Red Devils run to 3A State X-Country title!!
Lady Devils 3rd; 4 runners earn All-State honors
Fresh off their surprise win at the 3A West Conference Championship a week earlier, the Evanston High School boys’ cross country team was feeling like it had finally earned some respect.
After all, they had come into the conference meet with little fanfare, and even less expectation from anyone outside the program, then shocked the high school cross country community by not just winning the conference title, but dominating the event.
So when MileSplit, the online resource that provides “the latest United States high school running, cross country and track & field coverage and content,” according to its website, released its Wyoming state cross country preview and had the Red Devils projected to finish fifth — well, they understandably took exception.
And then they took it out on the competition.
When the Red Devils took the course Saturday for the 3A State Cross Country Championship Saturday in Cheyenne — again, winning in dominant fashion, with three runners finishing in the Top 10, and earning All-State honors — the indelible photo the runners will use to commemorate the moment will be of the team atop the podium, each runner holding up his hand with fingers splayed to indicate the number five.
“The whole trip was really good,” said EHS head coach Nate Conrad. “The kids were relaxed — they weren’t feeling any pressure, they weren’t stressing out about what needed to be done. They felt like they had a bit of a chip on their shoulder, after the boys winning conference the week before, and everybody just kind of writing us off. The kids were ready to show up and do something special.”
Freshman Bryan Baxter capped off his stellar freshman campaign with a fourth-place finish, clocking in at 16:55.38. Older brother Paul Baxter finished sixth, with a time of 17:04.19, while Aidan Conrad crossed the finish line in eighth, posting a time of 17:13.76. All three earned All-State honors for their performances.
The Lady Devils had a meet to remember, as well, finishing third as a team and boasting one All-State runner in Jocelyn Capener, who placed ninth with a time of 20:41.78.
“The girls were the same way,” Conrad said. “We felt we could compete with Powell and Cody. It didn’t go quite how we wanted it to on the girls’ side, but it was a close finish — we ended up with 84 points, and Powell — who won it — had 65, so that’s not too big of a margin.”
“It was a lot of fun — the kids were laser-focused, but still having fun,” Conrad added. “They’ll be able to look back on this and say, ‘This was pretty special.’”
On the boys’ side, Evanston claimed the team title, with 57 points, followed by Worland in second with 81 points and Riverton in third, with 97 points. Buffalo (98) and Cody (110) rounded out the Top 5.
Joining the Baxter brothers and Conrad were seniors Jamar McDowell, who finished 15th, with a time of 17:30.66, and Gideon Stahl, who placed 24th, with a time of 17:59.58.
Breck Barton (33rd, 18:20.23) and Dallin Horrocks (46th,18:51.92) also ran as alternates.
“It’s a group that has been focused, and has been working towards this goal for the last several years,” Conrad said of his team. “When I took over the program three years ago, some of these boys were freshmen and sophomores, and we had a new focus that they came in with — to work hard, to train hard and to train for a championship.To see it come to fruition, three years after is just awesome to see.”
The 3A State Meet was the first time this season that Bryan Baxter finished ahead of brother Paul, though Conrad said the two push each other constantly.
“When you look at it on paper, Bryan and Paul have been pretty close quite often,” Conrad said. “Bryan just keeps chipping away. The difference between the two of them is not a lot – stature, definitely, but that’s about it. Competitiveness, drive, the willingness to push their bodies to the limit – they’re both willing to do that. The only difference between the two of them Saturday, is Paul may have gone out a little fast – that first mile was really fast, and maybe that caught him. But it was great to see Bryan continue to live up to this ‘Freshman Phenom’ label he’s been given this season.”
Aidan Conrad had a strong second half of the season, which culminated in Top 10 finishes, first at the 3A West Conference Meet, and then Saturday at state.
“Aidan had a really good start to the season last year as a sophomore, and then he kind of ran out of steam, though he still had a good season,” Conrad explained. “This year, we were a little smarter during the middle of the season with him – we really focused on his rest and recovery, and I think that really helped, because he ran really strong at the end of the season, which was great to see.”
“The beauty of it is, we’re going to have all three of them [Bryan, Paul, Aidan] back,” Conrad added. “They’re just going to get stronger, they’re going to get faster and we have the potential to get even better.”
Seniors McDowell and Stahl were integral parts of the team’s success in the fourth and fifth spot.
“Jamar has just been quietly going about his business and doing his work,” Conrad said. “He’s been up as high as running with Aidan at times during the season, and at other times, he’s been really solid at the 4-5 spot for us. With team cross country, we need to have all five of them – we can’t be state champions if they don’t do their part. Jamar was key in his performance, getting us those 15 points. If he goes 20-30 seconds slower, out of the Top 20, it’s a different story.”
As for Stahl, he battled back from injury to close out his senior season with a flourish.
“Gideon Has been struggling with some injuries here at the end of the season, but he had a really, really good week leading up to state,” Conrad said. “With Gideon back to where he should be, we were really confident. To see him nail down that 5th spot was awesome to see.”
Conrad said both runners will be missed, for what they bring to the program, on and off the course.
“I pulled both Jamar and Gideon aside after the race and gave them props – a lot of the credit for what we did was because of their performance,” Conrad said. “If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have even been close.”
For the girls, Powell finished in the top spot with 65 points, followed by Cody in second, with 76 points. Evanston (84), Buffalo (139) and Green River (141) rounded out the Top 5.
“The girls did great — they came back off a conference race, where it felt like they didn’t quite race to their full potential,” Conrad said. “They came back and put a scare in both Powell and Cody. Powell’s girls ran nearly a perfect race, and were able to win it, but our girls did a great job.”
Jocelyn Capener ended her high school cross country career on a high note, placing ninth with a time of 20:41.78, and earning All-State honors.
“To see Jocelyn — as a senior, leading the girls’ group — she ran a great race to finish ninth,” Conrad said. “She was the only senior in the Top 10 at the state meet, so that was great to see.”
Julia Barton capped off a memorable freshman season with a 12th-place finish, clocking in at 21:02.36. Juniors Eliza Day and Jasmine Tapia finished 16th (21:13.91) and 17th (21:15.81), respectively, while freshman Hallie Prete was 30th (21:52.73).
Liesl Botts (38th, 22:21.43) and Talia Conrad (62nd, 24:19.86) also competed for the Lady Devils.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our girls, and the future looks bright,” Conrad said. “We do graduate Jocelyn, but we have Julia Barton, we have Eliza Day, we have Jasmine Tapia that have all been running around and near those same times that Jocelyn has run this season. We have Hallie Prete — another freshman that will be coming back — we feel really confident on the girls’ side, as well. We’re pretty excited.”
Conrad praised his seniors for their leadership and for being a positive force for the younger runners throughout the season.
“Talia Conrad and Bella Dover — along with Jocelyn — we’re very important to helping the girls’ team to be ready and prepared for the State meet,” he said. “The girls were not expected to even compete for a podium finish. So Talia, Bella and Jocelyn worked to keep the girls relaxed, focused and ready to go for that race. On both sides, our seniors have been so important to our season, and the success that we had.”
Asked what his takeaway from this season will be, once all the dust has settled, Conrad said the answer is simple.
“The takeaway from the season has to be the drive and the motivation that these kids have,” Conrad said. “Right from Day 1 — when we went off to cross country camp — we had our team-building activities over those three days: Running, playing around, multiple hours of beach volleyball. They established a common vision, a common goal, and right from the get-go, that goal was to be state champions. Every ounce of work that was put into the season was towards that goal. These kids were focused, motivated and worked their butts off to get it. It was awesome to see them do that.”