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Column: Championships are Won in the Preparation

The lessons both on and off the field drive our students to excel in sports and beyond.
Addison Ritzenhein crosses the finishline as she wins the Nike Cross National Championship

Setting the Pace | Niwot High Cross Country

The Saturday morning of the state championships was what all the runners were waiting for. A single race to run and prove to everyone that the Niwot High School Cross Country team had earned their place at the top of the podium. The anticipation before the starting pistol, the hustle in the first leg to find one’s pace and establish a position, and the final kick at the end of five kilometers (5K) to leave everything on the course are defining moments for these athletes.

Before the Colorado State Cross Country Championship race, Niwot sophomore Addison Ritzenhein knew that she wasn’t going to be runner-up again. Her preparation didn’t just start this year. It was established at a young age and fostered by her parents, teachers, mentors, and coaches over the years. Addison believes that keeping her training simple and consistent are some of the keys to her success. 

Addison shares, “I feel like my training regiment is pretty straight forward. I simply trust the process and believe in my coaches and let my teammates carry me with them. It takes a great deal of dedication to be a part of this team because we all count on each other to be the best we can be. That’s what makes this team so special.”

Breaking those limits is what Addison was pursuing through all of her training, and it was at this moment when she needed to transcend them. At the end of the 5K, she soared through the finish line with a confident stride that came only with knowing she had given her everything. Addison’s everything ended up being more than enough. She crossed the line in first place and set a new state record, smashing the previous best by nearly 31 seconds. Addison took home the individual race title to complement Niwot’s sixth straight team championship for both the girls and the boys teams. 

Winning a state championship is usually the end of the race for most teams. However, there was no doubt that this Niwot team was destined for even greater accomplishments as both the girls and boys teams received an invitation to compete in the Nike Cross National Championships in Portland, Oregon in December. Competing against the best runners across the country provided an opportunity for these athletes to place an exclamation point on an already successful season. Addison took that opportunity and ran across the finish line with it, claiming her first individual national championship victory, a fitting end to her historical season.

Addison humbly stated, “It is surreal to think that I could accomplish something like this because I didn’t really think about an individual title, I was more focused on my team. It was incredible to have my family, friends, coaches, and teammates be there and celebrate a victory that can be shared with everyone.

The Lights Shine Bright | Erie High Football

As November draws to a close, a crisp chill permeates the air, setting a perfect backdrop for the Friday night lights that illuminate the countryside. Under the bright lights and amidst the roaring cheers, the team comes alive, embodying the spirit of the sport they deeply love. They revel in the thrill of chasing the first down, the intensity of making a crucial stop on third down and one, and the exhilaration of catching the perfect spiral for a touchdown. 

Erie football senior quarterback Blake Barnett knew he was going to sacrifice more this year because he understood that to be great, it was going to take extra effort. Records come and go, and can be a distraction for some, but on October 20, 2023, Blake made history by eclipsing the NFL star, Christian McCaffery. A moment that celebrates a season and career that demonstrates not only Blake’s talent, but his commitment to the sport and his team. 

Blake accomplished something impressive as an individual player, but he knew that it was his team that made it a possibility. While most high school students were home enjoying time with their family over Thanksgiving break, the Erie football team was layered in warm clothes as the fall temperature lowered with the sun, ready for another intense week of practice as they prepared for their next playoff game. 

“It gets more important and more special every time you have a practice because you get to have to practice,” reflected Blake. “You’re outside going through the mud and the thick of everything because you’ve earned it and you continue to have the opportunity.” 

He recognizes that hard moments are temporary, that the impact of the work they do now and the memories they are forging will last well beyond high school. All of the sweat, long practices, and study sessions paid off on December 2, 2023. In a matchup of Colorado state football juggernauts, the undefeated and first-ranked Palmer Ridge Bears faced off with the equally impressive second-seed Erie Tigers. In the waning minutes of the game, with a single score that separated the two teams, Blake was hit with an ankle injury. After an evaluation by the coaches and athletic trainers, Blake continued to play with steadfast determination and the support of the whole team. Barnett marched the team down field and handed off to running back, Braylon Toliver, who scored the go-ahead touchdown to cement the team as the 2023 4A state champions. Standing at the peak of the Colorado state football championships is what Blake and his teammates will take with them for a lifetime.

A Season of Firsts | Mead High Girls Lacrosse

The Mead High girls lacrosse team was doing something no one had done before. Not because there was a lack of drive, effort, or talent, but because this was the very first year that the girls lacrosse program had ever existed. As the team rose through the ranks during the season, there was no question as to their talent, but one question remained – can they take on the best and walk away champions? Achieving the unprecedented requires courage, grit, and leadership. Mead High School sophomore, Emmy Tecu, embodies these qualities, understanding that excellence demands commitment and near-obsessive determination. Emmy spoke to the mentality of the team and how coaches helped to set common goals with action steps to attain them. “Our big focus was to come in every single day with all of our efforts and to be good teammates.” 

Emmy and her teammates faced their moment with poise. There is no better way to calm nerves than to be prepared, and as Emmy confidently stated, “We were ready.” On May 19, 2023, after a fierce battle with Castle View High School – the only team they had lost to in the regular season – they emerged victorious, leaving no room for doubt with a score of 13 to 5. The Mead team lifted the championship trophy high, a symbol of their dedication and hard work. First place for St. Vrain’s first team in its first year.

Championships are Won in the Preparation

The competitive drive of sports is powerful. It’s something that lives deep and fuels the fire to push past our physical and mental limits. Newbery honor-winning author Alan Armstrong wrote, “Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months, and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.” The very character that leads to success in all aspects of life. As Niwot Cross Country Coach Kelly Christensen reflects, “The characteristics that competitive sports, or any extracurricular activity, help build is immeasurable.” Amongst a long list of qualities, Christensen says that athletes learn to “believe anything is possible through consistent hard work and the right support system.”

How we measure success can be different from task to task. Sports offer a clear score. We know that despite these triumphant stories of district accomplishments, sports also offer opportunities for success in the day-to-day grind. Players are learning and executing plans, building relationships alongside persistence, communicating effectively in moments of high stress, leading under pressure, and building a positive team culture. 

St. Vrain gives opportunities for students to compete in a wide range of athletics from sixth grade through their senior year. At every stage, dedicated coaches are helping players connect lessons learned on the field, track, and court to the rigorous academic challenges they face in the classroom. So whether an athlete walks away with a trophy or not, the life lessons that they carry with them are what will make them champions, proving that true victories – both on and off the field – are won in the preparation.