It was a day of highs and lows for the Lovell High School cross country team as the Bulldogs enjoyed a balmy day of running with tough competition at the VA Hospital grounds in Sheridan.
The number one “high” for the Bulldogs was the performance of junior James Caldwell, who placed second in the 60-man 2A field with a time of 17:38, 26 seconds faster than his third-place time of 18:04 a year ago on the same course at State and 11 seconds faster than his time at the conference meet just
over a week earlier.
“James Caldwell was, by far, the highlight for us,” coach Caleb Sanders said. “He finished second to the defending state champion, and he gave him a battle.”
Encampment junior Jarom Herring, running for Saratoga, defended his state title with a time of 17:29, and Caldwell was a strong second, running the course in 17:38 to beat third-place runner Hunter Skeens of Sundance by 10 seconds (17:48).
Sanders said Caldwell came out strong and ran with the leaders for the entire race.
“James was pretty aggressive at the start of the race,” Sanders said. “At the first mile he was at 5:04, and at the two-mile mark he was at 10:56. It’s a battle to get to 10:56 in a two-mile race outdoors (during spring track). It was just fun to see that battle, and I thought James did an excellent job.
“You could see he wanted to be up there with the leaders. At one point during the first mile some runners moved up to join in or pass the lead group, but he said ‘no, this is my spot.’ He didn’t get pushed back. It was a great race.”
The second runner on the Lovell team was sophomore Cardon Mickelson, who placed 30th with a time of 19:40, about a minute and a half faster than his state time (21:04) as a freshman.
“Cardon is a 19-minute runner. He has shown improvement from last year to this year,” Sanders said. “There’s a whole new level hopefully he can move up to next year.”
Lovell’s third runner was senior Brenden Lundberg, who placed 37th at 20:22, 43 seconds faster than his state time last year.
“It was nice to see Brenden Lundberg finish strong as a senior,” Sanders said. “He had a good season. I really felt he stepped up this season in a lot of ways.”
Sophomore Ethan Nixon finished 50th with a time of 22:23, senior Hunter Steenbakkers 51st at 22:27 and sophomore Kalem Joy 53rd at 22:47.
As a team, the Lovell boys placed seventh with 107 points. Saratoga won the team total with 41 points to 49 for second-place Wyoming Indian and 52 for Big Horn.
It was kind of an off day for the Lovell girls, who placed second at State a year ago. The Lady Bulldogs placed fourth behind Thermopolis, Wyoming Indian and Glenrock and did not have an all-state (top 10) runner.
“It’s hard because they had bigger goals this,” Sanders said. “But we weren’t durable and struggled with a lot. Continually, those were nagging at us. We did show improvement during the season, but unfortunately we took a step back at State.
“We battled injuries all season. They never were 100 percent healthy, even at the end.”
The top finisher for the Lady Bulldogs was senior Karlee Burton, who placed 14th with a time of 22:45, running in only her third race of the season due to injuries, after placing ninth last year at 22:33.
“She competed,” Sanders said. “When you’re injured it’s not easy to compete. It’s always in your head. I’ve very appreciative of the kids who competed (while injured) in an effort to help the team. Lauren (Mitchell) is in that camp. Patti (Sanders) was dealing with congestion that seemed to trigger some asthma. It was just poor timing for her.”
One of the bright spots was sophomore Brooklyn Walker, who was Lovell’s second-fastest runner with a time of 23:21, good for 20th place.
“She ran well at the end of the season,” Sanders said. “Brooklyn moved up from being our sixth runner to finishing as our second runner at State.”
Just behind Walker was fellow sophomore Raeghan Wacker, who placed 21st with a time of 23:32, 10 seconds faster than her state time as a freshman.
“I was pleased with her season,” Sanders said. “I felt she was more consistent than last year.”
Completing a pack of four Lady Bulldogs were junior Lauren Mitchell, 22nd at 23:39, and sophomore Maddisun Steed, 23rd at 23:44. Patti Sanders placed 32nd with a time of 25:37, senior Ashley Peterson 34th at 25:50.
“I was proud of Maddisun Steed,” Coach Sanders said. “She was our top runner all season. She’s given it her all in every race. It just wasn’t there Saturday. For a sophomore to be up there at the top (during the season), I’m proud of her, and I’m proud of her for leading the team.
Saturday’s races were the final competition for seniors Brenden Lundberg, Hunter Steenbakkers, Karlee Burton, Ashley Peterson and Temperance Mickelson. Sanders said he will miss the five seniors.
Coach Sanders also said he appreciates the efforts of assistant coach Bret George and volunteer coaches Aubrey Walker and Ben Snyder. He said Jill Allen and Pat Steed also ran with the team from time to time.
“The volunteers have been very positive and extremely helpful in several areas,” Sanders said. “They’ve done a great job with these kids. They’re a huge benefit to our program.”
By David Peck