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Photo by Tamie Meck Nora Dransfield holds the lead against Maddie Haller of Fruita and Hana Hollenbeck of Delta in the final 50m of the Delta Pantherfest Invitational. The Paonia girls are in good position to qualify their first full team for state since 2013.
Photo by Tamie Meck Paonia sophomore Elijah Evans runs the final 400m Friday at the Pantherfest meet at Confluence Park in Delta.

Fast starts test Paonia XC team

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Paonia senior Caden Meilner is well on his way to a third consecutive state qualification in cross country after finishing 17th out of 124 runners at last Friday's Pantherfest invitational run. Meilner finished in 17 minutes, 20.17 seconds and placed fourth among class 2A runners.

The competition was noticeably faster this year, with winner Evan Graff breaking the 2015 course record held by Ian Meek of Montrose with a time of 15:53.53. "It was one of the fastest starts I've seen in a while," said Meilner.

The fast pace helped push several runners to their best times yet. Among them, junior Harley Ewert's time of 18:01.91 and Ethan Bartlett time of 18:02.07 both set personal records.

Paonia placed seventh out of nine scoring teams with 178 points. Logan Green's time of 18:19.47, Ben O'Rourke's 18:34.05 and Elijah Evans' 18:36.02 were all personal best times. First-year senior Orin Blankenship's time of 23:56 was more than two minutes ahead of his personal record.

Next Thursday, Paonia will attempt to qualify its first boys team for state competition since 2013, which was also the first year Paonia had a cross country program.

The Paonia girls scored 140 points to place fifth overall. Despite a fast start, Katya Schwieterman's time of 20 minutes, 38.09 seconds was good for a 22nd place in a field dominated by 4A and 5A runners.

The course feels flat and it's easy to start out fast, said Schwieterman. About the time she hit the one-mile mark she realized, "Oh, dang it! I have two miles left." Despite the fast start, she had her best time yet and finished almost two minutes ahead of last year's Pantherfest race.

Brooke Hillman finished 30th with a time of 21:10.88. Alex Eaton's time of 21:55.03 was good for 28 points, Nora Dransfield scored 37 points, Jade Ellenberger 43, Abby Reedy 44, and Jordan Evans scored 57 points.

Battle Mountain (4A, Region 1) had 12 runners in the top 20 to win the meet with 20 points, and 4A Eagle Valley's Joslin Blair won the race with a time of 17:53.78.

Schwieterman and Hillman finished fourth and fifth among Class 2A runners. With less than a week before the state-qualifying regional meet on Oct. 20, Schwieterman said she's surprised even herself at how much she's improved. "Something happened to me between track and the time cross country started," she said. She discovered she can push herself a lot harder than she realized. During practice, she said, she started to realize she still had Hillman, a two-time state qualifier, in her sight. She got closer and closer, and was soon keeping up with Hillman.

Having a strong runner like Hillman "as a metric" in practice helped her realize she can push herself a lot harder than she ever imagined, said Schwieterman.

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