Panthers: State Champions!

Barbara Lawlor, Nederland.  The Nederland Panther girls won the 2A Cross-Country State Championship, a feat that surprised them and astonished the Nederland fans who traveled to Colorado Springs to cheer them on. They had a lot to cheer about on the trip back to Ned.


Our Nederland Panthers brought home the championship trophy and sophomore Helen Cross brought home the individual state champion trophy. In 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, the NHS girls won the state championship, creating a legend and a high bar for subsequent teams to live up to. Kelley Robinson was the individual state champion for three of the four years the team took first.

This year’s team didn’t expect it. They dreamed of becoming state champions, but they didn’t think it would happen.


Then, after the State Championship last Saturday, five members of the NHS Cross-Country team received the coveted first place trophy; they stood on the podium and cross-country runners from all over the state acknowledged their accomplishment. There were 106 runners and 16 teams to put behind them.


First place winner Helen Cross said, “I never expected to do this. I was glad I did it and I was glad when I was done.”


It was a hard course, but was especially grueling near the end, where the runners encountered a creek and a steep hill before the finish. After the mass start that moved out quickly, Helen knew she had to stay near the front for the first mile.


It was too hard to catch up after that.


She also knew she had to keep an eye on Soleil Gaylord from Telluride.


“She was in front almost the entire race,” says Helen. “And then, with about a half mile to go, I was getting tired, but I left a little bit for the end. Just before the long hill I passed her. She had slowed down for the creek. At this point, it was basically her and me. I thought she was a lot closer than she was, and then I was at the finish.” Helen’s time was 18:52, breaking her personal record.


Only .39 seconds behind her was Panther senior Sarah Davidson, who came in third place behind second place Soleil. This was Sarah’s fourth year of cross-country running and her goal has been to come in under 20 minutes. Her time was 19:29.8 minutes and said she was proud to be part of the Ned team.


Freshman Elysia Kitsch was the third Panther to score, coming in 26th place in spite of running with an injured knee. “It was really messed up, so I didn’t do that well, but I still ran. I just wanted to finish. Everyone took off so fast. So I just kept going, for the team.”


As the coach of the second place Paonia team was congratulating the champions, he told them that he was a Nederland graduate and couldn’t be more proud of “his two teams” placing first and second. The coach? Will Forrest, class of 2008.


Triumphant and tired, the Panthers returned home Saturday afternoon to be met by a Nederland Police Department escort at the entrance to town and then on to the school where a victory banner stretched across the entrance.


It has been a great season and a spectacular finish for the NHS Cross-Country team, carrying on the winning tradition of the Panther runners.


Individual times and places:
1. Helen Cross, 18:52
3. Sarah Davidson, 19:29.8
26. Elysia Nitsch, 21:58.8
60. Meg Feeley, 22:17.3
69. Alex Sorokach, 23:48.5


Top overall 10:
1. Helen Cross, Nederland Soph., 18:52.8
2. Soleil Gaylord, Telluride Sr., 19:29.0
3. Sarah Davidson, Nederland Sr., 19:29.8
4. Lucca Fulkerson, Alexander Dawson Fr., 19:41.0
5. Maria O’Neal, Crested Butte Sr., 19:46.0
6. Chloe Veilleux, South Routt Jr., 19:51.8
7. Sydney Petersen, Crested Butte Sr., 19:55.0
8. Emma Schaefer, Shining Mountain Waldorf Sr., 19:58.2
9. Katie Fankhouser, Lyons Soph., 20:33.5
10. Kylee Udovich, Lyons Jr., 20:51.7


Team places:
Nederland, 24
Paonia, 30
Lyons, 33
Shining Mountain Waldorf, 46
Crested Butte, 69



(Originally published in the November 2, 2017 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.