Niwot girls claim third consecutive 4A track and field title: “Those kids are running for each other”

LAKEWOOD — The official slogan for the Niwot track team this season was printed in capital letters on the back of their warmup shirts at the CHSAA state championships.

GRATITUDE.

The most dominant girls track program in Colorado is plenty thankful. Niwot claimed its third consecutive team title in Class 4A at Jeffco Stadium by a huge margin — 170 to 61 — over second-place Mullen. The Cougars, led by their dominant distance team, couldn’t be touched.

“The girls are pretty special,” longtime Niwot head coach Maurice Henriques said. “Those kids are running for each other.”

Niwot laid its championship groundwork from the very first event, the 100-meter hurdles, on a chilly Sunday morning. Cougars’ junior Kimora Northrup finished runner-up in the race last season and was the second seed entering this year’s finals. She broke through with a first-place time of 14.66 seconds.

“I cried when I came across the finish line. I’ve had a really rough season,” said Northrup, who dealt with bouts of cold and flu illnesses throughout the year. “I let all of my emotions out of the blocks and it carried me through the race. It feels really good to win.”

Niwot’s remaining seven championship performances from the long weekend — 4×400, 4×800, sprint medley, 400-meter, 800-meter, 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter races — were more predictable.

Senior Eva Klingbeil, committed to run for North Carolina, claimed titles in the 1,600-meter  (4:49.66) and 3,200-meter (10:29.62) races. Her teammate, junior Madison Shults, swept the 400-meter (56.05) and 800-meter (2:08.33) competitions. Additional Niwot runners loaded up the podium on all four events.

“We want to be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves,” Klingbeil said. “We’re really just out here trying to score as many points for the team.”

Shults added: “I was ecstatic. It’s great to know that all of my girls are next to me. Everyone I train with every day. They’re like my family.”

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An eternal bond shared between the Niwot girls is no accident. It’s all part of a strong team culture established over many years under the watch of Henriques, a former CU football player in the 1990s for legendary Buffs head coach Bill McCartney. He’s counted as one of several mentors who molded Henriques’ coaching style.

“One of the best things we do every year is our green chair ceremony,” Henriques said. “In the last week leading up to state, we get our seniors and put out a green chair. Then all the kids get to talk about how important they are. Then (the seniors) get to have the last word. … There are a lot of tears. The coaches cry. For me, that’s what is most important.”

The Niwot girls will turn the page quickly in pursuit of their next goal — a fourth consecutive state championship in 2023. Maintaining a Colorado track dynasty requires an extreme work ethic that is now part of the Cougars’ running DNA.

“We’ll be back to work on Monday,” Henriques said. “That’s what people don’t realize. You see the end result. But that’s kids and coaches giving up a lot of time. When you put that much time in, you’re not surprised by the results.”

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