The 2021 MHSA State Cross Country Meet at the University of Montana Golf Course brought a return to the traditional all-class, one-day format after the COVID pandemic forced the 2020 meet to play out over two days.
The Missoula Sentinel boys snapped a 12-year state title streak from Bozeman last season, but could the Spartans do it again?
Sentinel senior Tanner Klumph did his part, medaling with a time of 15:56.21. Finneas Colescott from Missoula Hellgate took second, while Bozeman Gallatin's Carson Steckelberg. However, it was the Hellgate boys took home the team trophy, followed by Sentinel at No. 2 and Great Falls High at No. 3.
"I've been working for this for forever and that hurt a lot, but I finally got it done so I'm speechless," said Klumph.
The Class AA girls race was one of the most hyped of the day. Missoula Hellgate's Kensey May last year and Helena High's Kylie Hartnett won the year prior, setting up a rubber match between the seniors. It was May who came out victorious again, winning with a time of 18:16.14. May is the first repeat Class AA girls champion since Kalispell Glacier's Annie Hill in 2014 and 2015.
May, who also won a cross country championship in Virgina earlier in high school, was sad to see the high school chapter end despite going out on top.
"It's definitely sad. I'm feel grateful though. I think a lot of the girls performed well today and I think it was definitely a good course to have fast times, feel good and everything and so I'm happy with my performance," she said.
The Bozeman High girls won the team scores, while Hellgate and Gallatin took second and third, respectively.
Hamilton's boys easily won the team championship in 2020, and the Broncs' numbers in 2021 made it another easy win. Hamilton had four runners finish in the top eight.
The individual boys championship, however, went to Corvallis' Brinson Wyche, who entered the meet with the fastest time in the state. Wyche won on Saturday with a time of 16:25.98, followed by Colter Purcell of Hamilton and Ben Steadman of Dillon.
"I did feel pressure just because it's the last race, well the last cross country race, that I'll have in high school, but I really fed off of the pressure and and made sure that I used it to run my best," Wyche said of the competition.
Meanwhile, Columbia Falls' Hannah Sempf was a third-place finisher last year as a junior, giving her the edge coming into 2021. Sempf didn't disappoint, winning with a time of 20.03.4. She was followed by Browning's Kiara Iron Heart and Hardin's Mariah Aragon.
Columbia Falls also won its first girls team title in program history.
"It's been like a goal of ours for the last few years. And so like just hearing it was amazing. We just run for each other and we trained together all summer, all winter. And it's just really good to hear it, that we got it," Sempf said.
The Class B boys were paced by Red Lodge's Brandon Emineth, who came in as the top returning runner from a year ago, when he got fifth. Emineth won with a time of 16:38.93. Emineth said he knew he had a chance based on where he finished last year, but that this result couldn't have happened without an intense summer.
"I'm just older and I put more training in. Since May, I ran about 475 miles, kept track of all of them and put in lots of hard work. And I've had lots of supporters, including my team and my family," he said.
Emineth was followed by Eureka's Isaac Reynolds at No. 2 and Bigfork's Jack Jensen at No. 3. The Bigfork boys won the team championship, followed by Three Forks and Eureka.
For the girls, Townsend senior Emma Stolte finally finished on top after a third-place and a runner-up finish the last two years. Stolte's time of 19:18.91 best Renea Parker of Jefferson and Natalie Wood of Big Timber, who took second and third, respectively. Wood had previously beaten Stolte in the Mountain West Classic, so Stolte knew she'd be a threat again.
"Definitely. We're pretty good friends. So it's cool to be able to race against someone like that. Yeah. But she's always coming," Stolte said.
The Red Lodge girls took first in the team scores, followed by Townsend and Columbus.
As has been the case for the last few years, the Class C boys competition went through Manhattan Christian. The Eagles came in looking for their sixth straight championship, and they succeeded.
Oren Arthun led the way for Christian with an individual title and a 16:52.55 time. But he said the best part of all of it was the journey with his teammates.
"It's amazing. They're all my best friends. They mean the world to me. We've all worked really really hard so it's cool feeling to have it pay off," Arthun said.
Manhattan Christian's girls also took home the team trophy, but the individual race was all about Belt-Centerville's Lindsey Paulson, who dominated all season and capped off her second straight individual title with a 19:00.88 time. Paulson had previously run a 19:09.91 on the course during the Mountain West Classic.
"The second time around it's nice knowing the course, like where to push or not to push. Definitely that hill right at the end of the two mile mark does get you, but running it you know beforehand," Paulson said. "I just knew going into it, that last mile is gonna hurt but you know, you'll have a mile left so you can push yourself for it."
Paulson was followed by Plentywood's Annie Kaul and Scobey's Mya Green. Culbertson and Park City took second and third in the team scores.