Sports

State Cross Country: Class AA Recap

Missoula Sentinel boys win 1st title since 1984; Missoula Hellgate's Kensey May wins after move from Virginia

Missoula Sentinel senior Corbin Johnson, his teammates and his coaches were trying to do the math in their heads as the State AA boys cross country team scores were being announced Saturday.

Bozeman, which had the individual champion, was announced as the third-place finisher with 69 points at Rebecca Farms in Kalispell. That was a good start for Johnson and the Spartans.

Then Missoula Hellgate, which had the third- and fourth-place individuals, was announced as the second-place finisher with 67 points. That left only one team that hadn’t heard its name called yet.

Sentinel, with 59 points, was announced as the team champion. The long-awaited celebration began as the Spartans won their first state championship since 1984, snapping Bozeman’s 12-year title streak, an MHSA record regardless of classification.

“I literally fell to the ground crying like hell,” said Johnson, the Spartans’ lone tenured senior.

Johnson was one of four Sentinel runners to earn all-state honors for the first time by finishing in the top 15. It was an impressive showing but one that still left their stomachs churning when it came time for the announcement of the team awards.

They didn’t feel they had all run their best, struggling to gain traction on parts of the snow-covered course on the sunny, windy day with temperatures in the mid-20s. But all runners were dealing with the same conditions, and Sentinel showed what it believed it was capable of, capping off what the team had felt since the summer could be a special year.

“They ran their hearts out today,” Sentinel coach Diego Hammett said after a taking a moment to compose himself on the emotional day. “All the hard work that they’ve done in the summer, in the season, to come together like this, it’s much deserved. We’re state champs.”

The Spartans nearly won the individual title, too. Junior Tanner Klumph was leading by a handful of strides at the midway point of the race, got passed by Bozeman’s Stirling Marshall-Pryde but kept up the battle and finished in second place by about 11 seconds.

It’s the highest finish by a Spartans runner since Jacob Turner won the 2010 state title.

“Team was more important this year,” Klumph said. “I’ve still got another year to hopefully come out with a win. Stirling ran a great race. He’s an amazing runner. It was awesome.”

Senior Wyatt Mortenson ended up being a big factor in the Spartans pulling out the team title. He had he moved to Missoula from Colorado over the summer because his father got a job in town, and he ended up being their No. 2 finisher, placing seventh overall.

Sentinel junior Chase Green placed 12th, Johnson was 13th and junior Colin Shaules rounded out the Spartans’ team score by placing 25th.

“It’s awesome we were able to pull that off,” Mortenson said. “I was relived because I was really worried that I didn’t do my best and let the guys down. We were so happy we were able to pull it off and that our work paid off.”

While Bozeman’s team streak was snapped, the Hawks ended their drought of not having an individual winner. Marshall-Pryde crossed the finish line in 16:35.40 to win by about 11 seconds, becoming the Hawks’ first champ since Chase Equall in 2016 and the sixth consecutive senior to win the race.

It was quite the accomplishment for Marshall-Pryde, who placed 12th last year and began the fall with a time trial in which he finished in third place – on his own team. On the biggest stage, he overcame a headache early in the morning thanks to an Advil and never trailed after he decided to make his push out of second place at the two-mile mark.

“I’m so happy,” said Marshall-Pryde, a two-time all-state runner. “This has been my dream since I started running in like fourth grade. I’m just so happy right now. It’s been really challenging trying not to be discouraged over the years and pushing myself in training. I knew this year I could push myself a lot harder than I had been.”

Hellgate senior Ignatius Fitzgerald placed third for the second year in a row in his final high school cross country race before heading off to compete for Oregon in the Pac-12. He came in having won his previous two races after suffering a foot injury in the season opener, but he was unable to catch Marshall-Pryde and Klumph, who pushed a fast pace out of the gate while he was expecting the race to be more calculated due to the course conditions.

“I would have liked to have done better,” said Fitzgerald, a two-time all-state runner. “I was feeling really good coming off the last couple races. I was feeling really confident in my fitness, physically and mentally. Today, I just didn’t have it. It just wasn’t my day. Some days you just don’t have it, and it sucks. It really sucks right now, but I’m going to try to use this as motivation for track and try to come back stronger.”

Fitzgerald was followed by fellow Hellgate senior Miles Colescott, who placed fourth, and sophomore Finneas Colescott, who was ninth. They both earned all-state recognition for the first time to help the Knights finish second as a team. Junior Colten Graham was 18th, and senior Renn Stearns was 33rd to round out their team scoring.

The Knights beat out Bozeman for the first time since winning state in 2007. They tied with the Hawks last year but lost the tiebreaker and placed second.

“We knew it was going to be a tight race between us and Bozeman and Sentinel,” Hellgate coach Anders Brooker said. “We had some breakout performances from Finn and Colten. Our guys had their best races of the year, so before they even announced the awards, we agreed we were going to walk away happy because they had done so well.”

In addition to Marshall-Pryde, third-place Bozeman had two other all-state honorees. Senior Xander Danenhauer placed 10th to receive recognition for the third time, and sophomore Connor Neil was 11th for his first honors. Junior Joe Johns was 23rd, and senior Cody Hundhausen was 24th to complete their team scoring.

Gallatin junior Carson Steckelberg finished in fifth for his first all-state recognition. Billings West senior Caleb Hornung followed in sixth, ending his career as a three-time all-state honoree. Belgrade junior Samuel Nash was eighth, Helena High senior Robert Wagner was 14th and Billings West sophomore Jaxon Straus was 15th as they all were all-state for the first time.

State AA Girls

Missoula Hellgate junior Kensey May didn’t expect to win a state cross country title in Montana’s largest classification after she moved to Missoula prior to the season. She had been a state champ in Virginia last year, but that came in the smallest classification, so this was a sizable jump.

It didn’t look like she’d win either when the lead group of two runners had a lead of about eight seconds on her at the midway point of the race. But May stuck with her conservative approach early, made her push in the final mile and overtook defending champ Kylie Hartnett of Helena High within the last half mile or so, finishing in 19:21.03 to win by about five seconds.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” May said while walking back to the team bus after becoming Hellgate’s first state champ since Paige Gilchrist in 2012. She’s sixth non-senior winner in the past eight years and the 11th in the previous 14.

“It’s just crazy to me because I’ve been a state champion before but not for the top class. I’m feeling pretty good.”

May hadn’t won a race all year until she finished first at the three-team Missoula city championships nine days before state. It was the confidence booster she needed, although she still had some nerves leading up to the race.

“I was actually excited to run in the snow this morning even though I was feeling crazy sick,” said May, who last ran in the snow as a sixth grader in Bozeman before she moved to Virginia after that school year and returned to the state this year because her father is now the Montana Grizzlies cross country coach.

She continued: “I felt so nauseous, and on the bus, I was so out of it. I felt like I was going to throw up. I was definitely not feeling it going in. But we got here, and I was just thinking I was going to go for it.”

May’s win denied Hartnett the chance to become the first repeat champion since Kalispell Glacier’s Annie Hill in 2014 and 2015. Hartnett, who described running in the snow as trying to run in quicksand, still earned all-state honors for the third time by placing second.

“I raced as hard as I could, and Kensey May was a great competitor,” Hartnett said. “She fought from the very beginning to stay with me. The final kick, she had a little more than I had. She had a great finish, and I’m happy for her.”

There was one girls title that was defended. Bozeman won for the second year in a row and 13th time in 14 seasons, the lone interruption a 2018 second-place finish to Hellgate, which finished with 47 points this year, just four behind Bozeman’s 43.

The Hawks were led by freshman Natalie Nicholas in fifth place, junior Hayley Burns in sixth, senior Grace Gilbreth in ninth, senior Molly Sherman in 11th and freshman Polly Meshew in 12. Gilbreth earned her second all-state honors, and Burns got her first Class AA all-state honors after winning the Class B state title last year at Colstrip.

Hawks senior Natalie McCormick placed 13th to earn all-state honors for the second time despite not factoring into the team score. Their seventh runner, sophomore Lucia McCormick, just missed out on all-state by placing 17th.

“I think top to bottom, as a team, we ran about as well as we possibly could have,” Bozeman coach Casey Jermyn said. “I think coming in, I don’t think any one person had an outstanding performance; I think we all just had a great performance. And that’s what we need to do on a day like today and conditions like this and weather. So, I’m just super proud of them, super happy.

“It was a goal of ours all year. I think it weighs on them a lot. There’s a lot of pressure on them to keep streaks alive and try and win. This was the first year the school split and I know there was a lot of emotion there, but they fought through.”

Hellgate took second despite putting three runners in the top four when senior Abby Kendrick placed third and senior Sage Brooks, battling a foot injury, placed fourth in addition to May winning. Kendrick got all-state honors for the third time, and Brooks picked up her second award.

Junior Izzy Munro placed 18th, and freshman Stella Diaz was 21st to complete Hellgate’s team score.

“We walk away feeling like our kids ran their best race of the year,” Brooker said. “We knew if we were going to beat Bozeman, we had to put three in the top four, and that’s what we did. We lacked a little bit of depth, but our girls fought hard, and I think they ran the best race they probably could. Bozeman on the girls side just has that great pack from one to seven, and we just couldn’t close that gap.”

Helena High, which was a distant third place with 98 points, had two all-state honorees in Hartnett and junior Odessa Zentz, who placed 14th to receive the recognition for the second time. Junior Rylie Schoenfeld took 20th, junior Carly Ryan was 23rd and junior Annie Menden was 39th to round out the team scoring.

“We always tell our girls to leave everything out on the course, and I have no doubt they did,” Helena coach Jesse Zentz said. “Our goal was to defend our third-place spot. Really, that’s all you can ask for and I feel like they gave everything they got.”

Flathead freshman Lilli Rumsey Eash placed seventh and Billings West junior Ali Keith was eighth as they each earned all-state recognition for the first time. Billings Skyview senior Emberlyn Hoffman-Gaschk placed 10th to cap her career with her third all-state honors. Missoula Sentinel senior Emma Nelson placed 15th to garner her first all-state selection.

Notes

No Great Falls High girls competed because their bus had to run around this morning. Five Great Falls High boys participated after driving over with parents. Senior Gavin Groshelle and sophomore Mac Palmer finished 16th and 17th, respectively, to pace the boys runners.