By Ryan Divish
Havre High cross country coach Kim Ray didn't mean to upset her team. It was an honest mistake.
When she was counting the places of incoming runners, she mistook some Hardin runners for Ronan runners due to the likeness in two schools' uniforms.
Because of that, Ray mistakenly informed her girls team that it had finished second at Saturday's Class A State Cross Country Meet at Helena's Bill Roberts Golf Course.
Fortunately for the Ponies, Ray was wrong and Havre had really won its third Class A state cross country championship - its second under Ray - edging out Ronan 106 to 116. Eastern A champ Miles City was third with 122, while Polson was fourth with 169.
"We were kind of disappointed when coach told us we got second," said junior McKayla Patterson. "Becca Hilliard told us to take whatever we got with dignity. It was amazing when we found out we won. Everybody started crying."
Patterson paced the Ponies, finishing 10th with a time of 19:36 to earn all-state honors. It was her best time of the season in the season's biggest race.
"I ran on the course my freshman year and had my best time," Patterson said. "I was excited to run there again. It has little rolling hills, which I like. I'm not a big fan of big hills."
Patterson had been in sixth place for much of the race, but got passed up in the last couple hundred yards.
"We didn't have much of a kick," Ray said. "But I was proud of McKayla for putting herself in that position."
Sophomore Darci Briere also earned all-state honors, finishing 13th with a time of 19:49, another personal best.
"Darci ran a good race," Ray said. "She picked the right time to have a PR."
Havre's next highest finisher was senior Amy McLain, who finished in 16th place for the second year - one place away from earning all-state honors.
"I felt bad for Amy," Ray said. "To finish 16th two years in a row is a tough break. I know it was a goal of hers to finish in the top 15 and make all-state. She was disappointed."
Said McLain: "I was disappointed at first. Then coach said we finished second and I was really disappointed. But then we found out we won and it felt awesome. I felt a lot better when I got that first-place medal. It was really emotional."
Havre's remaining runners came in a fairly close pack. Junior Mandy Nystrom finished 33rd with a time of 20:54, junior Kelsey Malsam was 34th with a 20:55, and senior Becca Hilliard was 35th with a 20:56. Sophomore Christina Armstrong was 42nd with a 21:11.
"It was a great team effort," Ray said. "We needed all of them do well and they did. We had six of our runners finish before Ronan's fifth runner and we had all seven in before Miles City had five in. We had much more depth than the other teams."
Running as a team was something Ray had tried to instill in her runners all year and it culminated at the state meet.
"Everybody stepped it up and did what they had to do to help the team win that trophy," McLain said.
"We're a close team and we're talking to each other and helping each other out during the race," Patterson said.
Only the Ponies took it to the extreme, according to Ray.
Early in the race, Armstrong, who was running in her first state meet, took a nasty fall on the course. Instead of continuing on, Hilliard stopped and helped her teammate up to make sure she would finish the race. Hilliard's unselfishness cost her a PR, but paid dividends with Ray.
"That just says a lot about the type of kids we have on this team," Ray said. "Becca's a senior and it's her last race, but she didn't hesitate to stop and help out her teammate."
As a team picked to contend from the beginning of the season, the Ponies' climb to the top has been steady, if not speedy.
"There was a lot pressure this year," Patterson said. "It's such a mental sport, but we started getting confidence in ourselves and each other."
The turning point of the season may have come at the ultra-competitive Mountain West Classic where the Ponies finished seventh - the highest of any Class A school.
"It really made it seem like a reality that the state title could be had," Patterson said.
Despite the early success, Ray complimented her team's work ethic throughout the season.
"I'm proud of how the girls ran this race and all season," Ray said. "They worked all season for this. None of them were on the team when we won it in 2000. I'm really happy for the seniors. It's something they will always remember."
For the members of the Havre High boys team, the meet will also be something they will always remember, because it was the first state meet Havre got to compete in.
The Pony boys finished 13th with 313 team points. It wasn't exactly where they had hoped to finish, but a solid showing all the same.
"The boys actually ran great times," Ray said. "I know they had hoped to finish higher, but this was their first state meet. It was a good start for the program."
Senior Tyler Crossley continued his steady improvement, finishing 32nd with a time of 17:13. Junior Marcus Campbell was ran a solid time of 17:36, while senior Kyle Baltrusch was the Ponies' third-highest finisher with a time of 17:52. Jeff Hedstrom ran a time of 18:12, while senior Mike Welch ran a personal best of 18:31. Senior Seth Hinckley was right behind Welch with an 18:33. Sophomore Justin McLeod's time was not available.
"It was the best race that Mike ran all season," Ray said. "Tyler also had a nice race and ran one of his best times. The boys really showed a large improvement the last few weeks. I think we need them to start getting a little more competitive earlier in the season."
