Against the best female high school runners from the West on perhaps the toughest regional course in the nation, Bigfork freshman Makena Morley became one of the only girls in Montana history to qualify for the National Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.
On Dec. 3 at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., Morley placed third out of 139 seeded finishers at Foot Locker’s west regional championships, completing the grueling 5-kilometer course in 18:07 at a pace of 5:50 per mile. Karlie Garcia of Roseville, Calif., won with a time of 17:46 and Kelsey Braithwaite of Perry, Utah finished second at 17:55.
Paul Jorgensen, Flathead High School’s longtime and nationally recognized cross country coach, believes Morley is only the fifth girl from Montana to qualify for the Foot Locker nationals, which will be held Dec. 10 in San Diego at, fittingly, Balboa Park’s Morley Field.
“She’s an elite runner,” Jorgensen said.
Jorgensen traveled to the Foot Locker regionals with Flathead junior Zach Perrin, while Columbia Falls senior Derrick Williams and Glacier junior Troy Fraley also went with their coaches. Jorgensen said Morley traveled with her father.
This was the first time Jorgensen brought a runner down to regionals since 2006. Before that, he had taken runners to the meet 21 years in a row, including one year when he traveled with 25 runners from across the state.
Morley, who won the Class B state title in record-setting fashion in October, reminds Jorgensen of another great Flathead Valley runner.
“She’s comparable to Zoe Nelson right now,” he said. “And you don’t see too many kids like that come along.”
Nelson was a four-time Class AA champion at Flathead High School from 2001-2004 and ran the fastest times in state high school history before running at the University of Oregon. Nelson qualified for the Foot Locker national championships all four years in high school, including first-place finishes at regionals as a sophomore and junior. She was the national champion as a sophomore.
Jorgensen said the other three girls besides Nelson and Morley to qualify for Foot Locker nationals were Kathy Jarvis, a four-time Class A champion from Havre in 1982-1985, Heidi Lane, a two-time Class AA champion from C.M. Russell in 1999-2000, and Emily Nay, a two-time Class AA champion from Helena Capital in 1992-1993.
At the west regionals, Fraley was the top finisher of the Flathead Valley trio of boys. Fraley placed 29th out of 214 seeded finishers with a time of 16:24, a pace of 5:17 per mile. Perrin placed 47th with a time of 16:35 and Williams came in 54th at 16:44.
Their times were much slower than their average times during the high school cross country season, as was Morley’s, because of the course’s difficulty. Jorgensen said the course has three brutal hills that contribute to the considerably slower times.
“This is the toughest regional course in the United States,” Jorgensen said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Jorgensen said the national championships will be an opportunity for Morley to see where she stacks up against the nation’s elite.
“She’s going to be running against some of the best runners in the country,” he said.
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