Bayfield High School head cross-country coach Josh Walton didn’t say specifically his team could run in the league rulers’ shoes. But he didn’t indicate that he felt it couldn’t, either.
“In the seven years I’ve coached,” Walton said, “we have never beat Alamosa. They’re a powerhouse. You have the history of Joe Vigil over there, so it’s always a goal to try and run with them, outdo them. It would be fun for us to try to beat them for once.”
In 2019, Walton will have a squad certainly eager to hound the Mean Moose, as well as most other teams in both the 3A Intermountain League and up and down the Western Slope. And it should be a team with back-end runners capable of warranting attention similar to that of their front-end standouts.
“Our fifth runner, it’s all about who’s feeling good that day. So, we’re going to have a good top five no matter what, really,” said senior Rylan Ross, regularly the Wolverine boys’ No. 4 during 2018.
Last season, BHS managed to qualify two individuals – current seniors Elco Garcia, Jr., and Jonas Nanaeto, both of whom attend nearby Ignacio – for the CHSAA State Championships in Colorado Springs.
“We didn’t lose anybody, but we didn’t even gain any freshmen, either, so we have the same exact team,” Ross said. “Our chemistry’s going to be through the roof. We all just push each other. Elco and Jonas always push each other, and now Zeb’s getting right up with them, so he’ll be pushed by them, too. I’m just trying to catch them and get as close as I can.”
Junior and consistent No. 3 runner Zeb Shields, back with more mileage on his legs following a strong track-and-field season in the spring said the race to be Bayfield’s crucial No. 5 runner will be the most wide-open of all.
“Really, I feel it’s going to be four, five, six and seven,” grinned Walton. “Rylan seems to be our No. 4 – he’s been running hard all summer and was our No. 4 runner last year – but then we have other sophomores and juniors competing for those four spots.”
Also returning this fall are juniors James Chenowith and Xander Hovenstine along with sophomores Michael Everett, Liam Smith and Royce Hinojosa. Shane Moore, a senior, also returns for his second season and he, too, brings the potential to surprise.
“It really helps the team out because all of those guys are going to be pushing each other for those spots, and it’s going to be nice to see how they progress through the season,” Walton said, eager to get underway this Friday in Colorado Springs at the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede.
“As a team, we thought that last year we pushed too much at the beginning of the season, so we were just mentally and physically drained by the end,” said Ross. “So, this year, we still want to compete, want to win meets, but we’re really going to build up, not go as fast at the beginning and just try to improve throughout the year.”
Bayfield will enter the season ranked third in the region.
“We’re just trying to push and catch up to Moffat (County) and Gunnison – the Nos. 2 and 1 teams – so hopefully we can get a banner up in the gym for a first-place regional finish,” Ross said.
And a mention on it also saying “State Qualifiers.”
“The off-season couldn’t have went better for us, I feel,” Walton said. “I have four or five boys that probably put in between 120 and 150 miles this summer.“We met pretty much every day in the morning at 8, and even though it might have just been for a three-mile run. Those three-mile runs add up.”
Having lost just Olivia Keitz and Mylee Sanders to graduation back in May, BHS’ girls crew will again have to overcome their own youth in order to test IML forces Alamosa and Pagosa Springs.
“The girls team this year, for the most part, is pretty young; we have a mix of freshmen and sophomores,” said Walton. “But the majority of them, this will be their fifth year running because they’ve been running in our program since sixth grade. So, we look forward to seeing how they do.”
Sophomores Eli Ion, Paige Porter and Emaliah Sawyer, often Bayfield’s 3-4-5 trio last year, are expected to continue their long-distance development and lead the way.
“It’s kind of a building year for the girls,” Walton said, “But, for the most part, the team is back. And we’re going to keep growing because of the size of our middle-school team. So, it’s going to be really interesting to see how things work out.”