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Area harriers hitting stride

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | August 31, 2022 11:50 PM

The cross country season is already underway for a majority of northwest Montana high schools, and it was an encouraging start for the Flathead and Columbia Falls teams.

Both schools competed at the Libby Invitational last Friday, where Flathead won the boys title and Columbia Falls — the defending State A champs — won the girls crown.

Add in defending B boys champion Bigfork, perennial B power Eureka and a solid Whitefish boys squad and teams got a good look around.

Glacier wasn’t there; the Pack gets going today at the Missoula Big Sky Coaches Invitational, where Flathead also will compete. Minus the Montana State-bound Sam Ells, the Pack will still be formidable.

Class AA

Flathead’s Lilli Rumsey Eash won the Libby individual title, and ran her second-best time: 18 minutes, 51 seconds. That bodes well since she was fourth at last year’s State AA meet, and was the only non-senior in the top 5.

“She competed really well,” said Jesse Rumsey, Lilli’s mom and the Flathead coach. “She had good offseason training and is looking strong. But we are returning most of our varsity team on the girls side, which is exciting.”

With seniors Madelaine Jellison and Nora Iams and juniors Mikenna Conan, Afton Wride, Elley Alvord and Hailey Hendrickson, Flathead might be hunting for a state trophy in October. Josey Wilson is another strong runner who missed the Libby meet with an injury. There are eight letterwinners back, total.

“It feels really good to have that kind of foundation,” Rumsey said. “I’m hoping there is a podium finish for the girls. They’re going to have to come together and work hard, and we’ll be in the running.”

Four letterwinners return for the Flathead boys, led by seniors Ethan Bay and Reilly Johnson. Junior Bauer Hollman was second to Whitefish junior Deneb Linton in Libby; sophomore Kasen Kastner was fifth, just ahead of Bay, who like Kastner ran a personal record.

Freshman Mitchell Johnson (Reilly’s brother), sophomore Jacob Johnson (no relation) and junior Will Barnes deepen out a squad that has a fleet of capable freshmen.

Glacier’s boys enter the post-Ells Era with some depth, helped by the return of Jeff Lillard from health issues that kept him off the track last spring.

Lillard, Mcgregor Adkins and Noah McKoy lead the way, but coach Cody Moore is also excited to have standout golfer Tyler Avery back after a year off.

“He’ll be limited in his racing, especially early in the season,” Moore said of Avery. “But he and Jeff will be our 1-2 punch up front.”

Moore added that two freshmen and a sophomore could be added to the lineup.

The Pack girls have Anna Tretter, Bailey Gable, Annabeth Henke and Sebrina McDonnell back from last season, and added junior Alyssa Vollertson, who was seventh in the State AA 800 last spring. Carmen Eddy is attempting a soccer-cross country double as well, a la Sam Ells.

“Our girls last year liked to work hard and liked to race,” Moore said. “But this group is a little more out for blood. They’re fiercely competitive.”

Class A

Losing state champion Hannah Sempf has to hurt, but the Columbia Falls girls seem pretty primed to repeat in 2022.

Having seniors Siri Erickson and Courtney Hoerner, junior Ally Sempf and sophomore Marissa Schaeffer back helps. So does the addition of Nina and Mya Badger, senior and sophomore sisters that came over from Great Falls. Nina was 30th at last year’s State AA meet for CMR; Mya was 46th.

“What a great addition they are,” Wildkats coach Jim Peacock said. “They’ve fit in really well with the rest of the team — one of those really nice surprises.”

Peacock is also happy with freshmen Ashley Andrews and Findley Dezzani, who finished in the top 12 in Libby. Erickson was second; Horner, Schaeffer and Mya Badger went 6-7-9.

“Last year (Schaeffer) came in never having done a varsity sport,” Peacock said. “She was good last year but is an entirely different runner this year.”

He remains cautiously optimistic: Hardin crushed the competition, including seven AA schools, at the Billings Invitational Friday. “All classes, they just destroyed everybody,” he said.

The Bulldogs, led by Mariah Aragon, were third at state last year.

Top area finishers that should return include Polson’s Ashtyn Wanger and Whitefish’s Morgan Grube. Grube was fourth at Libby, just ahead of Madison Vincent of the host Loggers.

The aforementioned Linton and senior Nate Inglefinger give Whitefish a solid 1-2 punch, and juniors Preston Iron Heart and Jerdan Crawford do the same for the Browning boys.

Columbia Falls was second at Libby, with junior Logan Peterson taking third behind Linton and Flathead’s Hollman.

“Logan is kind of a step ahead of everybody, but we have a group that is running 10 or 11 deep,” Peacock said.

Class B

Bigfork lost two seniors off last year’s team that jumped out of the weeds to take the school’s first State A boys cross country title. But a lot of talent returns for coach Ryan Nollan.

“Mixed results,” Nollan said of the Libby meet, where his boys finished fourth. “But it’s just good to get out and run.”

Junior Jack Jensen — third at state last year as a sophomore — is the acknowledged leader, but there’s also Bo Modderman, Sean Cotman and North Nollan along with freshman Noah Hamilton-Dixon along with Colton Ballard and Elijah Allard.

“Modderman had knee issues last year and kind of came on at the end and scored for us,” Coach Nollan said. “I think he’s looking to have a really good year.”

Can the Vikings repeat? Possibly, though Eureka (third last year) and Mission (11th, but with a bunch of non-seniors) may have something to say.

“It’s hard to know early in the year,” Nollan said. “But yeah, I think we’ll be in the mix this year. Top five, at least.”

Eureka’s Lucy Reynolds was the top area finisher at the State B meet last October, taking 26th as a freshman. Tabitha Raymond of Bigfork was 29th, and is a senior; her time of 22:18.6 was 08.5 off her personal best, set at divisionals last October.

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