Cross Country

Record Performances Abound at State Cross Country Championships

All four boys races were won in state meet record times; Glacier freshman is top local runner

By Micah Drew
State cross country meet in Kalispell on Oct. 21, 2023. Micah Drew | Flathead Beacon

When Bozeman high school senior Nathan Neil powered up and over the final hill at Kalispell’s Rebecca Farm to claim the 2023 Montana High School Association (MHSA) Cross Country Championship, his competitors were nowhere in sight.

A University of Washington commit, Neil ran the 5-kilometer course in 14:45.47, a full 42 seconds clear of runner-up Ryan Harrington, and 40 seconds under the previous fastest state meet performance set last year in Missoula. (MHSA only tracks times run at the state meet, defacto “state meet records,” though courses vary year to year.)

For some context — the only Montana high school runners to complete a state meet faster than Neil ran on a course that was at least one-tenth of a mile shorter. Eureka’s Shannon Butler set the all-class state meet record of 14:37.7 in 1985 when the contested distance was 3 miles, as opposed to the current 3.1-mile distance.

Behind Neil, every winner of a boys race finished in a class-record time: Park County’s Finn Schretenthaler in 15:27.78, Wolf Point’s Peyton Summers in 15:48.62, and three-time state champion Oren Arthun of Manhattan Christian in 15:55.29.

The Oct. 21 meet was held under clear conditions, a far cry from the last time Kalispell hosted the state meet in 2020 when single-digit temperatures and several inches of snow impacted the event.

Bozeman’s Nathan Neil leads the pack in the AA boys race during the state cross country meet at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Neil placed first, breaking the state record with a time of 14:45.47. | Ben Allan Smith, Missoulian/406mtsports.com

Class AA: Records, Repeats and Upsets.

Behind Nathan Neil, the Bozeman Hawks were clear favorites to defend their state title after going undefeated against Montana competition all year. However, an injury to Christian Landers, one of the team’s scoring runners, gave a minuscule opening for another team to sneak on top of the podium, and Great Falls did just that, scoring 68 points to Bozeman’s 71 and winning the Bison’s first title since 1979.

Helena High School rounded out the podium with 96 points.

Glacier and Flathead finished ninth and 10th, respectively. Each school had one runner finish in the top 10 — Flathead’s Robbie Nuila in seventh, and Glacier’s Owen Thiel in ninth. The two runners were the first non-seniors to finish the race, and will be the top returners next year.

In the girls Class AA race, both the individual and state champions were repeats from last year. Gallatin junior Claire Rutherford ran 18:06.58 for her second title, while the Hellgate Knights scored 46 points to retain the team trophy. Gallatin and Bozeman rounded out the podium with Flathead and Glacier finishing in fourth and fifth respectively.

The lead group of Class AA runners hit the halfway mark at the state cross country meet on Saturday, Oct. 21 at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell. Glacier’s Lauren Bissen, who finished second, is to the right. | Lukas Prinos/406mtsports.com

For the third time this season, Glacier freshman Lauren Bissen ran through the finish line locked stride for stride with Bozeman freshman Kylee Neil for a photo finish. Bissen won by one-tenth of a second to take second place in a season-best time of 18:13.88.

“Usually I just try to find that next gear at the end, but it’s hard, it really is,” Bissen said after the race. “She pushes me a lot. I know that I can beat her but I also know that she can beat me so I just love competing with her.”

Bissen said running a personal best by more than 30 seconds at the last meet of the season was the cherry on top of what’s been a breakout freshman year.

Flathead senior Lilli Rumsey-Eash capped off her high school career with a fourth-straight all-state finish in 12th place, one spot ahead of senior teammate Mikenna Conan. The Bravettes finished in fourth place three out of the four years that Rumsey-Eash led the team as the program’s top runner.

Columbia Falls’ Logan Peterson holds the team third place trophy over his head after Columbia Falls’ places third overall in the Class A boys race during the state cross country meet at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Ben Allan Smith | Missoulian/406mtsports.com

Class A: Browning Back on Top, Wildcats Crack Podium

The Browning Indians were already the winningest cross country team in Montana history before Saturday’s championship, with 22 state titles to their name. The Indians easily added to that number, scoring 96 points to laurel’s 146 and Columbia Falls’ 150.

Individually, Bigfork senior Jack Jensen finished in 11th in his first championship against Class A competition. Whitefish senior Mason Genovese also earned all-state honors in 13th. The Bulldogs took sixth place overall.

The Wildcats returned to the podium for the first time since a third place finish on the same course in 2020, led by sophomore River Blazejewski.

On the girls side, Whitefish’s Maeve Ingelfinger was the top local finisher in 20th, just ahead of Columbia Falls freshman Cora Hannan. Hardin repeated as the team champion while the Wildkats were three points off the podium in fourth place, and Whitefish ended up in seventh.

Maeve Ingelfinger runs in the state cross country meet in Kalispell on Oct. 21, 2023. Micah Drew | Flathead Beacon

For complete results from the 2023 MHSA State Cross Country Championships, visit athletic.net.

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