For years, The Vanguard School cross country teams ran in relative obscurity, gradually improving while quietly developing depth and perseverance under the watchful eye of Steve Read, the only coach the 2A school has ever had.
On Saturday, the Coursers finally hope their time has come to turn some heads at the state meet at the Norris-Penrose Event Center.
"We have made a name for ourselves," senior Jacob Evangelista said. "When I got here, no one knew who we were. It's really amazing how much our program has changed and how much better we've become."
The Vanguard School, a District 12 school in southwestern Colorado Springs, opened seven years ago. While its girls' team flirted with history with a surprise second-place finish in 2011, the boys are focused on making a similar splash on the heels of a third straight regional victory a week ago at Fountain Creek Regional Park.
"With all of us, we see a realistic goal of finishing second, which is going to be tough to do," said Evangelista, whose teams have finished seventh and sixth, respectively, the past two seasons at the 2A state boys' race. "Even if we get third, that would be a lot better than last year. We just need to go in and be confident with what our training has done for us."
For the second year in a row, Bear Creek Regional Park and Norris-Penrose Event Center play host to the state meet, known for its signature barn crossing right after the start and its finish in a packed stadium on the rodeo floor.
The 2A girls' race gets things started at 9:20 a.m. and winds down with the 5A boys' contest at 1 p.m.
Last year, the Vanguard girls were unable to build on the previous year's performance, slipping to ninth. That humbling experience seems to be helping this year's edition of Coursers.
"We're definitely going to do better than we did last year, by a lot," said Vanguard sophomore Ariana Toland, who helped her girls' squad to a third consecutive regional title. "I think we were a little overconfident last year, and it didn't work out the way we wanted it. We're going to come back from that stronger. That's our motivation."
For Read, the motivation rests with the promise of each year, a general progression that has succeeded, despite constant turnover from graduation and underclassmen moving away.
"Our boys' team has only two returners from our state team," Read said. "Our success is a sign we have a solid program. This is our school's eighth year, and we've improved each year. We've had a long-term plan to gradually up the ante a little, to make the program more rigorous. Now, the kids will grow up through the system and hopefully rise to the occasion."