A true cross country course with hills and water jumps is a trademark of the Warrior Invitational, and this year, lightning that forced a reshuffling of the schedule and rain compounded the tests for the runners.
This is the 47th year for the invitational at DeKoevend Park in Centennial and, for the first time in recent memory, Mother Nature dictated changes in the schedule.
About 50 teams entered the invitational and most were warming up for activities to start at 4 p.m. with the boys junior varsity race, when everyone was sent to buses or other shelters after Chuck Lutz, Arapahoe cross country coach and event organizer, called a 30-minute delay because of lightning in the area.
The delay stretched to more than an hour and the event schedule was reshuffled with the boys varsity race starting at 5:15 p.m. and the girls varsity at 5:30 p.m. About 6 p.m., the boys JV and C team runners were combined and sent out on the course. Five minutes later the girls JV and C team runners' race began. The Arapahoe coach said this was probably the largest field of races in Colorado history and there might be a couple thousand runners on the course at the same time.
But the event was run and Cerake Gabveikidane of Denver East was medalist in the varsity boys race, with a time of 15:10. Connor Weaver of Mountain Vista was second and helped his team to win the team title with 65 points. Arapahoe was second with 144 points.
After finishing the race in 16:06, Weaver said he was sure the delay and change in schedule had an impact on everyone, but everyone still pushed hard during the race.
“It was OK anyway,” he said. “The course was a little wet but it wasn't too bad. I feel I ran pretty well. I would have liked to have won the race, but I set my own pace and l felt my time was good. This was a challenging field, I feel I did well, so it is a good way to start the season and work to get better.”
In cross country, a runner receives points based on his finish in the race. The first place runner gets one point and the 15th runner gets 15 points. A team can enter seven runners and the points of the top five are totaled to determine the team score.
Behind Weaver, the next four teammates were Andrew Walton in fifth place, Blake Graf in 16th place, Tyler Matzke in 19th place and Carson Hart in 23rd place.
In the varsity girls race, Monarch won the team title with 53 points. Mountain Vista was sixth with 239, and Emily Wolff's seventh-place finish helped the Arapahoe Warriors to finish seventh with 289 points.
Wolff said no one liked the schedule shift or going back to the buses because of the lightning, but none of that mattered when it came time to run.
“It is a good course and it is a good race,” she said after crossing the finish line. “It was a big field, and maneuvering through runners was challenging, particularly when the trail narrowed down. But it was great weather for running and that helped make it a good run.”
She said she felt it wasn't her best race, but it was a good effort and a starting point as she seeks to get better and improve her time every race she runs.
Wolff ran a time of 19:12. The next four Warriors across the finish line were Erica Petersen, Shelley Lautenbach, Sarah Slack and Elaine Barella.
Englewood had a team in the boys varsity race, and Chad Glover set the pace for the Pirates with a 94th-place finish. The team finished 42nd in the 50-team field. The Pirates didn't have enough runners to field a team for the girls varsity race. Senior Natalie Pena was the first Englewood runner to finish the course, and she finished 259th among the 300 runners in the competition.
Glover said he really didn't feel his best out on the course, as his legs felt heavy. He also said running in a big field had its challenges since, where the course narrowed down at the bridges, a lot of runners were walking until they could get to the bridge.
“It wasn't my best effort, but it was OK and a good place to start preparing to do better in future races,” he said.