If it happens to rain during the State Cross Country Championships this season, those who took part in Saturday’s Butte Invitational at Highland View Golf Course might have a slight advantage.

Morning showers made the 3-mile course soggy for the girls’ varsity race, and lightning delayed the start of the boys’ race. The delay wasn’t a long one but the race was run in a steady rain.

The conditions didn’t seem to affect most of the top-tiered runners, who used the meet as just another tuneup for the state meet, scheduled for Oct. 22 in Kalispell.

Glacier’s Annie Hill looked at the Butte Invitational as a chance to get back on track. She struggled at last week’s Mountain West meet in Missoula and made up for it with a pretty strong comeback.

Hill won the girls’ race on Saturday, beating Billings Senior’s Tiahna Vladic. Hill turned in a time of 16:40.3, while Vladic was clocked at 17:01.9. Molly MacDonald, of Sentinel High, placed third (17:47.1).

“I wasn’t feeling great and I hardly ate anything,” Hill said of last weekend’s disappointment. “I had a drop in blood sugar and just kind of wiped out. It’s not like an excuse. I didn’t do what I needed to do to run well.”

She did this time.

Hill hasn’t given up on her quest to become a four-time state championship and has her sights set on No. 3 later this month. If she’s learned anything over the course of the last two years, it’s that she’ll be facing a lot of competition.

One such competitor is Vladic, who won the Mountain West meet last week.

“I like having Tiahna there to push me,” Hill added. “She’s a really good competitor.”

The feeling is mutual.

“I think it’s a friendly rivalry,” Vladic said of her near-weekly showdowns with Hill. “We like to race against each other and it makes us both better.

“It feels really good because I know that my times are going to be good. She’s always pushing me.”

Despite the second-place finish, Vladic led the Senior girls to a first-place finish in the team standings with 71 points. Sentinel was second, CMR third, and Glacier and Hellgate rounded out the Top 5.

Joby Rosenleaf turned in the best performance of the day for the host Bulldogs. She finished in sixth place and had plenty of reasons to be optimistic as her season progresses.

Rosenleaf had a goal of averaging 6 minutes per mile on Saturday, and nailed it with a time of exactly 18 minutes.

“That’s what my goal was and I was really happy that I got it,” she said. “It was 38 seconds faster than Mountain West so that’s awesome.

“There were some people who beat me at Mountain West that I always race against. I thought, ‘Maybe I can stay with them or beat them. And I did.”

The boys’ varsity race featured Marshall Beatty, a Sentinel High senior who took a new approach to racing.

Beatty is used to taking early leads and forcing the opposition to catch him. It’s something they’re rarely able to do.

He held back this time and made his move later in the race, beating CMR’s Cooper West and Flathead’s Ben Perin, respectively.

Beatty ran the course in 14:56.4.

“Usually he likes to go out strong and take the lead but we’ve come to the conclusion that guys know what Marshall is going to do and they’ll let him do that,” Sentinel coach Diego Hammett said. “Now we’ve talked about race strategy and tactics. We tried it (Saturday) and obviously it paid off. He looked really strong.”

Beatty said that the new approach took some getting used to but is hoping use it as a weapon against the other top runners in the state.

“It was really difficult to start to change it because I’m so used to starting and blazing out from the beginning,” Beatty said. “But after I started to get into it, I was feeling relaxed and smooth. I was starting to fall back in the middle of the race but I kept telling myself I had to stay strong and remember that everyone gets slow on that third mile.

“It was a lot easier to catch Cooper at the end. I was the chaser instead of being the chasee.”

Beatty’s effort helped Sentinel to a second-place finish, with Glacier cruising to the title. CMR, Senior and Flathead rounded out the boys’ Top 5.

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