High School Athlete of the Year

Elise Cranny didn’t just enter the record book during last spring’s high school track and field championships; she rewrote the whole thing.

She started her efforts by setting a new state record (in all classes) in the 3,200-meter run, finishing in 10:17. The run was four seconds faster than legendary Boulder standout Melody Fairchild’s record of 10:21 set in 1991.

Yet, Cranny almost seemed disappointed with the effort afterwards.

“I wanted to be a little bit closer to 10 (minutes), but it ended up being kind of windy and I didn’t feel as good as I thought; but I still got it, so I’m happy about that,” Cranny told CHSAANow.com after setting the record.

Translation: No one in Colorado has ever run that fast in this particular race, but it wasn’t quite up to her standards.

It’s that kind of performance and mentality that made Cranny a perfect choice as the Mile High Sports Magazine’s High School Athlete of the Year.

Cranny’s record-setting weekend continued with a win in the 800-meter run (although that race was much closer than most thought it would be) and the 1,600. Cranny’s last-second push gave her the 800 title, while her 1,600 time of 4:47.54 was good enough for another all-class state record.

The three individual titles for Cranny paved the way for Niwot to claim the 4A girls’ team championship. But gold and championships were nothing new for Cranny, who claimed her first-ever state title during the cross-country season in her sophomore season.

That win came in dramatic fashion, as Cranny trailed by a wide gap with 300 meters remaining, but mustered up every bit of energy she had and was able pull ahead to claim the top spot. She pointed to that race as the turning point of her high school career and gave her the confidence that she could win at the top level.

“That definitely helped me a lot and helped me learn that you always have something left at the end,” she said.

She also used that lesson as she competed at the national level. While at the Mt. Sac Relays in California, she ran the best 800-meter race of all runners in the country. If that wasn’t impressive enough, she also ran the second-fastest 1,500-meter race.

The ability to compete at the national level certainly paid off, as Cranny was offered a scholarship at Stanford, where she is currently a student-athlete on both the cross country and track teams.

But for one of the most decorated runners in the state’s history, it was always the competition at the high school level, with the girls she knew, that she preferred the most. National recognition apparently didn’t produce quite the same thrill as competing against rivals that had grown together through their high school careers.

“(State) meets are just a lot more fun, because you have all your teammates there and know a bunch of people,” she said. “It’s really fun to be able to run against people that you know. It’s just more fun and there’s more energy.”

Through an intensely competitive field of high school athletes, it was Cranny and her record-setting performances in May that stood out above the rest. She didn’t just have an outstanding senior year, but she became the yardstick by which future runners will be measured. Her ability to finish races with that remarkable final surge is what consistently set her apart from the vast group of Colorado’s excellent field of distance runners.

Most were good. Some were great. But she was the best.

{Dan Mohrmann}

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Finalists

Diani Akigbogun
Regis Jesuit High School
Girls’ Basketball

Diani Akigbogun could be described as the ideal all-around threat. During a season in which Regis Jesuit failed to lose to a Colorado team, Akigbogun ranked second on her team in total points (396), but easily topped the stat sheet in rebounds (201) and blocked shots (27). The Raiders’ success certainly came on a team effort, but it was hard not to notice Akigbogun above the rest of her team. She especially stood tall in the 5A state title game, where her 23 points paced the Raiders to a 60-34 win over Fossil Ridge for the team’s second straight state championship.

Alexa Smith
Lewis-Palmer High School
Volleyball

From across the Denver Coliseum, it wasn’t hard to tell when Alex Smith had executed a flawless kill. The chants of “Hammer! Hammer!” rang through the site of the state volleyball tournament, as Smith – a Purdue University commit and Olympic hopeful – brought home a second consecutive title for the Rangers. Smith finished her year with 362 kills, more than twice as many as any of her teammates. She also helped the Rangers finish the season ranked as the nation’s top team according MaxPreps.com. Not too shabby for a girl from the northern suburbs of Colorado Springs.

Dom Collier
Denver East High School
Boys’ Basketball

Dom Collier is good at basketball. It wasn’t his leadership in the 2014 5A state championship game that best justifies that statement (although he was excellent in that game, too). But rather, it was his performance in the quarterfinals. With his team trailing Highlands Ranch after the first quarter, Collier decided enough was enough. He scored all 15 points for the Angels in the second quarter and the first 11 of the third. By the end of his run, Collier himself had outscored Highlands Ranch 26-25. His team went on to win that game and the next two to claim a state title. Collier now runs the floor at the Coors Events Center as a member of Tad Boyle’s Buffs.

Phil Downing
Broomfield High School
Wrestling

Phil Downing never lost in the four years he competed in the state wrestling tournament at Pepsi Center. Before him, there had only been 16 wrestlers dating back to 1956 that had won four state titles. In the midst of doing something the wrestling tournament hadn’t seen since 2010, Downing’s performance was also key to Broomfield bringing home the 4A team title. He long had a desire to continue his wrestling career in college and is currently doing so at Notre Dame College in Cleveland, Ohio. His main goal as he reflected on the start of his college career? “I want to win four titles there, too.”

Milo Hall
Cherry Creek High School
Football

There may not be a more defining image of this year’s 5A state championship football game than Milo Hall getting into the end zone on a 24-yard run, his facemask dragging a Valor Christian defender with him in the process. Hall finished the game with 203 rushing yards and two touchdowns, as the Bruins ended the Eagles run of 26-straight playoff wins – this coming just more than a month after he helped the Bruins end Valor’s 28-game, in-state winning streak with a 33-17 at Cherry Creek’s Stutler Bowl. Hall finished his season with 2,289 rushing yards (tops in the state at any classification) and 29 rushing touchdowns. He was hands down the best running in the state and the MVP of the Bruins first state title team since 1996.

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