By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
There is not another race left to save anything for, so the Havre High cross country team should run accordingly. At least that's what the Ponies' head coach Kim Ray believes as her team prepares to travel to Missoula for the Class A state cross country meet on Saturday.
Following a stellar performance at last weekend's Central A Divisional, in which the Ponies captured their third-straight team title, while their top five runners placed in the top 10.
The performance was by far the best of the Ponies' season and exactly what Ray was looking for a week before the state meet.
"If we run like we did at divisionals, if we run with the same determination, aggressiveness and heart, we could definitely give Bigfork a run for the title," she said.
Ray is the first to admit that the Bigfork Vals are the prohibitive favorites for the team title. Mainly because the Vals have won the last two state titles in dominating fashion.
Bigfork returns four runners from last year's squad and all four finished in the top 15 at last year's state meet to earn all-state honors.
The foursome of Brooke Andrus, Kaci Calaway, Lauren Dalton and Lesly Dalton form the solid core of returning runners. All four of the runners placed in the top six at last weekend's Western A Divisional in Pablo and ran times under 19 minutes on the relatively easy course. Bigfork dominated the team competition, cruising to an easy win over Polson.
"Bigfork has four very solid runners," Ray said. "But their fifth runner is nowhere near as strong. It brings them a little closer to us."
Besides Bigfork, Polson, Colstrip and Lewistown should also be formidable competition.
"We need to continue to run as a team," Ray said. "We have to know where are runners are at in comparison to their runners."
A year ago, the Havre runners were a little wide-eyed at the state meet. With several runners making their first appearance at state, the Ponies ran nervous and tight, struggling to run to what they were capable of.
This year, those wide-eyed youngsters shouldn't be quite as nervous in Missoula, especially because they are running on a course they ran on earlier in the season.
"It's the exact same course as the Mountain West Invitational," Ray said. "We've ran it before, we know where the turns are and what the hills are like. We can't let ourselves think the course is tougher because it's not. There are plenty of turns where we can make up at least 10 seconds if we run it right."
For Havre to challenge for the title, they must run their best race of the season and not let Bigfork's big four pull away.
"It's going to come down to how bad they want it," Ray said. "They know they are going to hurt during the middle of the race, but they have to overcome that and continue to run at a high pace."
Ray will flat-out tell anyone that her team should bring home a trophy, but is very capable of bringing home a first-place trophy.
"On paper, we are solid," Ray said. "But we need to perform. I have high expectations and our girls have high expectations. They want a trophy and they're going to run to get the trophy they want. It's not unrealistic to expect to compete for the title. Nobody deserves it more than these girls."
The Class A state cross country meet will be run at the University of Montana golf course on Saturday.