Cross Country

2023 Flathead Valley Cross Country Preview

Kalispell will host the 2023 state meet, offering local teams a home course advantage

By Micah Drew
Deneb Linton of Whitefish High School competes in the Class B State Championship cross country meet in Missoula on Oct. 22, 2022. Micah Drew | Flathead Beacon

The MHSA State Cross Country Championships will take place at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell at the end of October, offering the chance for local teams to compete on their home turf. Throughout the season, Flathead and Glacier high schools will both host meets on the state course, and both are likely to draw schools from all divisions across Montana as teams look to preview the championships terrain.

Locally, the Whitefish boys return as the highest placing team from last year’s state championships, with a slim, 12-point runner-up finish to Livingston, the first trophy since 2012. Less than a minute separated the Bulldogs’ scoring runners, but the team will need to replace two graduates from that group. Seniors Deneb Linton and Mason Genovese should both be top-10 athletes.

Behind the Bulldogs, Columbia Falls is sure to improve on last year’s fifth-place finish, having retained all five of its scoring runners — the only top-five team that didn’t graduate any scorers. Senior Logan Peterson was eighth last year, and with an additional year of experience behind this tested team, the Wildcats are a true threat to the podium.

On the girls’ side, Columbia Falls is coming off first- and third-place finishes in the last two years, and even though top runner Siri Erickson graduated last year, coach Jim Peacock has a knack for training up underclassmen on his historically deep teams. The podium is likely to mirror last year’s, with Hardin easily taking the title and Columbia Falls and Corvallis dueling for the bottom rungs.

Columbia Falls cross country coach Jim Peacock reacts to the Wildkats winning the program’s first state championship. Micah Drew | Flathead Beacon

Back over on the Whitefish side, the runner to watch will be senior Maeve Ingelfinger, a national cross-country ski champion who also picked up two state titles on the track. Expect her to challenge for the overall Class A win this year. 

Bigfork’s Jack Jensen, a two-time champion on the track this spring, could be a threat to podium even against Class A competition.Bigfork has struggled to field scoring teams in the past during Class B championships, but the school’s individual runners tend to be statewide standouts.

At the Class AA level, both Flathead and Glacier will revel in having a home course repeated thrice this season.

For the boys, Flathead’s Bauer Hollman and Glacier’s Owen Thiel will each lead relatively young squads, but Flathead got an unexpected boost this year with the transfer of junior Robbie Nuila, who was last season’s Class B runner-up for St. Ignatius during the team’s state championship run. Based off that state meet performance, Nuila is the 8th fastest returning Class AA runner and in the first cross country meet of the year he ran a lifetime best, setting up a strong season.

Robbie Nulia of St. Ignatius finishes fifth at the Flathead Invite cross country meet at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell on Sept 9, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Both Class AA schools’ girls teams carry strong storylines this season as well.

The Bravettes finished fourth last year and in 2020, the last time the state meet was held at Rebecca Farm. Senior Lilli Rumsey Eash has finished seventh, fourth and fifth at each of her championship appearances, and on a home course will be looking to finally break the tape, however she will be facing a pair of Gallatin High School juniors that finished a combined 54 seconds ahead of the third-place finisher last year. Meanwhile, Glacier returns all seven varsity runners while adding sophomore Dacia Benkelman, coming off a solid freshman track season, into an already deep lineup. In addition, Glacier will have a new No. 1 runner, freshman Lauren Bissen, who is poised to be one of the top freshmen in the state.