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Bayfield Invitational pushes runners’ limits

Centauri sweeps titles; Hinojosa paces BHS
Bayfield's Liam Smith passes an ensemble of Marching Wolverines while beginning his second ascent up the Dove Ranch course's feature dubbed 'Walton's Hill' during the BHS Invitational on Saturday. Smith placed 25th in the boys' race. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

Rarely – if ever – out of earshot on Saturday morning, an ensemble of Marching Wolverines held select ground on the 2021 Bayfield Cross-Country Invitational’s Dove Ranch course, laid out behind Pine Valley Church.

Positioned partway up the route’s opening incline – Walton’s Hill to BHS harriers – at a junction with a rocky, gravelly path leading left-turning entrants back up the notorious grade to start their second loop, or leading relieved right-turners downhill to the finish chute, director Derek Smith’s musicians effectively played competitors onto and off of the dusty trail.

For the director’s son, Liam Smith, however, rhythm and melody weren’t just background sound; the band’s selections also inspired mental cadences the Wolverine cross-country senior would then attempt to match during the race with his feet.

“In band, we have this thing at the end of almost every performance, where we say: Feet together! Toes apart! Stomach in! Chest out! Shoulders up! Back down! Head up! Eyes with pride, eyes with pride, eyes with pride!” he explained, saying each command as though part of a performance sequence. “Then sometimes we’ll say our motto – ‘Always happy, never satisfied’ – and then we’ll go ‘Band, dismiss! Go Wolverines! HAH!’”

“And every time I pass the band I always think of that; I always try to show myself with ‘Eyes with pride,’ try to pass everyone in front of me as best I can. And ... as I was going towards the finish, as they were playing the (Bayfield High School) fight song I knew to just keep my pace with the tempo.”

Runners fortunate to not have hit the proverbial wall on their second (or even first) time up the initial climb were more or less able to double-time theirs downhill to the finish, and crossing the line 1-2 were Centauri juniors Mason Sowards and Ren Canty – who clocked, respectively, 19 minutes, 23 seconds and 19:25.

“Me and Ren wouldn’t let each other get five seconds (away from) the other; that was good,” Sowards said. “It was pretty intimidating ... there’s a lot of hills, and then doing that second lap again was hard mentally. But finishing felt good – a huge accomplishment.”

“They were really good; it was awesome to see them stick together ... a ‘team’ on the course,” said Bayfield senior Royce Hinojosa, who’d proudly paced all boys up Walton’s Hill – so dubbed in honor of head coach Josh Walton – after the starter’s gun. “And they were good sports; we told each other ‘Good job,’ and that’s always nice when you get to feel that brotherhood a little.”

Led by Sowards and Canty, CHS tallied an adjusted score 5 low of 32 points. With senior Andrew Bowles as his team’s first to finish (in a third-place 19:44), Pagosa Springs took second with 48 points, followed by Aztec (58), and BHS (85). Aztec freshmen Noah Higgins (20:32) and Jaden Sims (20:39) rounded out the top five individuals.

Hinojosa paced the Wolverines with a seventh-place 20:59, sophomore Tristan Sager earned 22nd with a 23:43 and Smith finished 25th in 24:34. Freshmen Sawyer Flinders (25:43, 29th) and Hunter Carroll (30:11, 37th) completed BHS’ scoring quintet.

Bayfield's Sawyer Flinders relishes the feeling of beginning the long descent towards the BHS Invitational's finish line on Saturday. He placed 29th in the boys' race. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

“To get to run on the course you’ve been practicing on for seven years, and to get to see all the teams come out, all the people you care about come and see you run here one last time ... it’s just a fun experience,” Hinojosa said. “Helped me feel supported and spirited; I think that really carried into the race.”

“Yes, it did,” agreed Smith. “It gave me that sense of pride. And I managed to catch up with Tristan, but unfortunately with the steepness of that hill and how long it is, it just kind of tired me out.”

“That’s what we’ve been calling it for years: Walton’s Hill. And nobody else’s,” joked Sager. “I’d say I was just excited to be running my course. And while the hills were hard I did have a pretty good time.”

“Like, second ... while it’s not first, it’s still pretty good,” he continued, alluding to his solidified No. 2 role on the squad. “I think it’s so cool that Royce is able to run as fast as he does, and I’m happy to be at my pace.”

“Tristan is doing really, really good. He pushes himself every practice, pushes himself every race and I’m really proud of how far he’s come,” Hinojosa said. “It’s evident, his hard work up to now.”

Freshmen Will Kennedy-Jones (35:35) and Jonas Gerritts (39:17) placed, respectively, 38th and 41st as the Invitational wrapped up well before noon under sunny skies with temperatures barely in the mid-70s.

In the preceding girls’ feature, just two Wolverines were able to compete. Freshman Sage Flinders clocked 32 minutes, 54 seconds and placed 24th overall, but sophomore Teagan Schleeter was unable to finish.

Bayfield's Sage Flinders inhales as much air as possible while passing through a forested section of the BHS Invitational's Dove Ranch course on Saturday. She placed 24th in the girls' race. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

Winning the race was PSHS senior Nell Taylor, who recorded a winning 23:17. Centauri senior Jocelyn Jarvies (23:55) was runner-up and Mancos freshman Teagan Archer (24:12) placed third, with CHS sophomore Kaia Skadberg (24:20) and PSHS sophomore Ruth Ann Morehouse (24:28) rounding out the top five.

“Normally in races I start off pretty fast, to kind of get out there and just cruise. But for this one I knew it was a long push uphill, so I just kind of took it easy ... stayed in probably sixth, seventh place for the majority of that uphill,” Taylor said. “As soon as a downhill came, usually your legs are tired and you want to let them rest for a bit. ... But I pretty much sprinted, which got me into first, put a lot of distance between me and the rest of the runners ... and kind of jump-started my race; I just settled in and held on.”

Centauri earned the team title with an accumulated meet-low 33 points – only one fewer than Pagosa Springs (34). MHS ranked third with 61, and Montezuma-Cortez took fourth with 94.

Up next for Bayfield, as well as many of the teams attending the invitational, will be the Pagosa Springs Cross-Country Challenge, which will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday.