State Cross Country: Class A Recap

Hamilton rolls to individual and boys team titles, Laurel girls break 27-year streak

By Micah Drew
The Class A state cross country meet at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell on Oct. 23, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Class A boys

When Colter Purcell moved from Virginia to Montana for his junior year of high school, he didn’t expect to be running a state meet during a snowstorm. He also didn’t expect be a state champion.

That changed halfway through the state race at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell on Friday, when he reeled in the pre-race favorite Brant Heiner of Ronan.

“I told him, ‘Let’s bring this one in together,’” Purcell said, recalling the first meet of the season where the runners ran stride for stride the whole time. “When we hit the two mile I knew he wasn’t making any more moves, so I just went for it and from there I was just holding it down.”

Purcell led a 1-2 punch of Hamilton runners to a state title as the Broncs finished with 35 points over Hardin (54) and Columbia Falls (152). Purcell won the race in 16 minutes, 17.52 seconds.

Colter Purcell of Hamilton finishes first at the Class A State cross country meet at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell on Oct. 23, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Runner-up Colter Kirkland tied his state finish from 2019. Big runs from juniors Tanner Nead (5), Lane Cole (11) and Harrison Silverio (16) gave the Broncs plenty of space ahead of the Bulldogs.

“We predicted some pretty good placings with our top kids, but we didn’t predict one and two, so that was pretty cool,” head coach Mark Albert said. “Colter [Kirkland], I lost sight of him behind the hill and when he came down the hill in second I knew we had a shot at it.”

This was the fourth state title for Hamilton in school history. The Broncs last won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014.

“We have all juniors on the varsity, which is really exciting,” Albert said. “It’s a neat group of boys and I’m really proud of them.”

The Ronan senior Heiner had the fastest time coming into the state meet, and was hoping to capture his school’s first state title.

Heiner got out hard at the start of the race and was soon running by himself, passing the mile in 5:02, but wasn’t able to hold off Purcell after being caught halfway through the race.

“My feet just weren’t moving as quickly as they normally do,” Heiner said. “I feel really good about my high school career, though … to be in the position to be considered a favorite, I couldn’t ask for more than that. ”

Two-time defending team champion Columbia Falls ended up in the third spot on the podium.

“Every one of those kids ran the best race they had today,” head coach Jim Peacock said. “We had a couple of kids that haven’t run in weeks from injuries, but they stuck it out. This is just a fun group of kids to coach.”

Bailey Sjostrom, left, helps his teammate James Role to his feet after their race at the state cross country meet at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell on Oct. 23, 2020. The Columbia Falls boys placed third overall. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Class A girls

It was apparent in the first minutes of the race that Brynnli Poulsen’s plan was to win by as much time as possible. The senior from Hamilton was by herself 800 meters into the race and by the time she came through the mile in 5:50, no one else was nearby.

For the second year in a row, Poulsen stormed down the finishing stretch alone to pick up her second straight MHSA Class A title. Her time of 19:02.30 is second in the Montana record books only to her own winning time from 2019.

“I just wanted to make sure I had a pretty decent gap between me and second place,” Poulsen said. “I wanted to run the best race I could and stay focused the whole time.”

As a two-time state champion, Poulsen follows in the footsteps of Beatrix Frissell, now running for the University of Montana, who won Class A in 2017 and 2018.

Brynnli Poulsen of Hamilton finishes first at the Class A state cross country meet at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell on Oct. 23, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“I definitely had some higher expectations today, but I’m pretty okay with it, obviously,” Poulsen said, alluding to her pre-race goal of breaking her state record.

Poulsen also praised Hamilton coach Mark Albert for helping her throughout high school.

“That relationship started off a little rocky when I was a freshman and thought I knew everything, but we’ve grown close and grown to trust each other,” Poulsen said. “I don’t know if I’m ever going to have another coach like him.”

Laurel coach James Haskins was counting runners as they came streaming across the finish line, trying to add up scores for his runners while keeping an eye on the team’s rivals. He double checked his math and sank to the ground, hands on his head, an incredulous expression on his face.

“This is just a special group of girls and I knew they were the favorite coming in,” Haskins said. “But they still had to do it, they still had to run the race and they ran with a lot of courage today.”

Before the gun went off, Laurel had a single state cross country title to its name, back in 1993. The Locomotives broke that 27-year dry spell on Friday.

“It’s only the second one in the history of the school — it doesn’t seem real yet,” Haskins said. “I don’t know if it’s hit any of us yet.”

The Lady Locomotives were led by runner-up Andria Mourich, who finished in 19:53.15.

All five scoring runners for Laurel finished in the top 20 at the meet and outscored Columbia Falls 50-70. Hardin (82) finished third.

“It was amazing — everyone did so awesome,” senior Grace Timm said. “We knew our potential and we just knew we could do it. So I guess we just did it!”

Columbia Falls tied the program’s highest ever finish by a girls team at a state meet.

“We wanted to win the whole thing, but all you can do is ask for their best and these girls gave their best,” Wildkats coach Jim Peacock said. “Our girls, every single one of them across the board ran the best race they could run today, and if everybody runs their best race, how could you be anything other than ecstatic and proud at the finish?”

Members of the Columbia Falls team embrace after their race at state cross country meet at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell on Oct. 23, 2020. The Columbia Falls girls placed second overall. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

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