Lady ’Cats Valdez, Nanaeto off to State

Standing with head coach Daniel Holley (center), Ignacio Girls' Cross-Country members Avaleena Nanaeto (left) and Charlize Valdez (right) brave chilly, windy conditions before practice Monday, Oct. 21, for a photo five days before both were to run in Colorado Springs, representing IHS in the 2019 CHSAA State Championships' Class 2A girls' feature.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

Junior earns first berth, sophomore a second

After placing 73rd overall at the 2018 CHSAA Class 2A Girls’ State Cross-Country Championships, Ignacio then-freshman Avaleena Nanaeto was asked to single out one particular section of the Norris-Penrose Event Center course which she felt greatly slowed her pace.

“Probably the back part, where it’s just long,” she said, having clocked 24 minutes, 22.4 seconds in her first grand finale. “And then you have to go up some more hills – that’s where I got tired.”

“I was just hoping to have girls that were excited about running!” exclaimed then-head coach Marissa Duffey. “To qualify someone (for State) just makes my day even better, my season even better. The girls were proud of their teammate; we were just so excited.”

Under successor Daniel Holley, consider that excitement doubled.

Taking charge in 2019 of the second-year-reborn Lady Bobcat program, Holley – who presently teaches third grade at Ignacio Elementary School – expressed similar elation over seeing not only Nanaeto re-qualify for the penultimate race (set to begin at 10:20 a.m. this Saturday, Oct. 26), but also first-year harrier Charlize Valdez.

“They know each other, go to school together … they’ve known each other their whole lives,” Holley said earlier this week, “so seeing them come together … as a ‘team’ to accomplish a common goal has been incredible.”

“The girls really bought in on the plan and they came to practice every day, worked hard,” he continued, “and they’ve got to see the results of their training pay off.”

And at the 2A-Region IV Championships Friday afternoon, Oct. 18, both did right when it mattered most.

Competing in Delta on the speed-conducive Confluence Park course, Nanaeto punched her ticket to State with a 14th-place time of 21:48.96 – not far behind San Juan Basin Leaguer Ruby Tanguay of Telluride, who clocked a 13th-place 21:46.64.

Earning the 15th and final automatic-qualifying individual spot was West Grand’s Joy Hast, who finished nearly nine full seconds after Nanaeto, but only 2.33 before Oak Creek-based Soroco’s Eden Mayer.

Valdez, meanwhile, had already finished an outstanding second; her 20:41.77 was only slightly more than two ticks slower than the 20:39.49 of Grand Junction Caprock Academy’s Ashleigh Gardner. Paonia’s Katya Schwieterman (20:46.26) was not far behind in third place, and was actually first to log a ‘team’ point (Gardner, Valdez and Nanaeto ran as individuals).

Earning the team title with a score-3 low of 30 points was Carbondale-based Colorado Rocky Mountain School. Soroco followed with 31 and Rangely, with 32, was as close to the Lady Rams as the Lady Rams to the victorious Pearls.

Kremmling West Grand (34) and Paonia (49) rounded out the standings’ top five – securing the final State-qualifying berths – while SJBL squads Mancos (50), THS (67) and Ouray (70) followed, respectively, in sixth, seventh and eighth.

“It was a really big race for me; I’ve never really … ran cross-country,” Valdez said. “This is my first year doing it, so it being such a big race I was super nervous. Especially since we have such a small team! But once the race started I … followed the pack pretty much until I got at a comfortable pace where I knew I could kick it in at the right time: In the end.”

“It’s kind of crazy,” said Nanaeto, reminded that despite her well-known hoops affinity, she could conceivably become a four-time State Cross-Country qualifier by the end of her IHS days. “I didn’t join cross-country just to join it; I did it to get in shape for basketball … and here we are!”

“That’s a big deal to go to State … as an individual, without that whole team to pull you along,” Holley said, saluting the girls’ status in the context of one (Valdez) already owning State experience on the hardwood. “That’s no small order.”

“Both girls ran their hardest efforts of the season and did exactly what was asked of them … in Delta, which was finish in the top 15,” he noted. “The Delta performances were outstanding.”

Asked what she might like to change in her mechanics to increase her chances for success her second time around in Colorado Springs, Nanaeto kept her answer simple: “I feel more in shape,” she said, “but … I don’t know. Just run hard and do the same thing, try to do it better!”

“Probably will have more emotions once the time gets closer, but right now I’m just looking forward to some hard practices and getting up there, doing what I’ve got to do,” said Valdez. “It’s for sure going to be a really good experience; I’m both excited and nervous!”

“They’re going to have to run smart, pick a pack and run with that group,” Holley stated. “The course in Colorado Springs is a true cross-country course: You’ve got rolling hills, you’ve got prairie grass, dirt, you’ve got a creek bed. The girls are going to have to trust their training, they’ve seen these types of terrain before and understand that speed may not be the ultimate factor here.”

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