Cross country

Members of the Cody cross country team including (from left) Ava Stafford, Ashton Powell, Baylee Stafford, Emmy Bower, Daniel Juergens and Owen Preston do a workout Aug. 21 on the track.

Last year was Ashton Powell’s first running cross country. Call it a practice year.

After placing ninth at the state meet for Cody’s runner-up girls team, Powell now knows the drill better about pacing, courses and competition and the sophomore is poised to repeat her All-State finish.

“I was figuring things out,” Powell said of last season. “But I have been running quite a bit this summer.”

Summer always ends and the Fillies will open the 2019 season Friday at the Billings Invitational.

This year, as one of three Cody All-State returning runners, Powell and her teammates are trying to figure out how to jump to the top spot in the team standings.

Junior Riley Smith took second – for the second year in a row – and senior Baylee Stafford took third place for the second year in a row last season.

“We have three All-Staters,” coach Maggie Kirkham said. “We’ll be better than we were last year. That’s a good core.”

The big three will be joined by Nicole Wagler and Ellie Osborne, who made important contributions last season, senior Rachel Sanchez, back from injury, and Ava Stafford, Baylee’s freshman sister, as a likely front-running lineup.

“That’s a group that works well together,” Kirkham said.

Sanchez has been a top-five performer before. She eased back into summer running, but did not put in tons of mileage.

“I did a little, but I didn’t want to push too hard without a coach,” Sanchez said.

She likes the talent surrounding her.

“We have a really good team,” she said. “I’m excited. It’s my senior year.”

This year, the 5-kilometer state-meet course in Sheridan has been replaced by a fresh course. The meet will be hosted by Star Valley in Afton on a much hillier route instead. Other changes on the schedule point to courses that have more steepness on them.

Kirkham surveyed the contents of those courses and told runners this will result in alterations to their season-long workouts.

Rather than as many speed workouts, the athletes will be facing a diet of more runs away from flat terrain to toughen them up. The team will probably bus out of town for more practices.

“A lot of mountain hill work,” Powell said.

For the first time, the cross country team kicked off seasonal practice with a Midnight Madness session under the lights on the Cody High School track.

Kirkham annually calls for a 3,200-meter time trial in one of her first practices and used the 12:01 a.m., Aug. 19 session for that.

“I can set time goals for them in workouts,” Kirkham said of the time trial as a baseline.

One runner who looked strong in the night run was Owen Preston, the top boys’ runner. A senior, Preston was 12th at state last year, but has been All-State in the past.

Last season was an off-year for the boys. A combination of graduation and injuries left the Broncs with a very thin lineup, not always having five scoring runners for a meet.

Incoming freshmen should beef up the roster, but Preston should remain No. 1, aided by Wyatt Becker and Braydon Bond near the front of the pack.

“The boys are going to be much improved,” Kirkham said.

Bond and Becker dropped their 5K times all season long and they view 2018 simply as a warm up for what they can do this year.

“I’m in good shape,” Bond said.

Becker said he wants to make his mark immediately.

“I want to PR in the first meet,” Becker said of seeking to run faster than ever from day one.

It’s time for his workouts in the heat of June, July and August to pay off, he said of the volume of his offseason running.

“That’s all I’ve been doing all summer,” Becker said. “I’m definitely better than last year.”

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