The Gazette Preps Girls' Cross Country Coach of the Year: Rob Collins, Palmer Ridge

Photo - Rob Collins, Palmer Ridge girls' cross country coach (Photo via Twitter)

Rob Collins, Palmer Ridge girls' cross country coach (Photo via Twitter)

Palmer Ridge cross country coach Rob Collins believes the true mark of a strong cross country program is success from both the boys and girls teams.

At Palmer Ridge, state championships seemingly have become the measure of success.

If the Bears aren’t there already, they’re certainly getting closer.

The Palmer Ridge boys won a second consecutive state championship this fall, the boys' third team title in the past four years.

Collins helped the Bears girls continue their climb toward a Class 4A state title, coaching the team to a second-place finish Oct. 28 at the Norris-Penrose Event Center course to earn Gazette Peak Performer Girls’ Cross Country Coach of the year.

“Our girls team really made a big jump through this last year,” Collins said.

The Bears were fourth in 2015, and third last year before taking another step in the right direction this fall.

That leaves one more step, chasing down a Battle Mountain program that had four runners - two seniors - in the top 16 at state.

“Now the whole goal is getting them next year,” Collins said.

“We know that we’re very capable. Right now, it’s just putting that puzzle together.”

The 2017 pieces came in different forms. Collins balanced a trio of underclassmen in freshmen Isabella Prosceno and Maren Busath and sophomore Anna Busath - the Bears’ top three finishers at state - with seniors Nicole Phaneuf and Madeleine Bonneau - Nos. 4 and 5, respectively. Beyond that, first-year runner Riley Colby and junior Emily Gentry rounded out the seven state runners.

Less than a minute separated Anna Busath and Gentry at state.

“Our girls team just got stronger and better,” Collins said.

Collins also had his work cut out for him on the boys’ side. The Bears lost three runners to the collegiate ranks from the 2016 championship team, and a rash of illness and injury hindered the 2017 squad for much of the season. The Bears didn’t have their best team race together until the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference meet. They were able to put it all together by the time regional and state rolled around, however.

“We decided not to run other people’s race and decided to run our race,” Collins said. “It really paid off.”

While the Palmer Ridge girls will miss the leadership and ability of Phaneuf - a Tulane signee - and Bonneau, the Bears have set their sights on the final step to the top of the podium in 2018.

“The girls wanted to be known as being just as good as the guys,” Collins said.

The Palmer Ridge coach is leading the girls down the right path.