The Lovell Lady Bulldogs came through on the big stage Saturday at the state cross-country meet in Afton, capturing the third-place trophy with a strong overall performance.
“I’m really excited about the Lovell girls. They ran great,” coach Caleb Sanders said.
The 2A results were initially scored wrong by cross-country websites, so some sites listed the Lady Bulldogs with a second-place finish. But Sanders said in the corrected scoring the team placed third, just two points behind Thermopolis. Wyoming Indian won the state title with 17 points, followed by Thermop with 38 and Lovell with 40.
“There were a lot of incomplete teams there, and that really helped Thermopolis,” Sanders said, noting that a girl from Moorcroft, Wright or Saratoga, for instance, might place high but not count in the standings.
Still, Sanders was thrilled with his team’s performance.
“This is the best our girls team has performed since I’ve been here,” he said. “Their times for that course were fantastic.
“On the back side of the course we looked like the strongest team out there. Our girls moved up more than any other team. Those girls were focused and competitive. They were really dialed in.”
Not only were the girls focused, they gave it everything they had, Sanders noted.
“After the race we had three girls on the ground,” he said. “They just pushed it to the max. We had bodies all over the place. Our girls team has never run that well before.”
Freshman Kathryn Mickelson recorded a personal record, even on the hilly course, to place sixth and earn all-state honors (top 10) with a time of 22:10.76, finishing just four seconds behind Thermopolis senior Tahja Hunt and beating Thermop sophomore Hallie Martinez by four seconds.
“That was by far her race of the year,” Sanders said. “How she got her best time on that course was knowing how to step up at the right moment. She gradually moved up. After the first mile she was ninth or 10th, and after the first mile she wasn’t in the top 10. By the two-mile mark she was in sixth place.”
Almost earning all-state honors was senior Patti Sanders, who placed 13th by covering the course in 23:25.81.
“I was very, very glad for her as a senior,” coach and father Caleb said. “She was spent. She gave it her all. She was thrilled with the way she performed. She got under 24 (minutes).
“Going in, we thought it would be a good race if she could run 24 minutes, and I was surprised and pleased that she pulled off a 23:25.”
Also strong for the Lady Bulldogs were juniors Brooklyn Walker and Maddisun Steed, who placed 15th and 16th, respectively, with times of 23:48.36 and 24:01.73.
“They gutted it out, too,” Sanders said. “Our team wouldn’t have finished the way they did without their performances. When I compare this year to last year it’s almost a different team. It’s almost the same individuals but a different outcome. Experience helps.”
Freshman Anessa Luna placed 21st with a time of 24:41.36, junior Raeghan Wacker 26th at 25:16.01 and senior Lauren Mitchell 29th at 25:32.40.
“Anessa, Raeghan and Lauren contributed by pushing other teams’ numbers back,” Sanders said. “Lauren and Raeghan haven’t been healthy this year, and that was not a good course for their kind of injuries. I felt they showed a lot of guts.
“Our girls were very happy with the way they performed. They were excited. I’m glad their efforts paid off for them.”
The Lovell boys team also had a solid performance in Afton, placing fourth out of 10 teams. Saratoga won the state title with 24 points, followed by Tongue River with 29 and Wyoming Indian with 66. The relatively young Lovell team finished with 85 points, ahead of Glenrock with 91 points and Sundance with 93.
Senior James Caldwell closed out his Lovell career with his third straight all-state performance, placing ninth with a time of 18:27.50, edging Tongue River junior Jason Baron by four seconds and finishing seven seconds behind Sundance junior Hunter Skeens.
Caldwell placed third as a sophomore and second as a junior on the state course in Sheridan.
“It was another all-state performance by James,” Sanders said. “I’m thrilled for James. I’m sure he would have wanted more, but I’m happy for him. I’m glad he gutted it out. During the first mile he wasn’t feeling great. His legs were not up to par.
“I’m proud of him for fighting to get top 10. He showed a lot of grit.”
Also strong for the Lovell boys was junior Cardon Mickelson, who placed 16th with a time of 18:55.98.
“Cardon was awesome. His time was fantastic,” Sanders said. “He went under 19 minutes on that course. I’m proud of him.
“He ran under 19 for the fourth time in his career, and to do it on that course was admirable. He raced as tough as he could.”
Four Lovell freshmen ran at State, as well. Cameron Carpenter placed in the top half of the field with a 28th place finish in 20:31.41, and brother Quin placed 40th in 21:43.78. Jordan Allen finished 56th in 23:40.77, and although his timing chip didn’t register, Sanders said Rurik Olsen ran a time in the 25-minute range.
“Our freshman boys ran well on that course,” Sanders said. “Cameron came ready to run. We’re excited because we get five of the six boys back next year. They all plan on coming back, and all of them had a great experience this season. I’m looking forward to all of them coming back.
“Some of them have big goals for next season, like Cardon. He wants to be all-state next year.”
Sanders said he would like to thank his coaches for all of their help this season, in particular Bret George, Aubrey Walker and Jill Allen for helping the team and preparing the runners for the state meet.
He added that Star Valley High School was a great host for the meet, providing a dinner for the teams Friday night and passing out goodie bags and coupons.
“It was probably the best hosted meet we’ve seen,” Sanders noted.
By David Peck