Cross Country

Glacier, Bozeman Freshmen Emerge as Threats to Cross Country State Title

Two freshmen runners finished in a virtual tie at the Bozeman XC Invite with the fastest time in Montana

By Micah Drew
Lauren Bissen of Glacier High School finishes 14th at the Flathead Invite cross country meet at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell Sept. 1, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

For a 3.1-mile cross country race to come down to a sprint finish is a rarity in the sport. The grinding over hill and dale by runners usually thins out the lead pack long before the finish line is in sight.

Case in point: the winner of the varsity boys race at the Bozeman Cross Country Invite on Sept. 9, Bozeman’s Nathan Neil, was nearly 10 seconds clear of the field by the first mile of the race and won by 23 seconds. The two junior varsity races were won by 14 and nine seconds.

The varsity girls’ race, however, was decided by mere millimeters, as two freshmen runners stymied onlookers and finish-line cameras alike.

Bozeman freshman Kylie Neil, who won the Flathead Invite on Sept. 1, ran the entirety of last weekend’s race from the front of the field, passing through the first mile alongside Claire Rutherford and Bella Determan, the defending state champion and runner-up from Gallatin High School, respectively.

The front pack was made up of six runners, including two from Wyoming, and it remained unchanged through the second mile. But in the final third of the race a new figure latched on to the fast-moving group.

Lauren Bissen, clad in the green and blue of Glacier High School, had moved her way up throughout the race, picking off her competitors in the field one by one until only a handful of runners remained to block her view of the course ahead. The final quarter-mile of the Bozeman cross country course sent the runners into a stand of trees, and from the other side emerged two girls in lockstep: Neil and Bissen.

Step-by-step they powered home, neither giving an inch until after they crossed the finish line, momentum carrying the girls into the crowd beyond.

Both athletes were given the same time: 18:45.6.

Officials declared Neil the winner by two-hundredths of a second after examining the finish-line camera which showed just a few millimeters of Neil’s shoulder ahead of Bissen.

“Lauren ran an incredible come-from-behind race, moving up through the field to come within a whisker of the win,” Glacier High School Cross Country Coach Cody Moore said.

For Bissen, the time represented an 84-second improvement over her first high school race at Rebecca Farm. For Neil, it marked her second victory, and second sub-19-minute performance.

The freshmen ran the two fastest times in the state so far this year, emerging as clear threats to the individual state title which will be decided in Kalispell on Oct. 21. Glacier hasn’t had an individual state champion since Annie Hill won back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015. Bozeman’s Camila Noe won the last individual title for the Hawks in 2017.

Bozeman XC Invite Top Results:

            Varsity Boys

  1. Bozeman — 55
  2. Billings West — 97
  3. Great Falls — 117
  1. Nathan Neil, Bozeman — 15:17.6
  2. John Spinti, Great Falls — 15:40.2
  3. Ryan Harrington, Great Falls — 15:42.4
  4. Mason Moler, Billings West — 15:44.5
  5. Oren Arthun, Manhattan Christian — 15:46.2

            Varsity Girls

  1. Bozeman — 83
  2. Hellgate — 101
  3. Gallatin — 107
  1. Kylie Neil, Bozeman — 18:45.6
  2. Lauren Bissen, Glacier — 18:45.6
  3. Ally Wheeler, Natrona County — 18:49.9
  4. Bella Determan, Gallatin — 18:55.1
  5. Claire Rutherford, Gallatin — 19:00.8

For complete results visit competitivetiming.com.

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