Middle Park runner relentlessly pursues her goal
The amazing thing about Middle Park Highs top cross country runner is that before her first-ever 5-kilometer race this fall she didnt know if she could do it because she had never raced that far before.Panther freshman Samantha Berggren not only made it to the finish line, she did so all alone. She literally ran away with a victory, finishing 1 minute, 15 seconds before her closest opponent on that 5K course.That was just the beginning of a phenomenal first season for Samantha. She went on to win five races this season including Middle Parks home meet, the Snow Mountain Invitational. She also won the district and regional championship titles.The only races that she did not win during the season included the 5K at Steamboat Springs where a 4A division runner slipped past her to finish seven seconds ahead of her as she took second place.Her only other runner-up finish was at last Saturdays 2007 Colorado High School Cross Country Championships in Colorado Springs. She ran the course in 19:37.87, behind the winner Kaitlin Hanenburg of Classical Academy who was last years state runner-up.And all this was achieved by a runner who had raced only short distances and sprints prior to this fall.While in seventh and eighth grade at East Grand Middle School, Samantha ran both cross country and track. The longest races in cross country at the junior high level are 2.5-kilometers. But the actual focus of her ambitions was as a sprinter in track specializing in short events. She got so good at them that in her eighth grade year, she set new East Grand Middle School records in the 100-, 200-, 400-, 800- and 1600-meter sprint races as well as the 100-meter hurdles and long jump.In eighth grade, I got more focussed and more competitive, Samantha said. I began running for a purpose. I really wanted to win.Her success that spring encouraged her to want to compete in the state qualifying events for the Junior Olympics Track & Field in Denver. To help get her ready, Samanthas parents contacted coach Jim Cajun Courville, an assistant track coach and head coach of Middle Park Highs cross country team.With Courvilles guidance, Samantha sprinted qualifying times in both the 200- and 400-meter dashes at the state JO qualifier in Denver. Moving onto the regionals in Albuquerque, N.M., she won the 400-meter dash.I won both the preliminary and finals race, Samantha said. My finals race was the fastest time Id ever run a 400. It was a personal record and I was very excited.At the end of July, she was in Walnut, Calif., to compete in the Junior Olympics national championships. Competing as the youngest runner in the preliminary 400-meter intermediate (ages 14-16) race, she finished ninth and did not qualify for the finals. It was disappointing, but it was my own fault, she said. I didnt hydrate well or stay in the shade because it was really hot. It was a learning experience for me.Surprised in her first 5K After the JOs Track & Field Championships, Samantha admitted she did not know whether she really wanted to run cross country that fall as a freshman at Middle Park High. I wasnt sure I wanted to because Id never raced five kilometers before. I saw myself as a sprinter, she said. But having had such a good experience being coached by Courville that summer, she decided to give it a try. After a couple of weeks of training, she found herself at the starting line of her first race in late August, but still not sure if she had made the right decision. But that quickly changed after the starting gun went off and she found herself sprinting into the lead.Id never raced high school girls before in a cross country race, but all of a sudden, I found myself way out in front, Samantha said. And I said to myself, Hey, maybe I can do this after all. Winning that first race was a real surprise.The second race at Steamboat Springs was another kind of surprise. After again sprinting into the lead and holding it for most of the race, a more experienced cross country runner, a Summit County senior, caught and passed her in the last kilometer to win the race.Learning from that experience, she went on to dominate every race through both the district and regional championships, which she won. Going into last Saturdays State meet, she felt her chances were good.I felt really confident and ready, Samantha said. I knew I could win State. I was actually looking forward to the race to see new schools and new competitors who might really push me.She got her wish. After again sprinting into the lead in Saturdays 3A division 5K, she was caught at about the 1-kilometer mark by Classical Academys Kaitlin Hanenburg. The two battled for about a kilometer, but Hanenburg moved steadily into the lead and increased the gap to finally pull off the victory.Id heard about the Classical Academy girls, Samantha said. When Kaitlin caught up to me, I said OK because I expected to keep up with her. I said to myself Just match her stride and maybe shell burn out. But she kept going and started drifting ahead.That state meet race proved to be another important learning experience for Samantha, who is already setting her sights on next years cross country season.I plan to train harder, get stronger and run faster, she said. I really love running. It makes me happy.Fresh from the state cross country meet, she is continuing her athletic training this week at the Winter Park Competition Center as it opens its alpine skiing program for the season. She plans to compete as a member of Middle Park Highs track and field team this spring.Coachs evaluationSamantha expressed her thanks to coach Courville for guiding and helping her get started in cross country. For his part, Courville cannot say enough good things about his runner. I think Sam is an exceptional young woman, he said. She does so much training on her own. As a coach, you dont find many of that type of athlete.Courville said that when he was approached by the Berggrens last May to coach her in preparation for the Junior Olympics, he felt honored.Sam was coming off a very good middle school track season and she definitely had the credentials to become a great athlete, he said. All I had to do is guide her in what was essential.In August when Samantha showed up for high school cross country practice, Courville said he was not surprised. Shes a runner, he said. Id have been surprised if she hadnt shown up. She has a tremendous amount of talent and ambition.And Courville claims that he wasnt at all surprised by her first victory.By mile one, it was all over, he said. My role this season is to tell her to relax and run. She does the rest.As for the State meet, Courville said he could not have been more pleased.She ran against the very best in this state, he said. To be the best, you have to race the best. Sam has set a goal for herself and I know shell achieve it.Courville said he already ranks her among top cross country runners that Middle Park High has produced such as Gabe Olchin who won the boys State championship title in 1997 and Aimee Tenny who won the girls State title in 1998.Not only is he enthusiastic about Berggrens results this season, Courville is also lauding the results and the potential displayed by the rest of the Panther girls team. At the state meet, the team placed 12th in the 25-team competition, which was its best results in more than half a decade. In addition to Berggren, its roster includes Ryndi Zastrow, Samantha Miyauchi, Hannah Garcia, Jessica Bondi and Kelly Little.They say a rising tide raises all the ships, he said. Sams dedication rubbed off on all the rest of our girls and they did great. For example, Ryndi and Sam Miyauchi took more than two minutes off their 5K time from the summer to the end of the season. Thats incredible.Since none of this years girls team are seniors, all six runners can and say they will return next year, having set themselves the goal of returning to the State championships.This is a great group of girls and our most cohesive as a team, Courville said. They have the potential to be the best. But to succeed, they have to start early. Training over the summer is essential.With the end of the 2007 season, Courville is expressing his thanks to all who supported Middle Parks cross country team.I cant say enough about my assistant coaches Wes Bernstein and Amy Gallagher, or the support given to us by Athletic Director Marlo Klassen, he said. I really want to thank our parents and all those who gave us help this year. People did the right things at the right time.
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