* Cheyenne Mountain's Aiden Le Roux is one of the team's top runners and a rising star to watch
Photo Credit: Colorado MileSplit
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"Don't say the B word," Sean O'Day tells me.
The Cheyenne Mountain head cross country coach is talking about Boulder, Colorado, the city whose reputation within the state closely identifies with all-things-running, from hobby joggers to professional beasts. Boulder is the home to the University of Colorado's men's and women's cross country teams, the fast-emerging On Athletics Club and, well, one of the best high school running programs in the U.S.: Niwot.
Roughly 100 miles south, you'll find Colorado Springs, perhaps a close second with all things athletic -- the U.S. Olympic Training Center, for example, is located here.
You'll also find O'Day and his hungry group of runners, the Cheyenne Mountain High School boys cross country team. Since 2019, this squad has morphed into one of the top programs in the country. Over the last two years, it's been led by O'Day.
Their most recent peak came in 2021 and 2022, on the heels of two state team titles at the Colorado Class 4A Championships. But Cheyenne Mountain's sustained success is only just forming.
And so, sometimes O'Day can't help it. There are some things the program is still aspiring to be. A pseudo-rivalry with Niwot -- and Boulder -- keeps this team honest.
"That type of rivalry should be everywhere," said O'Day, who was named Coach of the Year in Colorado by the USTFCCCA last fall.
This weekend will mark an important next step for the Hawks. The Colorado Class 4A runner-ups will enter the RunningLane Cross Country Championships on Saturday as the top seed and among the favorites to contend for a title -- Niwot, meanwhile, will be at Nike Cross Nationals.
Winning would be great. But the more important aspect to O'Day's mission, he says, is to build toward the future.
Still, winning? No Colorado team has ever won RunningLane.
"There are going to be quite a few strong teams that are going to give us a run for our money," said O'Day, whose team finished 21st in the gold race last year and will be seeking a better finish. "We want to get battle-hardened. Every race is another learning experience to prepare you for the next one."
Maybe we'll table that for the day.
In order to look forward, though, O'Day sometimes looks to the past. Cheyenne Mountain's first state wins may have taken place in 2010 -- the boys and girls actually won dual 4A titles that season -- but 2021 was an all-timer.
That year, six seniors and a junior executed on the race of a lifetime, averaging 14:49 for 5,000 meters as the Hawks finished second to Newbury Park -- which averaged 14:14 for 5K. The headlines went to Newbury Park. But Cheyenne Mountain had achieved a feat most remarkable: The second-fastest team average ever recorded in high school history.
"It was a neat little situation to fly under the radar with such a strong squad," said O'Day, who was an assistant at the time to Stan Lambros. "I don't know what it is, but Colorado teams, we always end up with a chip on our shoulder."
Two years later, that whole team is gone.
Aidan Le Roux and Brogan Collins, however, were both in Huntsville that day in 2021 as eighth- and ninth-graders. Their brothers, Erik Le Roux and Cedar Collins, both ran.
* A Cheyenne Mountain runner finishes the Colorado State championships in October
Photo Credit: Jen Jardeleza
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"They got to see that race," O'Day said. "2021 was a really special year."
What was that day worth to them?
It's hard to say whether memories have a say on future success, but there's no denying this Colorado team remembers the success of yesteryear -- and that it's not even that far off. While graduation has hit Cheyenne Mountain hard over the last two seasons, each team has kept coming back firing.
O'Day has a simple reason why Cheyenne Mountain continues to improve toward the end of the season. His training methodologies are influenced from the likes of Steve Magness to the Italian Renato Canova, who believed in a funnel model of development.
"We slowed down when we were doing speed," O'Day said, generalizing. "And we sped up when we're doing endurance work."
But another core influence on O'Day is his own background as a Minnesotan youth. The 48-year-old, a computer science teacher, was a part of Wayzata High School's first state title program in 1992. Yes, that Wayzata.
"The most transformative experience of my life was being a part of bringing that state championship to that school," he said.
O'Day knows each year can bring something to the table. Development sometimes comes down to belief.
For the last three years, each and every Cheyenne Mountain team has bought into the plan. Two state wins and a runner-up finish have been the results of those seasons.
To have the opportunity to compete for titles, you must work for it.
"Turning those kids into state and regional and bigger competitors, they know it can be done," O'Day said. "There's that belief that the people before them have made the jumps. Therefore, they can do it to if they work hard enough."