Young Annie Hill, in just her third high school cross country race, made her mark on the record books with an inspiring, stunning victory at the Mountain West Classic in Missoula last weekend. The fleet-footed freshman from Glacier ran three miles in 16 minutes, 39.64 seconds, one of the fastest times in state history and setting a new record at the state’s largest meet, held annually at the University of Montana Golf Course. It was Hill’s personal-best time by nearly a minute and stands out as the sixth fastest 3-mile time in the nation this fall, according to DyeStat.
Hill held off three-time Mountain West champion Makena Morley, who set the previous record of 16:43.42 a year ago, and Morley’s speedy freshman sister, Bryn.
Makena clocked 16:48.84, the 11th fastest time in the nation, and Bryn finished in 17:04.61. The next closest finisher was nearly 40 seconds behind.
Individually, each of the three girls’ races were worthy of accolades and celebration. Any other year, each of them would have triumphed.
The state of Montana has never seen three female runners like this before, not at the same time.
After only a few races, the extraordinary nature of these young women is coming into focus and should be recognized for what it is. This is lightning in a bottle. This is one of those rare, exciting seasons that only comes around so often.
It reminds me of the late ’90s and early 2000s when Flathead had a stable of remarkable runners who paced each other to historic status and commanded national attention. I still remember watching the 1999 state meet when the Braves individually finished first, second, fourth, sixth and eighth. That remains the best overall finish by a Class AA state-championship team in Montana history.
It also brings to mind 1985, when Eureka’s Shannon Butler was running sub 15-minute races alongside Flathead’s Scott Menghini. Butler went on to clock 14:37.7 that fall, which holds up as the all-class state record nearly 30 years later.
Now we have three young women here in the Flathead Valley who are running through an unforgettable fall season.
According to the Montana High School Association or any other source I’ve been able to find, only two women had broken the 17-minute mark in cross country before last weekend — Flathead’s Zoe Nelson and Makena Morley. Morley set a new all-class state record last year when she ran 16:35 at the Class B state meet on the University of Montana course. She also ran 16:50 in Helena. Nelson broke the 17-minute barrier twice, running 16:46 and 16:50 a decade ago.
Now add Hill to the history books.
Even if you’re not a fan of watching long distance running, I recommend coming out and cheering on these three local girls. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.