The Lovell Lady Bulldogs used determination and depth to challenge for a state title Saturday at the Wyoming State Cross Country meet in Sheridan.
Though the Lovell squad was edged by state champion Burns/Pine Bluffs, the team’s second-place finish was Lovell’s highest finish in the history of the program and, combined with the boys team’s fourth-place finish, it was the highest combined finish in Lovell cross country history, coach Caleb Sanders said.
“We accomplished what we hoped to accomplish,” Sanders said. “Compared to last year, we’re thrilled. All across the board we saw much better results for those who returned.”
Sanders said looking back on the 10-year history of the Lovell program, the Lady Bulldogs’ second-place finish topped the girls’ third-place finish in 2010 and the boys’ third-place finish in 2013.
“It’s great that, in 10 years, it’s our best finish at State,” Sanders said. “The boys were close to third place, fourth by just four points…This is the best we’ve felt coming home from State in a long time.
“We don’t have any regrets. We were close (7 points out of first). We challenged them and we were excited about our results and the fact that we were that close.”
Sanders said the Lady Bulldogs lagged a bit early in the race on the grounds of the Veterans Administration Hospital but came on strong.
“We did not have a great start to the race,” he said. “We were well back, but at the first mile mark we were in the lead. We maintained that until the two-mile mark. They (Burns/Pine Bluffs) are experienced. I’m impressed with how they closed the race. All of their scorers moved up a few positions.
“That’s our next step – to put ourselves in a position to challenge. In the future we’ll learn how to close, make it part of who we are. We had more confidence going into State this year.”
Burns-Pine Bluffs won the school’s eighth consecutive team title with 27 points, and Lovell was a strong second with 34 points, well ahead of third-place Moorcroft with 63 points.
The Lady Bulldogs’ top finisher was senior Jessica Caldwell, who closed out her career with a second straight all-state finish (top 10), placing sixth with a time of 22:10, right at her eighth-place time of a year ago on a calm day. Saturday’s conditions were mild but windy.
“Jessica has been a foundational piece of our team over the last few years,” Sanders said. “She’s a back-to-back all-state runner. It’s the way you want to go out as a senior. She didn’t drop off (as a senior). She was a consistent, strong runner for our team.
“She was in pain (Saturday), but she battled in that race. I was so proud of Jessica.”
Also earning all-state honors was junior Karlee Burton, who competed through the pain of a sprained ankle injury that ended her race at Regionals just eight days earlier to place ninth with a time of 22:33.
“It was not easy for her to get that all-state finish,” Sanders said. “She earned it in the purest way I can think. She pushed through pain for 22 minutes. I saw her at two miles and she held on for the team. She was in significant discomfort at two miles. She held on for herself and for the team.”
After hitting the lip of a bridge and falling Oct. 13 at Foster Gulch, Burton underwent therapy all week but did little running.
“She ran about a mile and a half during the week,” Sanders said. “She basically went in raw.”
Another runner who was “not healthy” was sophomore Lauren Mitchell, Sanders said, who placed 14th Saturday with a time of 22:46, 15 seconds faster than her 16th-place time of a year ago. She finished just behind freshman teammate Maddisun Steed, who placed 13th at 22:39.
“It’s been all season for Lauren,” said Sanders, noting that Mitchell has suffered from a leg injury that is similar to Achilles tendonitis. “That was a pure gut race for her. I don’t know how she did it.
“Maddison deserves credit for how she raced. I thought she had a lot of passion for her running.”
Sophomore Patti Sanders placed 22nd with a time of 23:34, 34 seconds faster than year ago, and freshman Raeghan Wacker placed 24th at 23:42. Junior Ashley Peterson finished 35th with a time of 24:47.
“Compared to last year at State, that was a much improved race for Patti,” Sanders said. “Raeghan had an up and down season. I hope she learns from it and comes back strong. Running in her first year, Ashley was steady all season. She ran during the summer, and I think that helped her make the state team.”
Joining sister Jessica as an all-state runner, Lovell sophomore James Caldwell placed third at State Saturday to lead the Bulldogs to a fourth-place finish. Caldwell ran a time of 18:04 to finish behind only Jarom Herring of Saratoga/Encampment (17:50) and Isaiah Kammerer of Sundance (17:52). His time was 1:50 faster than his 23rd-place finish a year ago at 19:53.
“James moved up. He was probably in the 20s (place) and moved up into the top three,” Sanders said. “He put himself into the position he needed to be in. I have no regrets about the way he ran. He ran smart, he ran hard. He earned his all-state honors. I’m proud of the way he ran.”
The Bulldogs placed fourth with 79 points, just four points behind third-place Sundance with 75. Wyoming Indian won the state title with 27 points, and Saratoga/Encampment was second with 44.
Senior Brent Snyder ran half a minute faster than he did a year ago and placed 15th with a time of 18:57. Fellow senior Ben Cornia placed 21st with a time of 19:33, a full minute faster than his time as a junior.
“I’m proud of Brent through his seven years of running,” Sanders said. “I’m proud of what he brought to the program, which extends beyond where he finished in this race. He’s been a foundational piece in this boys program for a long time. We’ll miss him.
“Same with Ben. We’ll miss him. The best we’ve seen Ben run was in the last two races.”
Freshman Cardon Mickelson finished 42nd in his first run at State with a time of 21:04.
“Cardon jumped right in at the high school level and competed well,” Sanders noted.
Also running strong were juniors Brenden Lundberg and Hunter Steenbakkers. Lundberg finished 44th in the field of 71 with a time of 21:05, 1:20 faster than his run a year ago, and Steenbakkers crossed the line in 21:08 to finish 47th.
“For the way Brenden and Hunter finished, I’m proud of them, too,” Sanders said.
The meet was the final competition for Snyder, Cornia and Jessica Caldwell. Other seniors in the program were Taylor Woodford and Jenci Jasso.
By David Peck