With 100 meters to go in the 2022 Montana State Cross Country Championships, St. Ignatius senior Andrew Rush was all alone.
Hyping up the crowd with his arms, Rush powered down the homestretch for a dominating victory in the Class B race, delivering Mission its first ever individual state title in the sport. His time of 16:15.65 for the five-kilometer course in Missoula was the fastest winning time for the Class B meet since the distance was increased from three miles in 2017.
Just two minutes later, St. Ignatius’ fifth scoring runner crossed the line, cementing the team title by 49 points over Three Forks, and ending a 60-year state-title drought for the school across all sports.
“I went out there and did exactly what I said I was going to do, to the T,” Rush said after the meet. “I loved every second of being out there. It was just amazing.”
A week before the state meet, Rush stated his intention to lead the race from the start and win in “dominating fashion.” From the starting gun, he went straight to the front of the nearly 200-runner field, followed only by a small pack of runners gutsy enough to try and hang with the pre-race favorite.
At the mile marker, only two runners were with him, including Wolf Point’s Peyton Summers, the only other runner in the field who’d run a sub-16-minute time this season.
“I could hear the other runners behind me, and they were all breathing a lot harder than I was,” Rush said. “I could tell I was more comfortable in the moment than they were. I think they were nervous, but I was confident.”
It was just after that point that Rush began to push and decisively dropped all competition within a few hundred meters. By the time he powered up and over the course’s main hill to the next mile marker, his lead was seven seconds and growing.
By the time Rush’s initial victory celebration calmed down, he took a moment to see who the next runner would be to cross the finish line.
“The moment I saw Robbie, I was like ‘what the heck,’” Rush said of sophomore teammate Robbie Nuila finishing second. “I expected him to be up there but didn’t expect him to be the person right behind me. But if anyone was going to be within sight of me at the end, I wanted it to be him.”
The two runners had talked about the possibility of a 1-2 finish at state during the season but knew that Class B was full of talented runners that could prevent it.
“Robbie is just crazy good, but there was nobody more surprised than I was when he came in second,” St. Ignatius Coach Chris Eichert said. “He has this competitiveness and intensity of running that’s just insane. Even though he’s a sophomore, he knows what he’s doing, he takes charge, and he just gets it.”
Meet officials prevented official scores from being available online or on paper until the team results were announced, leaving Rush, Nuila, Eichert and what appeared to be half the town of St. Ignatius waiting for the podium announcements.
When Three Forks was announced as the runner up, every person wearing Bulldogs gear erupted.
“I truly had no idea if they’d won, but the moment they called it, I just wanted to laugh and cry and scream,” Eichert said. “I saw a video later and didn’t even realize I was jumping around with all the guys.”
“After all the miles, all the ups and downs I can’t even put into words what it felt like,” Rush said. “All the way back home we were just talking about how much we loved being teammates. This team, this title, it was all from how much we love each other.”
In Class A, the Whitefish boys lost a close team race to Park, separated by just 12 points. Juniors Deneb Linton and Mason Genovese finished seventh and 11th to lead the Bulldogs to their first team trophy since their 2012 championship.
“I’m extremely proud of each and every person that laid it out there,” Coach Richard Menicke said. “There was just a better team today. Second place is still a great success in my mind, and they’ll feel that with time. They’ll look back and feel really proud. It’s hard right now.”
On the girls’ side, Columbia Falls followed up last year’s team title with another podium finish. The Wildkats finished third, just two points behind Corvallis.
Senior Siri Erickson led her team with an eighth place finish in 19:55.0.
In the Class AA race, Flathead Junior Lili Rumsey Eash notched her third straight all-state finish at a state meet. Eash finished fifth in 19:26.26 in the first race of the day. For the second time in three years the Bravettes finished just one spot off the podium in fourth.
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