Central A foe Browning ran away with the boys team title, scoring 65 points. Ronan was a distant second with 97 points.
"The boys race was very fast," Ray said. "TJ Strange Owl ran a 15:27 to win it. That's a very good time."
Besides the team effort of the runners on the course, Ray was also pleased by the turnout of her other runners who didn't make the state roster.
"We had a lot of our kids make the trip down to watch," she said. "They did a good job of supporting the kids on the course, helping out with how they were doing and just encouraging them. It was an overall team effort. We also had a lot of parents and administration down there supporting our kids, which was good to see."
Besides the excitement of winning it, there is also a sense of urgency for next year.
"I know it offers a lot of incentive and motivation to our kids," Ray said. "They don't want to give up the title."
Said Patterson: "I'm ready to start training tomorrow for next year."
Class A State Cross Country Meet
1. Browning 65; 2. Ronan 97; 3. Colstrip 150; 4. Polson 163; 5. Hardin 180; 6. Dillon 182; 7. Frenchtown 189; 8. Columbia Falls 224; 9. Laurel 241; 10. Billings Central 250; 11. Belgrade 293; 12. Hamilton 297; 13. Havre 313; 14. Anaconda 365; 15. Libby 375; 16. Corvallis 386; 17. Whitefish 411; 18. Stevensville 472; 19. Livingston 538;
1. TJ Strange Owl, COL 15:27; 2. Nolan Real Bird, HAR 15:41; 3. Chris Bick, FRE 15:55; 4. Mackenzie Bloom, 15:57; 5. Zanen Pitts, RON 16:07; 6. Lynn Reynolds, DIL 16:10; 7. Aaron Hyams, BC 16:18; 8. Michael Fisher, RON 16:21; 9. Isaiah Webber, BRO 16:23; 10. Edwin Cree Medicine, BRO 16:34; 11. Marlin Blackwolf, BRO ; 12. Mason Giem, 16:46; 13. Chad Naumann, LAU 16:48; 14; Cameron Martinez, COL 16:50; 15. Logan Torgison, 16:52; 16. Collin Fehr, COR 16:54; 17. Terran Guadipee, BRO 16:56; 18. Ken Bird Rattler, BRO 16:58; 19. Ian Mallams, WF 16:58; 20. Grant Casey, POL 17:01; 21. Brian Vallie, HAR 17:03; 22. Josh Lynch, BC 17:05; 23. Buddy Cheff, RON 17:06; 24. Nigel Neaves, HAM 17:09; 25. Chris Dudley, FRE 17:09; 26. Matthew Bull Child, BRO 17:10; 27. Andrew Faber, Colum, 17:12; 28. Jerrid Morrison, HAR 17:12; 29. Olin McCrumb, POL 17:13; 30. Andrew Graham, RON 17:13;
1. Havre 106; 2. Ronan 116; 3. Miles City 122; 4. Polson 169; 5. Lewistown 175; 6. Anaconda 195; 7. Hardin 211; 8. Whitefish 278; 9. Belgrade 308; 10. Laurel, 312; 11. Billings Central 319; 12. Bigfork 333; 13. Browning 343; 14. Libby 363; 15. Livingston 366; 16. Columbia Falls 369; 17. Dillon 410; 18. Sidney 437; 19. Frenchtown 440; 20. Hamilton 596.
1. Brooke Andrus, BF 18:37; 2. Terinee McReady, RON 18:42; 3. Dianna Stanley, MC 19:09; 4. Meghan Keigley, BEL 19:15; 5. Sonya Rogers, LEW 19:16; 6. Lauren Fuglevand, MC 19:31; 7. Alexis Digiovine, BC 19:33; 8. Heather Haug, LIV 19:35; 9. Helen Pegram, BC 19:35; 10. McKayla Patterson, HAV 19:36; 11. Tana Stewart, HAR 19:46; 12. Samantha Campbell, POL 19:47; 13. Darci Briere, HAV 19:49; 14. Teri Lea McCormick, HAR 20:01; 15. Desiree Marjerrison, COL 20:11; 16. Amy McLain, HAV 20:21; 17. Alex Noble, POL 20:24; 18. Jonna Vandaveer, Butte 20:26; 19. Brianna Malmquist, RON 20:27; 20. Ali Hurley, ANA 20:28; 21. Amanda Vauther, ANA 20:28; 22. Kalin Andrews, MC 20:32; 23. Tessa Boehnke, BEL 20:39; 24. Christa Salomon, RON 20:45; 25. Kaneesha Benson, RON 20:46; 26. Kelsie O'Rourke, LAU 20:49; 27. Caitlin Fox, LEW 20:50; 28. Emily Damby, LEW 20:51; 29. Kalie Cook, POL 20:52; 30. Alisa Odgen, LAU 20:54.