Granby " MIddle Park cross country runner Samantha Berggren challenges for state title |

Granby " MIddle Park cross country runner Samantha Berggren challenges for state title

Will Bublitz
Grand County, Colorado
Will Bublitz / Sky-Hi Daily News

In an exciting neck-and-neck sprint to the finish, Middle Park High’s top runner almost pulled of a major upset at the 2008 Colorado High School Cross Country Championships at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins, Colorado, on Saturday.

Panther sophomore Samantha Berggren had raced the final two-thirds of the 3A Division’s girls 5-kilometer course close on the heels of defending state champion Kaitlyn Hanenburg, a Colorado Academy junior.

With 400 meters to go, Berggren made her move, attempting to sprint past Hanenburg who was just able to fend her off, retaining her state title by only three seconds.

In the final individual results, Hanenburg won with a time of 17:47.57 while Berggren took the runner-up spot with 17:50.62, which was a person record.

The only faster running time during a girls 5K at the 2008 state championships was turned in by Allie McLaughlin, a senior at Air Academy, who won the 5A Division’s race with a time of 17:04.53.

Saturday’s 3A race was a rematch between Colorado Academy’s and Middle Park’s top female runners, who first raced one another at last year’s state championships.

While final places remained unchanged with Hanenburg retaining the state title while Berggren again took second place, this year’s race was significantly different. During the 2007 state meet, Hanenburg beat Berggren by a wide margin of over one minute while in Saturday’s race the Middle Park runner cut it down to only three seconds in the final sprint to the finish line.

In this year’s race, Berggren ran a much more strategic race compared to a year ago.

“I didn’t want to go out too fast as I used to do last season,” Berggren said. “I set myself up in the lead pack after the first 300 meters and stuck with the top group for the first mile. After that, I started gaining on Kaitlyn and then stuck right with her. With 400 meters to go, I really started to pick it up and we kept going faster and faster toward the finish line. I’m tremendously happy with my race.”

The Middle Park sophomore’s achievement is even more remarkable when it is realized that most coaches and other experts predicted Hanenburg would breeze to another state title after she outran Berggren by about a minute on the same Fossil Ridge High School 5K course on Sept. 26. Somehow in four week’s time, Berggren was able to slash an incredible one minute, five seconds off her previous fastest time on that course and almost beat the defending state champion.

“I just saw one of the best races that I have ever seen in my life,” said the Panther coach Jim ‘Cajun’ Courville. “Sam has learned from her previous mistakes and was in total control today. She works so hard, trains smart and races smart. Sam’s got a gift for running.”

To make the state meet’s results that much more special for Berggren, Saturday was also her 16th birthday.

Girls set PRs, finish 9th

All of the Panther girls turned in good individual results at Saturday’s state meet. They all improved their times from previous races on the Fossil Ridge course and some of them set personal records.

The places and finish times that they earned at the state meet are: 37. Ryndi Zastrow, 21:01.82; 50. Samantha Miyauchi, 21:36.27; 90. Lindsay Jones, 22:36.52; 91. Hannah Garcia, 22:37.32; and Melissa Plum, 23:34.87.

In the team results, Middle Park’s girls took ninth place out of 17 teams in the 3A competition. This was an improvement over their 12th-place finish during the 2007 state meet.

Colorado Academy won the 2008 state championship team title. Second place was taken by Salida while Peak to Peak finished third.

Middle Park’s girls were enthusiastic about their results. Ryndi Zastrow, a senior, said she was pleased with her race.

“I earned a PR (personal record) by a lot today, which was very exciting and makes me feel really happy,” she said. “It was a good way to finish my high school running career.”

Melissa Plum, the team’s other senior, agreed. “It felt like a really good race and it was one of my better races this year,” she said. “I ran a faster time than I did here a month ago.”

Also earning a personal record was junior Hannah Garcia. “We’d run this course before and I felt like I was running pretty easy today. It was a good race for me,” she said.

Panther junior Lindsay Jones was especially excited about her results. “It was so fast and I had my best race yet,” she said. “I feel good about how I did.”

Samantha Miyauchi, a sophomore, also expressed satisfaction with her results.

“It was a fast pace, but a good one for me,” she said. “It went well for me. We did what we came here to do today.”

End of the season

“Our girls had excellent races at the state meet,” Courville said. “This year is one of the best cross country seasons that Middle Park has ever had. Our girls won both the league and regional championship titles and one of them was the state meet runner-up. I am so extremely proud of these girls. I wouldn’t trade them for anybody.”

In addition, the team wants to express its thanks to their parents and the Panther fans for their support this season. The Panthers also want to thank and express their affection for their new assistant coach Courtney McCrea, who did such a good job for the team this year.

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