SHERIDAN — All the talk surrounding Laramie last season centered around Philip Henry. Another in a lineage of cross-country standouts, Henry took home his first state championship in 2016.
But that was last year. This year was all about Albert Steiner.
The Plainsmen senior completed his triumphant season by pulling away from Henry in the final mile at Sheridan Veteran’s Affairs Hospital to win the Class 4A individual title at the 2017 Wyoming State High School Cross-Country Championships.
“It feels amazing,” Steiner said. “I’ve always wanted to win this race. I’ve been here since I was a freshman and seeing Chris (Henry) and Philip win was special, so I knew this race was going to be a lot of fun and it was important to me.”
He and Henry were neck and neck by the time they reached the second mile. Both ran into the face of a whipping wind and used its force when they turned their backs to it. But it was crunch time and Steiner knew he needed to begin his kick.
“Last week I went out too fast so I made sure I didn’t go out too fast in the first mile,” Steiner said. “The second mile was all downhill with that switchback, and I made sure I had my pace by that turn until the top of the hill because it’s all downhill from there.”
He finished with a time of 15 minutes, 55.06 seconds.
Laramie won the 4A team title on the strength of first-, second- and third-place finishes.
Steiner started the season with a win at the Kelly Walsh Beartrap Invite and won every in-state race he competed in. He is the first non-Henry brother to win the individual 4A title since 2012.
In Class 3A it was more Star Valley domination.
The Braves cruised to the team championship with five runners in the top seven. Junior Asefa Wetzel finished first, followed by senior Wes Kallgren in third, freshman Peter Visser in fifth, senior Trevor Clark sixth and sophomore Taylor Horsley seventh.
Despite his finish, the wind took a lot of energy out of Wetzel. He had problems facing it during the middle of the race as the course got further away from the safety of the hospital campus’s tall buildings.
“I was going to go for 15:30’s, 20’s,” he said, “but that wind on the back stretch way down towards mile two, it started to totally and completely stop me. I started pushing through hard on that hill and all the way up.”
Wetzel won by more than 10 seconds with a time of 16:28.38.
His teammates chased him for most of the season and the Braves continued to improve on their times throughout the season. It culminated in the sixth consecutive state title for the program.
“We believe in each other,” Wetzel said. “We’re a family no matter what. We train together and help each other.”
Kallgren finished third but was in a virtual tie with Worland’s Porter Harman. The two were jockeying for position down the final stretch and both leaned in across the finish line. Exhausted, Harman’s legs gave out on the stretch and both runners tumbled to the ground.
Sophomore Jerom Herring won the Class 2A individual championship for Saratoga-Encampment.
Typically, he liked to start each race this season slow so he could get a feel for the course, but he knew that was not going to be a luxury at the state meet.
“I knew that I was going to have to start out fast because our competition was fast this year,” he said. “I knew that if I started out slow like I usually do then I wouldn’t have been able to stay up front towards the end.”
His effort helped give his team a second-place finish as Wyoming Indian reclaimed its spot at the top of Class 2A. The Chiefs finished with four runners in the top 10 to give the program its 10th state championship in 11 years.