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How Taylor James, Niwot used rock to roll to Class 4A girls title

How Taylor James, Niwot used rock to roll to Class 4A girls
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LAKEWOOD — Taylor James doesn’t just march to the beat of her own drum. She runs to it, man. Any chance she gets.

“She loves a lot of Joy Division,” the Niwot track star’s father, Randy, said Saturday as her daughter cleaned up — again — at the CHSAA state track and field championships at Jeffco Stadium.

“She goes way back. She uses it, a little, to get her psyched up. And it’s neat. It’s something she and I can share. Her mom kind of shakes her head every once in a while.”

As moms do whenever they catch a teenager in 2021 jamming out to ‘80s Brit rockers such as Ultravox. Or to “Blue Monday” by New Order, Taylor’s pre-race jam of choice.

Nice track. Not a track song.

“But it gets me in the zone,” the senior and Stanford commit said with a laugh after adding three more state titles Saturday to a CV that now features 10 picked up in since 2018. “Just the drums. Even though it’s like 8 minutes long. Or Depeche Mode. Just all the dark wave stuff.”

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Hey, whatever works.

With a strong closing kick, James powered past Mullen’s Kaleah Ruff, 24.61 seconds to 24.83, on Saturday to win the Class 4A girls 200 meters.

Earlier in the day, the Niwot senior outpaced Chelsie Emmerson of Standley Lake in the 400 meters, 54.69 to 57.93. James also ran the anchor leg of Niwot’s winning 4-by-100 relay.

“I was a little nervous coming off the 400,” James admitted. “Luckily, I was able to stay calm, stay focused, and kind of focus on the mantra.”

Which is?

“’Your race, your space.’”

Your race, your space was a line from a Baylor runner that Taylor and Randy heard during an interview. They loved it. Adopted it.

“I said, ‘That’s a good thing to stick in my mind,’” the younger James explained.

The track at Jeffco and its red-brick hues will stick in her mind, too, now that you mention it. Forever. James and the Niwot girls on Saturday romped to the 2021 4A team title thanks to a whopping 183 points — 135 more than runner-up Mullen’s 48.

It was the Cougars’ fifth state girls team title since 2010 and their second in the last two CHSAA full-season cycles. Niwot also won the 2019 crown, but the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 state championships.

So, yeah.

She’s gonna miss this place.

“You can barely hear your own breathing when you’re coming down the homestretch,” Taylor said. “But that’s OK, because that kind of distracts me some from some of the pain that you’re going through, right?

“Yeah, it’s just really the atmosphere. The running community. The fact that I can hear my teammates a little louder than anybody else. It fills my bucket up.”

If not for the pandemic, James might’ve filled her trophy case with 14 or 15 CHSAA crowns. Heck, maybe more.

The Niwot senior said she’d spent the spring of 2020 with no state title to chase, “just kind of focusing on things besides track and field, which had always kind of been my main focus. When that was taken away, I had to try and find other things to take my energy and my focus. Family. School. I took up photography for a little bit. And (played) a lot of video games.”

She played a lot of tracks, too. See, Randy used to manage a record store, which meant the James family’s music library was eclectic, stocked with darn near every genre and form of media available.

Alas, Randy said the family’s moving to Arizona soon now that Taylor’s heading off to college. Which left dad to get rid of six boxes of LPs and three more full of compact discs. He gave Taylor first crack at cherry-picking her favorites before electing to donate the rest.

“She took pictures of them and asked questions,” Randy recalled. “Then she took out like 25 of them and hid them in her closet. Picture discs. John Foxx. Ultravox.”

Hey, once you start riding a dark wave, you let it take you all the way to the top.

“I’m so appreciative of some of the accolades I’ve gotten over the years,” James said. “But I really want to be remembered as a great team leader.

“At the end of the day, Niwot is a family. It’s my second family. Everybody on the team feels that way. So I really hope that I made them proud.”

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