Columbia Falls cross country coach Jim Peacock looked at ease running back and forth at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell to cheer on his runners during the state cross country meet on Oct. 23. Inside, however, he was anything but calm.
“I get more nervous and more stressed out as a coach than I ever did as a runner,” Peacock said after the races. “But this is so fun. This is so rewarding.”
Going into the meet, the Wildkats were poised for a podium finish and eyeing the overall girls title, to match the trophies the boys team won in 2018 and 2019.
As runners began streaming across the finish line, Peacock, like most coaches, began counting runners, trying to calculate scores on the fly.
“I lost track of where Laurel’s fifth runner was,” Peacock said. “Until the scores were posted, I just didn’t know.”
The official results spelled out a Laurel victory by 20 points over Columbia Falls, 50-70. Hardin (82) finished third.
“Our girls, every single one of them across the board, ran the best race they could run today,” said Peacock. “And if everybody runs their best race, how could you be anything other than ecstatic and proud at the finish?”
Peacock pointed out that the girls tied the best finish in school history.
“You can argue and say this is the best Columbia Falls has ever been on the girls side, and they deserve it,” he said.
In the boys race, Columbia Falls came in as the two-time defending champion, but not the favorite, in part due to the loss of 2019 top Wildcats finisher Aidan Jarvis to a move.
“Everyone focuses on what we lost,” Peacock said from the side of the course during the boys race. “What they don’t talk about is we have three all-state runners on the course right now. I don’t know if anyone else does.”
Ultimately, Hamilton and Hardin runners accounted for 10 of the top 17 spots, before junior James Petersen came in at 18th as the first runner for the Wildcats. Columbia falls finished third with 152 points behind the Broncs (35) and Bulldogs (54).
“There’s only a couple of teams in the state that are going to come home with trophies on both sides,” Peacock said. “Hardin does it, Bozeman’s going to do it, and Columbia Falls is doing it. That’s pretty nice company to be in.”
The top returner from the 2019 state meet was third place finisher Isaac Reynolds of Eureka. Throughout the fall, Reynolds ran a 5-kilometer time of 17:07, which ranked fourth in the state.
Then came two concussions for the Lions’ top runner. And knee injuries for the number two runner. And a pandemic that changed the way coach Andrew Gideon structured practice.
“I try to individualize training to each kid as much as possible so some kids are doing less than others, and running different workouts on different days,” Gideon said, discussing the challenge of trying to “piece that together so they all have a great day at the state meet.”
Despite the injuries, snow and cold temperatures, the Lions pieced everything together. Senior Chaidh Lochridge finished third, followed by junior Gavin Bates (6), Reynolds (10), and seniors Ian Kumle (17) and Henry Cooke as the Lions defended their state championship by 22 points over Manhattan.
“The team championship was the number one thing on the table,” Cooke said. On the starting line, Cooke gathered his teammates and told them to think about a speech Gideon always gives about taking a “grab at glory.”
“I told them to think about that, and think about last year,” Cooke said. “I said, ‘We have a chance, we’ve put in the work out there and we can do it.’”
The title was the second state championship in school history.
“These are exceptional students, athletes and people — I call them complete SAPs,” Gideon said. “Being good in the classroom, being good individuals that treat each other well, that’s something to be said in addition to winning as runners. If all they are is athletes, I haven’t done my job.”
The talk of the Class AA meet centered around the winner of the boys team championship, as Missoula Sentinel unseated 12-year reigning champions Bozeman to collect the Spartans’ first team title since 1984.
Missoula Hellgate finished second, two points ahead of Bozeman, making it the lowest finish for the Hawks since 2007. Glacier tied its finish from last year in seventh, led by junior Sam Ells, hampered by an injury, in 30th. Flathead finished one spot higher than last year in 12th, led by junior Gabriel Felton in 21st.
In the girls race, Lilli Rumsey Eash was the second freshman to cross the line, finishing in seventh to claim all-state honors and leading her Flathead teammates to a fourth-place finish.
The Bravettes missed the podium for the second year in a row, as the top four teams were identical to 2019 — Bozeman, Hellgate, Helena, Flathead.
On the girls side, junior Isabella Lane was the top Glacier Wolfpack finisher for the first time this season, coming in 31st, while the team finished 10th.
For full results and All-State runners visit flatheadbeacon.com/section/sports.
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