EHS cross country teams shine at Star Valley

EHS cross country runner Derek Parks — seen here at a meet earlier this season — placed first at the Braves Time Trials in Star Valley last week, posting a time of 10:49.0. Parks battled illness at the start of the season, but is peaking at the right time heading into the 4A West meet. (HERALD PHOTO/Kati Baxter)

The EHS cross country teams closed out the regular season last week with a trip to Star Valley, competing in a time trial on a shorter course as a warm-up for this Friday’s 4A West Conference meet in Casper.

“We went up to Star Valley and raced in a little two-mile time trial,” said EHS head coach Nate Conrad. “The kids went out and did what we were hoping they would do, which was put your head down and race. It was a lot of fun. We’ve been doing a lot of pace work — running to hit a certain time in their 5K races. But sometimes in a race, you just have to put your head down and go, so by going a shorter distance, the kids were able to just go out and be fast.”

Red Devil junior Derek Parks finished in the top spot on the boys’ side, posting a time of 10:49.0; he was joined in the Top 10 by teammates Kaden Wiley (4th, 10:58.8) and Hyrum Baxter (7th, 11:08.7).

“Coming into the season, we knew we were going to have three kids that were going to be running at the head of this team, and that was Derek, Kaden and Hyrum,” Conrad said. “Derek had some health issues early in the season, but now he’s coming on strong — we now have that three-headed monster. Hopefully, any of those three — when we race at state in a couple of weeks — can get into the Top 10. If we’ve got one in the Top 10, we’re in business; if we have two, we’re really looking good. If we can get all three in the Top 10, it’s over.”

On the girls’ side, Jocelyn Capener finished second with a time of 13:14.4; Eliza Day was fifth, with a time of 14.00.3.

“Derek Parks came away with a first-place finish, and we also had Kaden Wiley and Hyrum Baxter in the Top 10, so that was good for us,” Conrad said. “Jocelyn Capener took second place, right behind Star Valley’s No. 1 runner, so she continued to show her growth as a runner. We also had Eliza Day finish in the Top 5, so it was a good day. It was a lot of fun, and the kids did exactly what we wanted them to do.”

Other notables on the boys’ side include Top 10 finishes by Kurtis Richins (8th, 11:16.9), Tanner Newsome (9th, 11:20.2) and Noah Conrad (10th, 11:25.3). Junior Zermeno rounded out the top Evanston placers, finishing 15th with a time of 11:44.6.

For the girls, Talia Conrad (14.12.9) and Liesl Botts (14:23.5) also finished in the Top 10, placing seventh and ninth, respectively. Jasmine Tapia (11th, 14:27.0), Aubrey Horrocks (12th, 14:40.2), McKye Carver (13th, 14:40.8) and Shelyse Ellingford (15th, 14:59.6) all finished in the Top 15.

“We constantly promote and encourage competition within our team during practices — we’re a team, and we support each other, but we want to go out and beat each other, try and be the fastest on the team,” Conrad explained. “By going on a shorter-distance course, the kids don’t need to worry about racing strategy — they can just go out and race.”

Freshman Paul Baxter was absent from last week’s time trials in Star Valley, sidelined with an ankle injury. Baxter has placed well at the varsity level, and Conrad is hoping to have the young runner back in time for the state meet at the end of the month.

“Paul is doing well — he twisted his ankle pretty good, so we’ve had him on a low-impact routine where we can nurse him along,” Conrad said. “His family has done a great job of taking care of him, and we’re going to try to have him ready to come back for the state meet. He won’t run in the conference meet, but because of his earlier performances this season, we’re confident he will be on that state team. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go.”

The EHS cross country teams head to Casper Friday for the 4A West Conference Meet, though there has been a change in the race location. Instead of Paradise Valley Country Club — home to last year’s 4A State Meet — the race has been moved to 3 Crowns Golf Course, a location without much of a recent history of hosting cross country events.

“We’re excited to finally go and compete against some teams we haven’t seen a whole lot this year,” Conrad said. “Casper has been getting some pretty nasty weather as of late, so we just found out today [Wednesday] that there’s been a change in the race location. 3 Crowns is in downtown Casper, and that’s a new location for us — we’ve never raced there. I don’t know if they’ve held a lot of races there in the past, so I think that will put every team on an even playing field. We’re all coming into it not knowing what to expect. But knowing the topography of the area, I don’t think it’s super-hilly in that part of town — it should be a flat, fast course. But the kids are excited, and ready to go.”

Asked his expectations heading into the conference meet, Conrad said he’s cautiously optimistic.

“It should be a dog fight on both sides,” Conrad said. “The boys definitely have a shot at winning another conference title, and for the girls — if we can finish in the top half of the conference — that would be a huge success for them.”

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