FOUNTAIN • There were 86 runners in the 4A Region 2 girls’ cross country championship Thursday at Fountain-Fort Carson, but Air Academy’s Katie Rainsberger’s primary focus wasn’t on any of them.
“Coming into the race, my only goal was to race the clock,” she said. “I wanted to break 18 (minutes).
“That was my goal of the season — to break 18. It’s kind of impossible to do that at Cheyenne Mountain where the state course is, so I knew this was my last chance to get it.”
Once the finish line was in sight, it was clear that her time goal was in the bag. Then, she started chasing an idol.
“I knew Heather (Bates) ran somewhere in the low 17’s (actually 17:35 in the 5A Region 5 race earlier in the afternoon),” Rainsberger said. “I was going to see how close I could get to that.”
When Rainsberger collapsed across the finish line, the clock read 17:40. That she had beaten the clock but come up just short of Bates’ mark didn’t disappoint her.
“Heather Bates is my idol,” said Rainsberger, a freshman. “She’s amazing.
“She’s like the bomb dot com.”
Bates, a Pine Creek senior, ran like the bomb in her regional, beating her nearest competition by a full 47 seconds despite nursing a sore leg all week. While she dominated Thursday, she has no illusions that the state meet will be an easy proposition.
“There’s a lot of good competition in 5A,” Bates said. “There are probably over 20 girls who could be in the top 10. There’s a lot of good competition this year in Colorado cross country.”
That close competition was on display in both of the boys’ regionals. In 4A, The Classical Academy’s Conner Wilburn, Palmer Ridge’s Eric Hamer and Air Academy’s Danyon Anderson alternated the top three spots with seemingly every stride through two miles before Wilburn and Hamer finally established a gap. In the sprint, Hamer took the lead with 150 yards remaining, but Wilburn responded with a brilliant surge to the finish that gave him a 3-second victory.
“Every time I sprint, nobody’s ever passed me on it,” Wilburn said. “I really pride myself on that.”
Hamer recognized that Wilburn had a special race.
“Even though I didn’t catch him, he really helped me ditch the other competition,” Hamer said. “He’s a good guy to rely on to run off of. It helped me personally to have a good race.”
The 5A boys’ regional had a similarly close finish, with Rampart’s Tucker Hamilton outsprinting Liberty’s Clayson Shumway. Hamilton’s time of 15:42 was the fastest posted by any runner in any race Friday.
“It was a big race for me because my top competitor (Shumway) was here and he wasn’t here last week (at the 5A Metro meet),” said Hamilton, who had been beaten by Shumway twice earlier this season. “I wanted to see how well I could keep up with him, so I really focused in for today.”