Northwest Montana’s cross country tradition is alive and well. From Bigfork to Whitefish, from Class B to AA, the Flathead Valley has no shortage of championship contenders heading into this weekend’s state cross country meet.
The all-class meet will be held on Saturday Oct. 24 at the University of Montana Golf Course in Missoula.
Flathead High School is looking to build on what is already considered the greatest long distance dynasty in Class AA. Since 1971, Flathead’s girls have won 15 state cross country titles and the boys have claimed 11, more than any other Class AA schools. The girls’ mark is the all-class record and the boys trail only Class A Browning – 22 – for the most overall.
This year’s boys team has been nearly as dominant as any in the school’s storied history. At the 12-team Flathead Invite earlier in the fall, the Braves turned in a nearly impeccable performance, claiming the top four spots and five out of the top six to cruise to first place. Last week at the Glacier Invite, a tune-up for state, Flathead runners took three out of the top four spots.
While some Flathead teams of the past have featured one prominent star – such as two-time state champion David Vidal – and a strong supporting cast, this year’s roster has a number of runners who have battled for first place at different meets this season.
Senior Leif Castren and freshman Zach Perrin each won big meets during the regular season, but several other Braves runners are expected to make noise at state, including Hunter Schutt, Brett Harrison, Alec Surynt, Jesse Bennett and Andy Wilson. The last time the boys won a title was 2005.
The Flathead girls haven’t been as dominant as their male counterparts, but they have proven they are yet again a state contender. Like the boys, the Bravettes are deep, with several different runners capable of turning in a big performance at any given meet.
They showcased this depth at the Glacier Invite, placing five girls in the top eight to give them momentum heading into the state meet. Paige Bouma won the event with a time of 19:06. At state, Bouma will be accompanied by Kathleen Barth, Rose Byrne, Sierra Maxwell, Breanna Leggitt, Cheyenne Cook and Hannah Macfarlane.
In Class A, the Whitefish girls are seeking their third straight state championship. If last week’s convincing victory at the Northwestern A divisional meet is any indication, the Bulldogs should be well positioned to defend their title. The Bulldogs placed four runners in the top five at divisionals, led by winner Bailey Eaton.
Senior Loni Hanson, who placed fifth at state last year and third at divisionals this year, is expected to be in the lead pack at this weekend’s meet. As a sophomore, Hanson won the individual title. Jessica Sagen, Carly Schwickert, Hannah Weaver, Nicole Birk and Anne Miller should also be competitive.
For Class A boys, Columbia Falls is expected to make a run at the title. The Wildcats finished second last year behind Hamilton and cruised to a first-place finish at last week’s divisional meet. At divisionals, the Wildcats claimed the top four spots.
Senior Patric Jessat, who won the divisional meet, is trying to better last year’s ninth-place finish at state. Fellow senior Shawn Whitman, who finished fourth at state last year, will battle for a top spot as well. Also in the mix are Justin Whitman, Derrick Williams, Pascal Jessat, Joe Gross and Kodiak Gimbel.
Several other runners from the region are heading into this weekend’s meet with hopes of placing high. In Class B, Bigfork senior Kayla Carlson is a top-five candidate. Carlson placed 13th as a sophomore and sixth as a junior in her last two state meets, when Bigfork was still in Class A.
Glacier junior Heather Fraley finished sixth at the Class AA state meet two years ago and eighth last year. She placed second at last week’s Glacier Invite. For Glacier boys, freshman Troy Fraley has consistently finished in the top five in meets this fall.
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