The Harrison High School cross-country team went nearly a decade without a home race. But Sept. 11 at El Pomar Youth Sports Complex, the Panthers made the most of the meet on their home turf.
The boys won the Harrison Panther Invitational with 51 points; Adrian Sanchez earned second place at 18 minutes, 42.25 seconds; and Ayauna Smith checked in fourth at 23:40.92 for the girls.
Smith’s placement represents the best of her career, an improvement by two spots. And for Sanchez, it’s the second occasion he’s finished as runner-up and his third fastest time.
“I really loved all the support that we had out here,” said Adrian Sanchez, a senior for the Panthers. “A lot of people came out from Harrison and all the different regions. even though there was another race. It was great to have this in the first home race of my career.”
And Sanchez gave the race every bit of effort he had. After crossing the finish line, he dropped to the ground from exhaustion. While still on all fours, Sanchez crawled away from the line to make room for other runners. A voice from afar asked: “Adrian? How’d you do?”
Sanchez lifted his right hand and gave a thumb’s up to acknowledge his success.
“I went through the first mile faster than I expected,” Sanchez said. “As soon as I heard my first mile split [time] I had to keep that speed to make sure I maintained that pace. The third mile was the hardest because I was tired, but I didn’t want to let anyone [from the second heat] pass me.”
In the girls’ race, Smith not only fought off exhaustion, but she completed the race on a sprained left ankle, which she sustained during the second mile of the event after stepping in a pothole.
Rather than exit the race, Smith persevered and used Woodland Park’s Shealan Waters as a pacer to keep her motivated to complete the run.
“As long as I could see her I was fine,” Smith said. “After I hurt my ankle, I kind of lost her, and I thought I slowed down which was bad because that’s how I was able to keep my pace.”
Lannen said Smith’s run Sept. 11 reflected her offseason dedication. He and assistant coach Molly McCann witnessed Smith’s focus revived and renewed following her junior year.
“The work she has put in since June is paying off and her time [on Sept. 11] was close to a season best,” he said. “I know she’s excited about that and to run that time with a rolled ankle is phenomenal.”
The Panther Invitational was Harrison’s first home competition since Sept. 30, 2011, when the Panthers finished seventh out of eight teams.
Another Southeast school, Sierra High School, had just three runners at the competition, but the Stallions managed to make noise on the girls’ side as sophomore Delzie Gamez finished 10th at 25:32.03.
For the Sierra boys, Andree Agor finished 34th at 24:30.17 and Kyland Pacheco placed 50th with a time of 32:02.79.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the track landscape underwent changes since the 2011 invitational.
Competitors wore masks after the finish of each event to curb the spread of COVID-19, and had to be 6 feet away from other teams at the starting line. In this instance, they also needed two heats for the race.
“It’s been a struggle,” said Patrick Lannen, Panthers head coach. “There was a lot of uncertainty if we’d even have a season. We started our practices in the middle of June with strict rules even above and beyond what [Colorado High School Athletics Association] mandates to keep our runners healthy and safe. We’re fortunate with the runners we have. They put it all out there at this meet.”
Lannen, who’s in his first year at the helm with the Panthers, is proud of how the athletes continue to handle the unique twist on the season.
Initially, runners felt awkward with the COVID precautions, but they’ve coped with the changes, according to their coach.
“They’re looking out for each other and celebrating one another,” Lannen said. “Being a little bit smaller, we feel a little more close-knit especially in practice. Runners push each other and tell one another they can do better. Coach McCann and I will give the runners a choice to do another set or a repeat of something and they’re opting to do more work than we ask them to do. I know they’ll have some big results at the end of the season because of that.”