Cross country runners will hit the wooded trails today east of Bayfield for the annual Bayfield Invitational.
More than 400 runners from 15 schools in Southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico will compete in six divisions at the annual cross country festival at Sauls Creek.
Middle school runners will kick off today's meet with the girls race starting at 9 a.m. and the boys next at 9:30 a.m.
Junior varsity runners will tackle the challenging, up-and-down course through the forested terrain at 10 a.m. (boys) and 10:30 a.m. (girls).
The varsity girls race will begin at 11:15 a.m.
The varsity boys race, featuring the returning 1-2-3 runners from a year ago, will conclude the racing at 11:45 a.m.
"We're anticipating a really good race in the boys (varsity)," Bayfield head coach and meet director Pat Vaughn said Friday, the morning before the race.
"We have the top three finishers from last year all back, and they are all stronger and faster," said Vaughn, citing the entry of Evan Bekes of Bloomfield, N.M., Tyler Williams of Telluride and John Cusick of the host Wolverines.
"And Eric Lewis of Mancos will be here, and he's a strong runner," Vaughn said.
Bekes, who won the Class 3A New Mexico state cross country title last year, will be running for his third consecutive title at the Bayfield Invitational.
Williams captured the 2A state title in Colorado in 2009.
Cusick and Lewis had stellar cross country and track seasons for the Wolverines and Bluejays, respectively.
Williams is coming off a strong second-place finish in the Pre-State Invitational in Aurora last weekend in a race the Telluride runner led for much of the way.
They'll be competing against runners from Montezuma-Cortez, Pagosa Springs, Farmington, Piedra Vista, Kirtland Central, Shiprock, Aztec and Durango. The Demons will send a large JV contingent to Bayfield today along with several varsity runners.
"Our boys ran really well at Pre-State," Vaughn said of Cusick and his teammates. "Cole Bryson had a breakout race."
The BHS boys finished eighth out of 34 teams.
The BHS girls were 10th.
Cusick, a senior, was 11th in the boys race.
Bryson, a junior, was 15th.
Freshman Danielle Miller led the Bayfield girls in 24th.
Senior Erika Newell was 26th.
"Erika is running really well for us right now," said Vaughn, adding that several of the Wolverines are fighting illness and may sit out today's races.
"Our kids all really enjoy running on their home course. They have a sense of pride, partly in the difficulty of the course," the BHS coach said.
"Parents and friends get to see the kids race. That's a little extra incentive," he said.