MISSOULA — The best of the best showed up, and showed out, at the Mountain West Classic Cross Country meet in Missoula Saturday morning, providing a bit of a preview for the Class AA state meet in late October.
Competing on the same course as the state meet at the University of Montana Golf Course, the Mountain West Classic made its return after a year off with a massive field of teams featuring the entire Class AA — including the teams and athletes expected to go head to head for a title at the state meet.
Some talented schools from Idaho and Washington also competed and stole the show at the top of the results board, but we will get to that.
For the Montana schools, defending AA champs finished atop the Treasure State teams as the Missoula Sentinel boys led (second overall) at 170 and Bozeman paced the way in the girls race, regardless of state, at 106 with a dominant showing.
Bozeman placed four runners in the top 35, including two in the top 15 with Hayley Burns in fourth (18:48.28) and Natalie Nicholas in 13th. Teams like Helena High and Missoula Hellgate — who each boast their own star runners with top-five finishers Kylie Hartnett (Helena) and Kensey May (Hellgate) placing well — seem to know how good Bozeman can be when things are clicking.
"Let's be honest, nobody was going to beat the Bozeman girls today," Hellgate head coach Anders Brooker said. "They had a great day. Even today, five weeks out from state if we run at our best and Bozeman runs like that we aren't going to beat them. Now, we still like our team and like where we are going and we think we will be a lot better five weeks from today but Bozeman had a great day on the girls side."
On the individual side, the top finishers from the Treasure State were Sentinel star Tanner Klumph — who remains at the top in the state rankings individually on the boys side — and defending AA individual champ, Hellgate's May as she took third overall behind a pair of Post Falls (Idaho) runners.
Despite the individual win, the Hellgate girls finished fifth overall with 186 and third among Montana schools behind first-place Bozeman and second-place Helena High (148). The next-best Montana schools after the Sentinel boys were Hellgate in fourth (195), Class A Hamilton (206) in sixth and Bozeman (218) in eighth.
The boys raced panned out similar to how races this season have: Sentinel leads, with Hellgate not far off often in second. The two Missoula teams have led the AA for the most part, and sure look like the favorites unless a Bozeman or another team could have a big day.
The Hellgate boys placed two in the top 20 led by Finneas Colescott in sixth while Sentinel placed a whopping three in the top 13 between Klumph, Chase Green in seventh and Keagen Crosby in 13th.
"We are friends with all the guys on the team," Klumph said of the battle with Hellgate. "There is always that friendly banter going on back and forth between teams. But at the end of the day when we race them we will run better than if we don't race them. ... It's really nice to see the Missoula community just on top for running."
While there was plenty of good from the local teams, squads from Idaho and Washington finished high among the top Montana squads.
Idaho Falls, the defending 5A champ in Idaho, took the team and individual win on the boys side with a low of 100 — beating Sentinel by 70. Luke Athay, a sophomore, took first with a PR of 15:42.87, a time that would be second in the state of Montana behind Klumph. Idaho Falls placed four in the top 25 with a deep pack.
"It is a super exciting and fun race," Athay said, adding it is the first time he has ran the Mountain West Classic. "I think this is my favorite race we have ran this season. ... I told myself at this race there is a lot of talent and I had to just go out and run fast to try to keep it going with plenty of talented runners around me."
On the girls side, Post Falls out of Idaho went one and two between Samantha Wood and Annastasia Peters ahead of May, Burns and Helena High's Kylie Hartnett — aka three of the top four runners in Montana. After Bozeman and Helena went one and two on the team side, Lewis and Clark (Washington) and Idaho Falls took third and fourth.