By George Ferguson
The word teamwork is used often in high school sports. Even in a sport like cross country where each runner is responsible for their own individual performance, teamwork still plays a big factor. Teamwork has been the concept of the Havre High cross country team all season, and it will be its main focus as they head to this weekend's Class A state championships in Helena.
"This is the first time in my four years that I have had a group of girls that really work well together as a team," said Havre head coach Kim Ray. "All the girls really know how to win as a team and that will be their goal this weekend."
The 3 mile race will be held at the Bill Roberts Memorial Golf Course in Helena and will feature teams from all of the Class A Divisions. The site will also host all of the other Classes state championship races. It's a course that should benefit the Ponies.
"I think this course really fits our team," Ray said. "It has some slight rolling hills and the fact that they have clocks at the mile and two mile markers will really benefit our runners."
Havre has won two consecutive team titles in an as many weeks as they head to state. Two weeks ago the Ponies won their own invitational, and last weekend they brought home the Central A Divisional title.
Despite that momentum, Ray feels that her squad is just one of several teams that will be trying to chase down the heavily favored Bigfork Vikings. Bigfork is the defending state champion and return a host of top runners from last year's team.
"If Bigfork runs like they are capable of, then I think we might be trying to get second place," Ray said. "But as I told the girls this week any team can have a bad race and if they (Bigfork) do then I think we can sneak in there for first place."
Ray also lists Polson, Sidney, Miles City and Colstrip as other potential threats at the state meet.
"Polson is a team that gets overshadowed by Bigfork because they compete together a lot of the season," Ray said. "And all three of those teams from the east are very strong as well. It's going to be a dogfight for second place if Bigfork is on top of their game, but anything can happen."
Despite the stiff competition, Ray believes every one of her runners is ready to compete, and all of them bring a lot of individual intangibles into this meet.
"Alicia Rundquist is just one of the hardest workers I have ever met and she will do whatever it takes to achieve her personal goals," Ray said. "And Shannon Newth has probably been our most consistent runner this year even though she hasn't ran her personal best yet this season."
Although Mandi Nystrom hasn't seen a whole lot of varsity action this year, Ray is also feeling very confident in her capabilities.
"Mandi is a natural runner and she should do well this weekend," Ray said. "She hasn't seen a lot of time with the varsity and yet she goes out at divisionals and takes third place and is our top finisher."
Ray also has a lot of confidence in her other runners who don't have that veteran experience.
"Kelsey Malsam is another one of our girls who doesn't have a lot of experience, but if she can get past her nerves she will do very well for us this weekend," Ray said. "And Becca Hilliard also just needs to figure out how to relax out there and run her race and she will be fine."
Two big surprises this season for Ray's squad came from a freshman and a senior.
"Senior Katie Siebrasse has been a great surprise," Ray said. "She has really stepped up big for our team and I think she is really going to surprise some people at state because she knows this is her last shot."
"And McKayla Patterson is a freshman, but she has a lot of experience because she has run with the varsity all season," Ray continued. "She is our emotional leader out there and she is always pushing her teammates during the race."
While Ray feels her team is poised to do well, she says the philosophy for the state meet is different than in the regular season.
"At this point the girls really need to run to place and not worry about their times," Ray said. "If they do that and they run like their capable of I think we will have a lot of success on Saturday."
All the action gets underway at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday in Helena at the Bill Roberts Memorial Golf Course.