Michalak, Wilson, Parker Pathers rock it in Reno with national titles


Last Saturday (8-Dec) 132 athletes and 14 teams from the Colorado association competed at the USATF National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships in Reno, Nevada. 

A total of 2,837 athletes and 230 teams from across the country competed in the championships.  The races were conducted under cold conditions with the first races going off at 9:00am when it was 29°. The course was hard packed for the early races but as the day went on became muddier and slower.
Athletes earned spots on the starting line by either finishing in the top 30 (or as a member of a club that finished in the top 5) at the region 10 championships on November 17 in Goodyear, Arizona.
Races were contested in 6 age divisions (8 & under, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, 17-18) for boys and girls.  The top 25 finishers in each age division earned all-American status and the top 3 teams were presented with championship recognition during the post event awards ceremony. 
The storylines of the day for the Colorado athletes were the individual national titles won by Bethany Michalak (Kokopelli Racing Team) in the 11-12 girls race and Brooke Wilson (Parker Panthers) in the 13-14 girls race and the team titles won by the Parker Panthers 11-12 boys and 13-14 girls squads.  In all 39 Coloradans earned all-American honors and five (5)  teams made trips to the awards podium for their top three team finishes.

Hot start for Colorado athletes on a cold day (7-8 girls)
The day started off with the girls 7-8 race where Elin Latta (Parker Panthers), Angelina Molina (Penguins XC & Track Club), Iris Latta (Parker Panthers), and Addisyn Ogg (Landsharks Running Club) all ran to all-American honors.  Latta finished ninth running 9:06 over the 2 km course. Molina,  Latta, and Ogg all finished within four seconds of each other as they crossed the line in 18th, 19th, and 23rd places, respectively.

In the team competition the Penguins XC & Track Club finished 15th scoring 331 points.

Garofalo and Tolentino, Jr.  roll to all-American honors  (7-8 boys)    
In the 7-8 boys race Nicholas Garofalo (Parker Panthers) and Anselmo Tolentino, Jr. (unattached) finished 18th and 20th, respectively.   Garofalo stopped the clock at 8:34 with Tolentino just two seconds back.

Kokopelli three all-Americans lead team to second place team finish (9-10 girls)
In the girls 9-10 race, run over a 3 km course, the Kokopelli Racing Team ran to a second place team finish.  They scored 92 points to only trail a very strong Pacific Coast Shock Waves club from Southern California.  The Kokopelli team effort was led by the all-American performances turned in by Jordan Banta (8th place), Carly Christians (13th), and Heidi Curtis (17th). Kasyn Pino just missed an all-American finish as she placed 28th as the team's fourth scorer and the Aliya Fulbright finished 115th place to completed the scoring for the team.  Anna Prok (Boulder Mountain Warriors) and Tatum Snow (Landsharks Running Club) followed Banta across the line as they finished ninth and 10th, respectively as three of the top ten finishers were from Colorado.

Four all-Americans from four different clubs - now that is cool (9-10 boys)
In the boys 9-10 race four boys from Colorado, all from different clubs, ran to all-American honors.  Aiden Le Roux (Landsharks Running Running) finished sixth running 11:45 on a course that had at this point begun to turn from hard packed snow to slick ice and mud.  Kendrick Parrill (Parker Panthers) and Oliver Horton (Kokopelli Racing Team) finished 12th and 13th, respectively with less than a half second separating them.  Jack McGirl (Colorado Coyotes) grabbed the last all-American spot as he finished 25th, less than .1 second in front of 26th place.

In the team standings Kokopelli Racing Team finished seventh and the Boulder Mountain Warriors were 20th.

And your first national champion is.....Bethany Michalak (11-12 girls)
The fifth race of the day, the 11-12 girls race, started a streak of four races where a Colorado athlete or team would win a national title.  It was Bethany Michalak (Kokopelli Racing Team) who got the streak started as she won with five other Coloradans finishing in the top 14.  Michalak was simply dominating as she ran to a 19 second victory of fellow Coloradan Mia Prok (Boulder Mountain Warriors). Michalak's time was 11:15 and the 19 second victory was the widest margin of victory (pro-rated by race distance) on the day.  Suvina Heidt (Parker Panthers) finished fourth running 11:49 with Lucy Voss (Peak Performance Running) finishing 10th in 12:00. This was Voss' third straight all-American finish.  Jade Allen (13th place, Kokopelli Racing Team) and Kiera Shorten (14th place, Unattached) rounded out the dominate Colorado performances in the 11-12 girls race.

