Sports

Guide to State Cross Country: Boys

Bozeman seeks 13th consecutive title; Eureka and Manhattan Christian favored to repeat while Columbia Falls faces tough repeat odds

All-Class State Meet
Friday and Saturday, Oct. 23-24

Rebecca Farm
Kalispell

One of the biggest COVID-19 changes to cross country this season was travel restrictions that prevented any Class AA teams from competing against teams outside of their division, and limiting most schools to local races. This means that the eight Class AA teams on the eastern side of the Continental Divide have yet to race any western teams, and most schools have not had the chance to preview the state meet course in Kalispell. Conditions this weekend will be cold — highs in the low 30s Friday and in the low 20s Saturday — and there is snow in the forecast for Friday.

Class AA

2019 team champion: Bozeman

2019 individual champion: Simon Hill, Kalispell Glacier (graduated)

Start time: Saturday, Oct. 24 at 3:00 p.m.

2020 storylines: The last non-Bozeman team to win a Class AA title was Missoula Hellgate, in 2007. The Knights have finished runner-up the last two years in a row, including a tie last year that came own to a tiebreaker on the sixth runner. This year, while Bozeman has gone undefeated on its side of the Continental Divide, the powerhouse in the west has turned out to be Missoula Sentinel. The Spartans have three runners who have posted top-10 times in the state, and a strong case could be made for them pulling off the upset. Bozeman returns three runners from last year’s team, Xander Danenhauer, Joe Johns and Stirling Marshall-Pryde, and if the Hawks come out on top, they will continue a state record 12-year win streak.

Individually, with Glacier’s Simon Hill graduated and running for the University of Montana, a new champion will be crowned. The top returner from last year’s state meet is Hellgate senior and University of Oregon commit Ignatius Fitzgerald, but nine runners in the state have run faster times this season. Bozeman senior Stirling Marshall-Pryde has been undefeated this season and has the states fastest time, a 15:39 from the Billings Meet – Amend Park 2 on Oct. 8. Sentinel’s Tanner Klumph and Wyatt Mortensen will also be in the mix.

Locals to watch: Glacier’s Sam Ells is the sixth-ranked returner after finishing 19th in 2019. Ells has a season best of 16:17 over five kilometers, which he ran solo on the Rebecca Farm course.

Class A

2019 team champion: Columbia Falls

2019 individual champion: Sam Fulbright, Fergus (graduated)

Start time: Friday, Oct 23 at 11:30 a.m.

2020 storylines: The Wildcats are back-to-back defending champions and only graduated one scorer from last season, but they also lost top runner Aidan Jarvis to a family move. The Wildcats still return five varsity runners from last year, but runners-up Hardin and Hamilton are both eager to knock Columbia Falls off the top of the podium. The two challengers have won every Class A varsity matchup they’ve entered with one exception, a late-September meet that pitted the teams against each other where the Broncs came out on top. Last year’s individual runner-up, Hamilton junior Colter Kirkland, is the top returner, although two of Kirkland’s teammates, Lane Cole and Colter Purcell, have finished ahead of him this season. Ronan’s Brant Heiner has posted the fastest time in the state this season.

Locals to watch: Whitefish freshmen Deneb Linton and Mason Genovese have emerged as strong frontrunners for the Bulldogs. All-state finishers James Role and James Petersen will lead the Wildcats.

Class B

2019 team champion: Lincoln Co. (Eureka)

2019 individual champion: Brad Cichosz, Harlem (graduated)

Start time: Friday, Oct. 23 at 3:00 p.m.

2020 storylines: Eureka ended a two-year streak by the Manhattan Tigers last year and is looking to turn the school’s first state title win into a streak of its own. The Lions lost just one scoring runner from last year’s squad and have been running well all season. Manhattan has been consistent this season, and would love to earn its third championship in four years. The biggest darkhorse jump in the state might be Wolf Point, which came on strong at the end of the season to beat a perennially top-placing Glasgow. Scotties senior Carl Zabrocki, Thompson Falls senior Justin Morgan and Wolf Point senior Zander Ackerman have all broken 17 minutes this season and will by vying for the overall win.

Locals to watch: Top Eureka returner Isaac Reynolds will attempt to improve on his third-place finish as a sophomore if he gets cleared to race after having suffered a concussion earlier this season per coach Andrew Gideon.

Class C

2019 team champion: Manhattan Christian

2019 individual champion: Ben Morrison, Manhattan Christian (graduated)

Start time: Saturday, Oct. 24 at 11:30 a.m.

2020 storylines: Manhattan Christian have won four straight state championships, and the last two individual titles were won by Eagles as well. The 2018 state champion and former Class C record-holder Riley Schott will be leading a strong Manhattan Christian team that includes harriers with five of the top 10 times in the state so far, and the Class C three-man scoring scheme favors a team with this depth. The top time, however, belongs to Richey-Lambert’s Sam Smith who has finished runner-up the past two years. Smith and his Fusion teammates are hoping to break a streak of runner-up finishes as a team and bring the trophy back to the Hi-Line where it was before Manhattan Christian began its dominance. The darkhorse in this mix could be Belt-Centerville, whose top three runners all are within the top 15 of fastest times this season. The one time the three teams met this season at the Fergus Invite in Lewistown, Manhattan Christian triumphed with Belt-Centerville narrowly edging out Richey-Lambert.

406mtsports.com’s Lindsay Rossmiller contributed to this article.