As cross country guard changes, Air Academy's Cal Banta tops Cheyenne's Thomas Chaston

Photo - Coronado High School holds the Cougar Classic Cross Country 5K at Monument Valley Park Thursday September 21, 2017. Photo by Jeff Kearney.
Coronado High School holds the Cougar Classic Cross Country 5K at Monument Valley Park Thursday September 21, 2017. Photo by Jeff Kearney.

The back tire of a pace bike: A nice-new vantage point for this year's top area distance runners.

Air Academy junior Cal Banta got around Cheyenne Mountain's Thomas Chaston late in the Coronado Cougar Classic at Monument Valley Park for the first high school cross country victory of his career, and teammate Dillon Powell followed in third in a race that may have signaled the next big thing from Colorado Springs' running scene.

Last year at the Cougar Classic, Banta was second and Powell was third behind former teammate and 4A defending champion Ethan Powell.

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Coronado Cougar Classic 5K

The elder Powell, who is running at Kansas State, was part of one of the fastest senior classes to ever come out of the area.

"In cross country, it's all about following somebody, whether it's a bike or somebody else," the junior Powell said. "We always had those guys to follow.

"It was even more for me, I slept under Ethan every night - we had a bunk bed."

Now that top spot is open.

On a warm afternoon, hundreds of runners zigged up, down and around the valley park over six races. Due to a timing system error, however, the Division I boys' and girls' team scores were not available by the awards ceremony as only the top-15 runners in each had been plugged into the system before the event ended. Air Academy's Sophia Braza placed second in the girls' race.

This much was certain, though: Banta can fly.

The Kadets junior pushed past Chaston with 800 meters to go to win the D-I race in 16 minutes, 15.56 seconds, while Chaston settled for second at 16:23.85.

For the Kokopelli club teammates it was a head-to-head rematch from the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede in August, where Chaston victoriously outkicked Banta in the final 100.

"Cal ended up getting me today, which is unfortunate," Chaston said. "But he had a good race and we're friends outside of running, so congrats to him."

Banta, for his part, hopes he can continue to improve and put himself in the mix at the state meet in October. Eager to put himself in even better company, he said he's trying to mirror another 2017 graduate, former The Classical Academy runner Tanner Norman, who rose to the top to win the 4A cross country title as a junior and the 3A title as a senior.

"I know I personally compare myself to Tanner Norman, just how he was doing his junior year," Banta said. "I am just working towards that and trying to improve even more."

First, he must find solace as the leader and not the follower.

"We're so used to Ethan, Tanner, (Widefield's) Max (Martinez) and (Montrose's) Ian (Meek) going out and leading races super fast," Banta said. "It's new for us to step up into that position."