The Parker Panthers finished second as a team as they scored 127 points to trail the Central Oregon Running Klub (86 points). The 
Kokopelli Racing Team squad finished eighth in the team standings with 286 points.
In her words -  Bethany Michalak
I had a great experience in Reno even though the weather wasn’t great, I still enjoyed it a lot. I was super nervous at the start of my race but once the gun went off all of my nerves went away. I loved the course and I loved the hills that were on the course too. I felt really strong the whole race and I was super happy with how I did.When I finished I was so happy and overwhelmed with joy and could not believe I won. My teammates did great too and I am so proud of them. This was definitely a nationals to remember.

Five all-Americans = National team title for the Parker Pathers (11-12 boys)
While their girls were heading to the awards podium to receive their silver medals the 11-12 boys Parker Panthers squad was about to light the frigid tundra on fire with a team performance for the ages.  In a field of 342 runners the team put their top five runners in the top 18 with a spread of just 12 seconds between them.  Amazingly, second place YMCA Team Idaho had a similar stellar team effort and only finished 13 points behind the Panthers.   Shawn Woodall lead the team effort for the Patterns as he finished eighth running 11:10. He was quickly followed across the line by teammates Gavin Engtrakul (12th, 11:15), Griffin Mazeski (13th, 11:16), Joseph Garofalo (16th, 11:18) and Keegan Geldean (18th, 11:23).  Mixing it up with the Panthers were Matthew Edwards (Kokopelli Racing Team) and Flynn Halsor (Peak Performance Running) in 11th and 12th place, respectively. 
Wilson leads Parker Panthers to FOURTH CONSECUTIVE team title (13-14 girls)
Following the boys 11-12 race meet management reset the course to the 4 km layout as the 13-14 girls were up next.  With the heat thrown down by the last two races the course had now become a soggy mud bog but that did not stop the winning ways for the Parker Panthers.  Not only did they win the team title here but Brooke Wilson won the individual title for the Panthers.  It was her second national title (2015 in the 11-12 division) and fourth consecutive top five finish at the national championships (2015-1st, 2016-5th, 2017-2nd). This was the fourth year in a row this group of young ladies have captured the national title. In 2015 (Albuquerque) and 2016 (Hoover, AL) they won the 11-12 team division titles and then last year in Tallahassee, Florida they won the 13-14 title. But there was so much more to the Colorado story in this race than the Panthers.  Representing three different clubs, a total of seven locals earned all-American honors with five of the top ten hailing from the Centennial State - yes 5 of the top 10!  Wilson won the race in 15:21 over Kate Peters of Oregon.  Like Noah's Arc it was a 2-by-2 march across the line from there as Wilson's teammate Mckenna Mazeski finished fourth in 15:37.  Finishing sixth and seventh were Colorado Coyotes teammates Ava Mitchell (15:48) and Addison Price (16:05).  Next came Peak Performance Running teammates Reese Tucker in 10th place and Lily Mourer in 19th place.  Ava Escorcia (Colorado Coyotes) rounded out the all-American finishes for the Colorado athletes as she placed 20th.
In the team scoring the Panthers scored 60 points as they defeated the Los Gatos club from California by 60 points. Closing out the scoring for the Panthers were Bryanna Hoffman (27th), Alexandra Collins (30th), and Lila Crowley (39th).  The Colorado Coyotes finished fourth with 197 points.  The Boulder Mountain Warriors finished 10th wit 294 points and the Peak Performance Running squad was 11th with 305 points.
In her words - Brooke Wilson
Reno is a fun city, and the course in Reno was great. It was a very tough field of talented runners, and I feel very fortunate to finish this race with a win. My favorite part was winning our fourth consecutive team national championship. I feel so blessed to have such amazing teammates and coaches. The friendships we share, I know will last a lifetime. It was truly a perfect ending to my cross country time with the Panthers. Now it's on to high school. All glory to God.

