October 26, 2013 Updated: October 26, 2013 at 9:37 pm
Mild-mannered Zachary Alhamra certainly wasn't the area's biggest name coming into the state cross country meet.
This wasn't Coronado's Bailey Roth or Air Academy's Katie Rainsberger, a pair of runners who were expected to compete for a state title after a pair of white-knuckled, second-place finishes last year. This was Alhamra, who quietly finished 12th a season ago.
But on Saturday, the Pine Creek junior provided one of the few area highlights on an overall frustrating day across the board for Colorado Springs schools.
On his 17th birthday, Alhamra flew through the hill-ridden course at Norris-Penrose Event Center and finished the 5A race in second place with a time of 16 minutes, 29 seconds on a day where 4A favorite Roth finished 17th and Rainsberger again fell to rival Elise Cranny.
Surprisingly, it was Alhamra soaking in the camera flashes as he waved to his family and friends from the middle of the dirt-packed arena.
"I know it's not a win, but this was my goal since I knew I had absolutely no chance against Cerake," Alhamra said, referring to 5A winner Denver East's Cerake Geberkidane, who broke the course record by nearly 30 seconds with a finish of 15:48. "It was just a great day and I am so blessed."
Overall though, it was a far cry from last year when area schools revolved atop the state cross country podium three times. This year, there were no individual or state champions from Colorado Springs.
There wasn't another first-place trophy awaiting the TCA girls' team who could have made it 11 consecutive titles, nor was there one for the Coronado boys' team who could have repeated with an arguably more talented group than last year's winners, and no, there wasn't one for the "next Heather Bates," as no area individual came within 15 seconds of winning a title.
As for the biggest disappointment of the day? It was probably on the face of 4A favorite Roth, who admitted he lost all his energy. Dealing with a sinus infection and an upper-respiratory virus, it was evident quickly into the race that this wasn't the same All-American runner the Cougars have been used to.
"He was red in the face, wasn't turning over very quickly - he just was hurting out there," said Brian Roth, Bailey's father, who watched his son get passed by six runners in the last 400 meters to finish in 17:18. "The effort was great, but there was nothing in the tank."
Bailey's season has gone from getting his wisdom teeth pulled to having dried-out sockets to being hit with a virus. Finally, he started to get healthy, only to get hit with another virus a week ago and a sinus infection two days ago.
"People have good and bad days, and this season has thrown me with a lot," said Bailey, who led Coronado to a third-place finish. "One race doesn't define me and one season doesn't define me."
Meanwhile, Rainsberger's race had an eerily similar feeling to Roth's.
Sure, she came in second, but nobody expected her to be 40 seconds back of the lead after dominating races all season.
Race-winner Cranny, who ran down Rainsberger in last year's race and beat her by 0.1 seconds, made it a point for the race to be decided well before the last couple of feet.
"I wanted to dictate the race throughout," said the Niwot senior, who has pushed the sophomore runner into second place in two state track events and now two state cross country races. "When I hit every hill, I pushed through them knowing she could be right behind me."
But she wasn't. Afterward though, Rainsberger didn't want to look at her race as a negative - she'd done that in the past.
This time the sophomore tried to put things in a different perspective.
"She (Cranny) is a senior and she came out and had a great race. I'm not going to feel bad for that," Rainsberger said. "I didn't want to come into this season and make it about redemption. I did that in track after she beat me in cross country and it was just too stressful. It didn't help. Today, I ran my own race, did the best I could and a great runner won. I have nothing to be down about."