In the blink of an eye, the high school cross country season has blazed by and is now down to the final races.
The all-class state championship meet is Oct. 21 in Helena, and runners from across the Flathead Valley are chasing medals in the exciting finale.
The final tune-up of the fall season felt like one of the first. Glacier High School hosted an invitational last week before runners made the trip to Helena this week. For Flathead Valley teams, it marked a well-deserved chance at normal competition after several hurdles this season. Upwards of 10 days of practice were impacted in late August and early September due to severe wildfire smoke that forced teams to train indoors. And then five days of school-related activities were canceled due to a series of cyber threats in mid-September. Altogether, runners at some local schools lost out on three races.
“It’s been tough, but it makes me tougher,” Glacier senior Annie Hill said.
Hill is wrapping up her remarkable prep career with one last in-state cross country race. Last season she placed seventh at the state meet, clocking 17:36.65. This season she has struggled with tightness in her IT bands, and she has also missed some competition due to college visits. But she said she feels rested and ready for a strong finish.
“I’m going to be fresh at state,” she said. “I just want to run the best I can and to the best of my abilities.”
Entering the final weeks of the season, a lineup of local runners shined with limited preparation. At the Capital City 7 on 7 meet two weeks ago in Helena, Glacier and Flathead boasted some of the top performances. The Glacier boys placed second as a team and Flathead was third. On the girls side, Flathead placed third.
Flathead’s Ben Perrin placed third overall, clocking 16:12.52. Perrin trained all summer leading up to the fall season and sought the advice of his older brothers, Zach and Jake, who both run at the collegiate level. They helped him with endurance and sprint training and other tips, including nutrition, all of which helped them achieve state-championship success. Perrin, a junior, hopes to follow the same recipe.
“It’s definitely nice having both brothers to help me along the way,” he said. “I’m going for it.”
Perrin’s teammate Alex Murphy placed ninth at 7 on 7, clocking 17:22, and Keaton Fischer was 16th, 17:59.
The Glacier boys are hoping to build on last year’s third-place team trophy. At last week’s Glacier Invitational, three runners clocked under 17 minutes: Aren Alexander-Battee (16:30), Elijah Boyd (16:39) and Simon Hill (16:39).
“We’ve just been building off last year. We’re still growing as a team,” Boyd said afterward.
“Our leadership on this team has been awesome.”
Flathead’s Kaitlin Wride, who placed 13th at state a year ago, won her final tune-up race, clocking 19:44 to win the Glacier Invite.
“I can’t believe it’s already state but we’re excited,” she said. “I feel stronger than I have been the last few years. I’m just ready to race and ready to compete.”
At the state championship meet in Helena, the Class AA boys race starts at 1:40 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21. The Class AA girls race starts at 2:45 p.m.
The Whitefish girls look ready to race after another team trophy. The Bulldogs, who placed second at the state meet a year ago, won the Western A Divisional title last weekend. Four runners placed in the top 15: sixth-place Ella Greenberg (19:55); 13th-place Jessica Henson (20:22); 14th-place Katie Arterburn (20:36) and 15th-place Josephine Vardell (20:38).
Polson’s Beatrix Frissell won the divisional title, clocking 18:36. Teammate Naima Crowl was fifth, 19:21.
On the boys side, Gabe Knudsen is leading Columbia Falls, which placed third as a team at the divisional meet. Knudsen placed fifth, 16:32. Joe Lamb placed ninth, 17:03.
At the state championship meet, the Class A boys race starts at 11 a.m. The Class A girls race starts at noon.
Bigfork senior Bryn Morley is running her final in-state 5K with a third Class B championship in mind. Morley placed second at the Helena 7 on 7 meet two weeks ago, which was held on the same course as the state meet. Morley clocked 18:10. At the Western B Divisional race in Thompson Falls, she won in 18:08.3. Her talented teammates helped Bigfork win the divisional trophy. Anya Young, a junior, placed second in 19:55 and Alicia Kalenak, a junior, placed fourth in 21:32. The Bigfork girls placed second as a team at last year’s state meet.
Eureka’s Mckay Guckenberg placed third (20:53) at the divisional race. Teammate Brooke Price placed fifth, 21:35.
On the boys side, Eureka’s Alex Lowe placed second at the divisional race, clocking 17:48. The Eureka boys team won the division trophy with three runners in the top six: Lowe; fourth place Garrett Bates (17:57); and sixth-place Hunter Steele (18:12).
At the state championship meet, the Class B boys race starts at 11:30 a.m. The Class B girls race starts at 12:35 p.m.