 seconds behind Stice, and 10 seconds behind Mortenson, who placed third.

"I'm good with it," said Ames. "I'm just looking forward to the state race at this point. It's what I'm focused on."

Gunnison won the regional title with 50 points, Moffat County placed second with eight points, and Aspen was third with 118 points. With the exception of a few runners used to the altitude, including five Gunnison boys and six Gunnison girls who all set season-best times.

Delta placed eighth out of 14 teams with 238 points.

The worst part of the day, said Ames, is that teammate Shad Lewis finished 18th. Individuals must place in the top 15 to qualify. "That breaks my heart," he said.

Senior Andrew Toole, sophomores Doyle Young and Enrique Gonzalez, and junior Jack Jones also ran for Delta.

Senior Beki Atchley, a fourth-year runner, was the highest placer for the Delta girls, finishing 41st in 23:11.

The girls entered the maximum nine runners allowed, and placed ninth out of 12 teams.

Grace Hall and Emma Corbasson finished in 24:55.7 and 24:57.7, respectively; Aubree Andre had a time of 25:11.8, followed by Abby Williams (25:27.4), Hana Hollenbeck (26:23.4), and Remi Baldwin with her time of 26:28.3. Shoshanna Vigil (27:15.4), and Emma Roithmayr (28:37.10) completed the list of Delta runners.

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