Liberty runner Ben Schneiderman didn't want to sound apprehensive, but there's no way he thought he'd finish like he did in the thick of a 121-school field at the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede.
No one did. But Thursday, the school's No. 3 runner from a year ago, who has never had a top-20 high school finish at a 30-plus team invitational, finished fifth in the 5A boys' race.
"Yeah, whoa. I don't know really what to say. I was kind of surprised by how I finished," the school's new No. 1 runner said. "I don't know what happened today. I just didn't get tired."
It showed. Schneiderman darted around 16 runners on the gravel of the final mile and then sprinted through dirt at Norris-Penrose Event Center to finish 56 spots and 1 minute faster than he did last year at the same meet.
"My goal is to make state this year. I've been working to get there, but I don't really know how to take this finish," said Schneiderman who finished in 17 minutes, 26 seconds. "I guess my expectations are going up a bit right now. Really, before this, I just thought I'd try and help fill some of the shoes this team lost."
That's still not going to be easy. The biggest pair of laces lost was that of Schneiderman's best friend and 5A state runner-up Clayson Shumway. Shumway, a senior, was primed to be the 5A favorite before moving to Utah at the beginning of the summer.
"He has been texting me all the time since he left," Schneiderman said. "It's funny, before this race he texts me and goes, 'You can definitely get a top-10 finish here.' And I was like, 'OK, sure, that might be a little too confident in me.' ... I guess he's still helping us you could say."
Overall, Liberty finished 13th as the Lancers' three, four and five runners were all more than 1 minute behind Schneiderman.
"We just need to close the gap," said Lancers coach Gary Weston about his six-senior heavy varsity team.
But on this day, it wasn't about that. Instead, it may have been about finding the Lancers' next leader, one who could follow in the footsteps of Garrett Kenyon two seasons ago and Shumway from last.
And Thursday, they may have found their guy.
"I did it," Schneiderman texted Shumway afterward.
Just a few months removed from the 2013 track title, Vista Ridge won the 4A race.