Fourth race in a row for a Panthers team podium (13-14 boys) 
The awards announcers made note that the boys 13-14 squad from the Parker Panthers was the  fourth team from the club to earn a visit to the awards podium on the day.  In fact this was the fourth in a row for the Panthers to ascend the awards podium!  Following in the footsteps of their younger 11-12 counterparts and their 13-14 girls contemporaries the boys 13-14 squad raced themselves to the podium as they finished second to a very strong Timberhill Harriers from Oregon; 54 to 154 points.

Individually, the locals were led by two unattached athletes; Gavin Shary and Jackson Shorten who finished third and fifth, respectively.  Shary ran 14:04 as race winner Nate Jaster of North Carolina stopped the clock at 13:53.  Shary finished just .2 seconds behind runner-up Jayden Fitzgarrald of Utah.  Shorten followed closely as he ran 14:07.  After that the Parker Panthers runners began to roll in.  First across the line for the Panthers was Samuel Lindner in 24th place running 14:42.  He was followed by Jackson Parrill (26th), Brennan Draper (30th), Evan Armstrong (55th), Sawyer Williams (77th).  The team 5-man spread was just 48 seconds.
Lapp runs to second all-American finish (15-16 girls)
Cadence Lapp (unattached) ran to a 20th place finish in the 15-16 division.  It was her second consecutive all-American finish.  Last year she finished 14th in the 13-14 division in Tallahassee, FL.
Le Roux wins AGAIN earns SEVENTH all-American honor (15-16 boys)
Last year in Tallahassee, Erik Le Roux ran to a dominating victory in the 13-14 division; winning by over ten seconds.  It was his sixth all-American honor dating back to 2012 when he competed in the 9-10 division in Albuquerque, NM. Now moving up to his fourth Junior Olympic age division Le Roux came to Reno amongst the younger of those competing in the 15-18 race that combines the 15-16 and 17-18 divisions.  That did not deter him from quickly taking the lead and running to a dominating win; his second national title in as many years and his seventh Junior Olympic all-American honor.  His winning time of 16:32 was 57 seconds faster than the 15-16 runner-up Paul Chaves of California and he defeated the 17-18 division winner Kevin Ramos Leyva of California by 30 seconds.  Jodzuel Juarez (unattached) finished 4th as he joined Le Roux on the podium to accept his championship medal and all-American hat.
Erik Le Roux's Junior Olympic career snapshot
2018 (15-16) - 1st place
2017 (13-14) - 1st place
2016 (13-14) - 10th place 
2015 (11-12) - 3rd place
2014 (11-12) - 20th place
2013 (9-10)  - 5th place
2012 (9-10)  - 20th place
Some parting words from the coaches

Lisa Rainsberger - Kokopelli Racing Team
The Kokopelli Racing Team came to Reno with the intent of trusting their fitness and keeping it fun.  The entire weekend our team enjoyed all that the event and location had to offer from the snowy course walk through to their mud soaked racing shoes to the hotel game room.  Traveling as a group and a team kept the experience fun and their performances shined as a result.  7 of the 30 Kokopelli athletes earned All American honors as a result.  We look forward to racing next year in Madison, WI.

Ross Cargo - Parker Panthers
Our boys went into the race without a boy who has been our #1 runner most all season. But, they all nailed it. Shawn Woodall, our 4th guy at Region 10 was our first in. We had five guys in the top 18 runners at Nationals with a 12.8 second spread between them. It is hard to get better than that! The lineups change next year, but we’ll look to see how we can improve. I know they are motivated, and I think they had fun in the snow and mud!
The girls entered the race with emotion, knowing this would likely be their last cross country race together as Panthers. They have had a tremendous run over the years with a lot of success. I just knew they would let each other down this day. They ran for each other as much as for themselves and won by 60 points over the 2nd place team. Losing 8th graders each year is very tough, and this special group is no exception. They will all do very well in high school.
Andrew Simmons - Peak Performance Running
The Junior Olympic XC National Championship is the pinnacle event for you runners pursuing Cross Country. For athletes and parents it’s often a glimpse into the future for many who toe the start line. As a coach, I prepare my athletes for the experience of the day and encourage them to take a moment before the gun to reflect on their progress to arrive where they are. This year in 2018, we took 11 athletes of which 4 achieved the coveted All-American Standard. For athletes and families, Junior Olympic XC Nationals allows them to experience the highest level of the sport - preparing them to succeed at the highest level in future competition. 
New year's national championships will be held in Madison, Wisconsin and the 2020 championships will be held in Lexington, Kentucky.

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