Week ending Dec. 7, 2013
Photos from http://mohirun.zenfolio.com/
Note: Check out stories on national champion coaches Dave Emmans (Wayzata MN girls) and Mark Wieczorek (Gig Harbor WA boys) from earlier in the season!
Often you can see it coming: A great team underachieves (at least a little) and falls short of a qualifying opportunity, just missing a major goal. But wait, there’s a chance for new life and they hold vigorously to that, with faith that a second chance will manifest itself. When that second chance comes, they roar to the fore and show everybody that they indeed were deserving of it.
Such was the case for Coach Kent Rieder and his Monarch (Louisville, Colo.) girls XC team.
Coach Rieder hardly came from a distance running background, but he’s fallen in love with the sport and – even better – knows how to build and manage a large program that embraces the knowledge of a crack team of assistants. The Coyotes have arguably mastered the state meet peak the past few years, three-peating one of the toughest championships in the country – Colorado 5A – with the most recent triumph coming October 26 in Colorado Springs as they scored 49 and ruled by 36 points over their rival Fort Collins, with 23 others trailing.
The NXN success has been a little harder to come by in the grueling Southwest Region. They were 2nd to Fort Collins by a point in 2010, then finishing 15th at the NXN Finals. They were 3rd in 2011 and did not get an at-large. In 2012, they were 7th. But on Nov. 23 this year, while they notched another 3rd, they had an 86-pt tally that was just 13 behind champion Fort Collins. Moreover, they were a monster 130 points ahead of 4th-place as a clear statement was issued: The NXN SW had a “big three” on the girls’ side that could beat almost anyone in the country.
So Monarch got the bid, a week later, and proved their mettle at Portland Meadows. With their seniors, their freshmen and the rest getting the job done, they were 5th with 211 pts – a marker ahead of Ft. Collins and with SW runner-up Davis UT in 3rd. Coach Rieder and the Coyotes have joined a very small group of NXN at-large top-5 finishers and, no doubt, momentum for the continued rise of their program.
A few thoughts from Coach Rieder:
On how the team approached the NXN Final, how it played out, and the impact of freshman Holly Bent ascending to the #2 runner: Going into the race, we felt there were 6-7 teams that had a shot at being on the podium, us included. We needed to run a great race to be on the podium, like we had run at our state meet six weeks prior. We talk to the girls as a group, and individually, about race strategies, and for the most part, they executed their race plans. Our freshmen runners have been key for us all year, and for them to run well on such a big stage was huge for us.
On the impact for the program to have placed 5th in Portland, nipped rival Fort Collins, and been part of a huge day for the state and region: I think all of us – the girls, our coaches, and our fans – are still running on the fumes of the 5th-place finish! I have told anyone that would listen that the SW Region is one of the toughest in the country, and that was played out at NXN with 3-5-6 finishes on the girls’ side and three SW girls (all from Colorado) in the top 10 individually.
Colorado itself is one of the most competitive states in the country. I think we have had as many as four girls teams ranked in the top 25 during the season. Beating Fort Collins feels great, but Chris Suppes is a friend and runs a great program. If we’d have to lose to anyone, it would be Ft. Collins because you know you are losing to a great coach and program.
Needless to say, I am incredibly proud of our girls and the work they have put in this season! For our seniors, they have three straight state championships, and two of them have two trips each to NXN. Finishing 5th was a great way to end their XC careers!
On what the team’s aspirations were entering Fall, 2013: We had two goals going into the season, the state championship, and a return to NXN. Our seniors were the core of our team, and have been for most of their careers. Kaitlyn Benner and Claire Green have run varsity all four years and Ashley Litoff for 3 years. We returned six of our top seven from last year, so we had very lofty goals. Complacency was never an issue with these girls!
What we didn't know was how good our two freshmen would be. We don't have middle school XC in our district, so many times we get unknown quantities with our 9th-grade girls and guys. After watching them in our summer running program, we had a good idea of what they might be capable of doing. We ran well throughout the season, and followed our plan despite the flooding that occurred here in Colorado.
On navigating the long month between state and NXN SW: We take about 25-28 kids down to NXN SW. We want to give some of our JV kids the experience of a big race, and hopefully develop runners for future years. We run our practices, much like we do during the season, but with about 100 fewer kids (since our program had 122 runners this year). We preach hydration, rest, diet and taking care of the little details throughout the season, and that continues in the post-season. We try to take care of the small details that some other teams may overlook, and may give us that extra edge.
On taking 3rd at NXN SW and waiting/hoping for the at-large: We actually felt like we ran pretty well at NXN SW, but not great. The scores were very close, and all three teams being under 100 for such a deep and competitive region, I thought, gave us a good chance (for an at-large). We were in the same position in 2011 and did not get the bid, so the week of waiting is hard. But I think our girls and coaches handled it very well. We practiced all week as if we had already received the bid. Getting the call on Saturday was obviously a relief.
On his background in the sport, getting started with Monarch and the bounty of great assistants: Monarch is a very young school, having been established in 1998. I took over the program nine years ago, after serving as an assistant in both XC and track for a year.
I never ran distance, but was a vaulter. I interviewed for the track position when the previous coach decided to retire. After the first season was over, I was pondering where to go on a vacation with my family when I received a call from a parent wanting to know when “summer running” would begin. I told him to call the school and find out who was coaching XC, and he replied that he already had ... and it was me! Thus began a great love for the sport.
I have surrounded myself with the best coaching staff in the state. Paul Lilly has been with me all nine years and is a very knowledgeable distance guru. Kevin Lowe has 25 years of coaching experience in our district, as well as being our physics teacher at our school. He knows our kids and helps me recruit kids in the school into our program.
Laura Thweatt and Richard Medina both ran for the University of Colorado, and are both elite runners. Laura placed 3rd at the USATF Road Racing Championships back in November and Richard was a multi All American in both XC and track. Both have great relationships with our kids and are runners who our kids can try to emulate.
On other keys to building a powerful program and having a rival like Fort Collins: We have a great plan, from the start of the season, until the championships ... but great plans don't win championships. There are a lot of great coaches out there, with a lot of great plans, the trick is getting the kids to do the work! It has always been our job to motivate our kids, to get them to buy into the program and execute workouts and races.
Every year, you get a new group of kids into your program, and being always optimistic, as most coaches are, you always see the “potential” of what could be! I am already guilty of looking forward to next year and seeing the possibilities.
Fort Collins has been a great motivating factor for our kids. They have been around for over 100 years as a school and have multiple state championships in multiple sports. Challenging your team to go out and beat the best is motivation in itself. There are a lot of great teams in Colorado, so motivation is not in short supply.