Paonia tastes success in first season with cross country team
It’s the first year Paonia High School has had its own cross country team, and now its girls team is headed to the Class 2A state cross country championships.
And so is regional champion Hotchkiss.
For the 13 seasons Kelly Cowan has coached the Hotchkiss team, Paonia runners had run for Hotchkiss, driving nine miles for the opportunity to run.
“We just accepted them as being part of our program,” Cowan said.
Striking out on their own, the Paonia girls took second last week in the regional at Delta, qualifying for the 2A state meet Saturday at Norris Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs.
Paonia coach Richard Hypio had been an assistant under Cowan at Hotchkiss the past four years. Hypio said Hotchkiss had 25 runners last season. This season, after the teams split, there were about 22 at Hotchkiss and 26 at Paonia.
“One of the deciding factors (for the split) was that it would be better for one adult to drive them to practice every day,” Hypio said, “than have 10 kids drive on that road every day.”
The teams have been successful nonetheless. The Hotchkiss and Paonia girls could feasibly put up top-five finishes at state.
For Paonia, Taylor Polson placed fifth at regionals, and Chelsy Reed took seventh. Polson, for one, hopes for the same nasty, windy weather at state as was present at the regional meet.
“I run my best in freezing cold,” Polson said. “I love the rain, and it gets me excited to run. And you start to focus on the weather more if you don’t feel good when you’re running or if your legs hurt.”
Hotchkiss junior Natalie Anderson placed fourth at state last season when Hotchkiss ran in Class 3A.
“My goal is to be in the top three,” she said. “And I’ll have to go all out if I want to win it.”
Hotchkiss junior Jennifer Celis would rather forget her 50th-place finish at last season’s state meet when she ran through what she called “hip problems.”
“I feel much better,” Celis said. “I’m real excited for state.”
Hotchkiss senior Cody Bartlett took second at regionals after taking two-and-a-half weeks off from running. He missed a meet at Aspen to take a college-entrance exam. He said he felt fatigued at the regional, perhaps from the extended time off.
Bartlett took 26th at last season’s state meet.
Finally, Cowan said he never wonders: What if Paonia runners were still with Hotchkiss?
“It’d be easy to do,” he said, “but, no, I look at it as we’ve had a real good season, and Paonia had a real good year, too.”