Wyatt Becker took Cody cross country coach Maggie Kirkham’s orders to heart in last Thursday’s Warrior Invite at Worland.

“She dared us to smile at her every time we ran past her,” Becker said. “It really helped mentally. It pushed the negative thoughts away.”

Whether being cheery helped or not, the Fillies and Broncs both had good team finishes. Led by Riley Smith’s top finish after being weakened by illness the last two weeks, Cody won the girls title and the boys placed third.

The Fillies won with 31 points, ahead of Lander’s 38, and Smith was 28 seconds ahead of second-place Delaney Sullivan of Lander in 19:19. 

The Broncs were third behind Lander and Worland. Senior Owen Preston ran his second-swiftest time of the season in 16:54, taking third in the individual standings.

Kirkham tries to flit around courses and pop up to yell encouragement to her runners whenever she can head them off, but the smile thing was a new strategy. The results were worth smiling about.

Baylee Stafford was third in the girls race, cracking 20 minutes with a 19:56 clocking. Emmy Bower seventh, Ashton Powell ninth and Ava Stafford, Baylee’s freshman sister, 11th.

The victory was a relief for Smith. Her last two races were disrupted by illness.

“It was pretty good,” Smith said. “I wasn’t really as fast as I wanted to be.”

However, she did contend with a new ailment – aching knees. Despite hard workouts, Smith did not blame that for her pain. While taking her dog for a walk, the pet yanked so hard on its leash she tumbled forward and banged both knees on the ground.

Several members of the squad had been laid low by illness, but the team was as fresh as could be this time.

“Finally, I think all the girls are all healthy,” Smith said.

Kirkham liked what she saw from healthy Ava Stafford and Powell, both of whom have struggled with sickness.

“They are definitely making some big strides now,” Kirkham said. She challenged them to get off the starting line faster and they did.

On the boys side, Kirkham was pleased at the results of three freshmen in the Broncs’ top six, with David Juergens seventh, Riley Nielson 28th and Kyle Graham 32nd.

Typically, Preston prefers to hang back at the start of races and then come on. This time, urged by Kirkham to take the pace out with Lander’s Kaleb Simonson, he started faster than normal.

“I thought I would see how I would do,” Preston said of going through a faster first mile. “I felt great. But I was tired in the second and third miles. I think it was a little bit because of our training.”

Kirkham has had the runners training hard with no tapering off for races. The plan is to peak for conference and state when the mileage drops and they won’t carry residual fatigue into races.

Becker, a sophomore, said he felt a little bit out of things right before the start of his race. He suffers from diabetes and he loaded up with a drink of Coca-Cola and two handfuls of Skittles. That last-minute sugar infusion worked wonders.

He placed ninth overall in 17:56 and would have been smiling even if Kirkham had not suggested such a plan. Becker adopted a race plan that was the reverse of Preston’s this time.

“I kind of changed my strategy up,” he said. “I went out slowly and passed a lot more people. I think only one person passed me.”

This may be the way to go for Becker the rest of the season.

“It was one of the best races I’ve ever had,” Becker said, “mentally and physically.”

Warrior Invite

Girls

Teams: 1) Cody 31; 2) Lander 38; 3) Thermopolis 93; 4) Worland 99; 5) Powell 115; 6) Lovell, 150. Incomplete teams Riverton, St. Stephen’s.

Cody individuals - 1)Riley Smith, 19:19; 3) Baylee Stafford, 19:56; 7) Emmy Bower, 20:39; 9) Ashton Powell, 20:41; 11) Ava Stafford, 20:44; 20) Rachel Sanchez, 22:58; 26) Nicole Wagler, 23:40.

Boys

Teams: 1) Lander 18; 2) Worland 68; 3) Cody 72; 4) Powell 98; 5) Riverton 104. Incomplete teams Lovell, Rocky Mountain, St. Stephens.

Cody individuals - 3) Owen Preston, 16:54; 7) David Juergens, 17:51; 9) Wyatt Becker, 17:56; 26) Braydon Bond, 19:23; 28) Riley Nielson, 19:34; 32) Kyle Graham, 20:08.

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