By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
A week before their biggest race to date, the Havre High cross country teams put together confidence-building performances that will only help them at this weekend's Mountain West Invitational in Missoula.
The Pony runners ran solid times - most personal bests - at Saturday's Fergus Invitational cross country meet in Lewistown.
The HHS girls captured the team title with a score of 41 points. Billings Central was second with 61, while the host Eagles were third with 64.
Havre placed four of its seven runners in the top 10, led by senior Amy McLain's fifth place finish with a time of 20:27. Lewistown standout Sonya Rogers won the girls race with a time of 19:17.
"Amy ran really well," Ray said. "She is such a competitor. She takes it personally when she doesn't run well. But the big thing is that she is starting to understand how to run her own race. Last year, she ran behind slower runners because she didn't know."
Junior Mandi Nystrom came in seventh with a time of 20:35, while senior Becca Hilliard was ninth with a personal best time of 21:08. Junior Kelsey Malsam was finished a respectable 10th with a 21:24 in her first varsity race of the season.
"Overall, I was really pleased with how we looked," said HHS head coach Kim Ray. "The girls seemed really confident when they stepped up to the line at the start of the race. Becca ran her best time and has been having a good season. Kelsey has missed quite a bit of time with a broken toe."
Havre finished with a decent pack time of 1:12. However, Ray said it may have been better had Darci Briere not run an uncharacteristic time of 23:55 after getting sick on the course, or had McKayla Patterson made the trip.
"It was really hot and Darci got sick," Ray said. "She looked miserable out there. I'm just glad she finished the race and wasn't hurt."
While the Pony boys didn't win the title, they did produce their best team finish of the season, finishing second behind Billings Central. Havre accumulated 56 points while Central took the team title with a score of 30.
Junior Marcus Campbell continued his streak of placing in the top 10 with a solid fourth-place finish. Campbell ran a 17:37 - a personal best for him this season. In fact, all of the Havre High boys ran their best times of the season. Havre's Tyler Crossley also finished in the top 10, coming in ninth with a time of 18:25. Jeff Hedstrom and Justin McLeod finished just out of the top 10 coming in 12th and 13th, respectively.
"The boys looked pretty good," Ray said. "They ran fast times. For the first two miles, the boys ran really close together which is something they haven't done in the past."
Havre came in with a pack time of 2:02, which is not fantastic, but Ray admitted may have been lower if senior Kyle Baltrusch had made the trip. Still, all of Havre's runners broke the 20-minute mark, including Jacob Verploegen, who was running in his first cross country race ever.
"This weekend was good for our team to build up some confidence going into Mountain West," Ray said. "I want to build off this race because (Mountain West) is going to be a tough race."
Indeed, the annual race in Missoula is simply the toughest race on Havre's schedule, including the Class A State Meet.
Mountain West features teams from all over the state of Montana and schools from Idaho and Washington. There will be over 200 hundred runners in the varsity and junior varsity races.
"There is just a ton of people out there," Ray said. "It's the biggest race in terms of contestants that we will run in this season."
Besides the large number of runners, there is also a large number of schools - specifically 20 Class A schools that the Ponies will be competing against at state.
"It's a chance for us to get to see almost everybody we are going to see at state," Ray said. "It gives us a good idea of where we stand with other teams around the state."
For the boys, it's important because Ray isn't sure who is and who isn't going to be tough on the boys side. For the girls, it's a chance to see the teams standing in their way for another Class A state title.
The race will be an eye-opener for the Havre boys, who have never run in a meet this big. It won't be quite as big a shock to the Pony girls, with most of their runners having competed at the varsity or JV race in this meet last year.
Because of that returning experience, Ray has high hopes for both teams.
"I want the boys to come out and run well so we can have a good idea of where we're at with the other teams," she said. "I would like the girls to be the highest placing Class A team. Where that puts overall, I don't know."
Finishing above the other Class A squads would do more than just add confidence to Ray's girls.
"They should want to go out show people that they're the team to beat in Class A," Ray said. "It's nice to put out that intimidation factor early."
To be successful in a race with this many runners, Ray said her team must do two things - run their own pace and keep their heads up on the course.
"Everyone is going to go out fast," Ray said. "It's important to find your own pace in the pack. They also need to keep their heads up because the course has a lot of turns where they can make up a few seconds if they are watching where they are going."
Besides comparing where her team is at to others, Ray can use this race to determine where her team is mentally and physically.
"If they aren't mentally or physically prepared to compete, it will show in this race," Ray said. "This is a tough course. I'll be able to see if what we're doing at practice is preparing us for state."
1. Billings Central 30; 2. Havre 56; 3. Dodson 72; 4. Livingston 87; 5. Red Lodge 127
1. Aaron Hyans, BC 16:07; 2. Zach Nordahl, Rapelje 16:15; 3. Tony Klee, BC 17:13; 4. Marcus Campbell, HAV 17:37; 5. Josh Lynut, BC 17:48; 6. Bryan Peridon, DOD 17:55; 7. Terry Ketterer, LIV 17:58; Kenny Fawcett, Liv 18:24; 9. Tyler Crossley, HAV 18:25; 10 Justin Miller, BC 18:27.
Other Havre finishers: 12. Jeff Hedstrom 19:01; 13. Justin McLeod 19:16; 18. Mike Welch 19:38; 19. Jacob Verploegen 19:43.
1. Havre 42; 2. Billings Central 61; 3. Lewistown 64; 4. Red Lodge 99; 5. Dodson 157
1. Sonya Rogers, LEW 19:17; 2. Nicole Heger, BC 19:20; 3. Helen Pegram, BC 19:31; 4. Heather Haug, LIV 20:16; 5. Amy McLain, HAV 20:27; 6. Rachel Cole, BC 20:34; 7. Mandi Nystrom, HAV 20:35; 8. Deneige Phillips, RL 20:53; 9. Becca Hilliard, HAV 21:08; 10. Kelsey Malsam, HAV 21:24.
Other Havre finishers: 11. Christina Armstrong 21:39; 13. Kristine Keltgen 21:53; 26. Darci Briere 23:55;
1. Dodson 38
1. Michael Morelli, HAV 20:54; 2. Alex Miller, BC 21:37; 3. Sean Johnson, DOD 22:20; 4. Clay Nottingham, HAV 22:50; 5. Frank Running Fisher n/a; 6. Chris Beddeen, BC n/a; 7. Tyler Haakanson, Hays-Lodge Pole 24:48; 8. Lenny Gray, Hays-Lodge Pole 24:53; Mitchell Dolphay, Hays-Lodge Pole 24:55; 10. Dakota Tyler, Whitewater 24:55
1. Cascade 28, 2. Havre 35; 3. Lewistown 60
1. Nadine Mann, CAS 20:26; 2. Danika Patterson, HAV 22:35; 3. Emily Kostelecky, HAV 22:40; 4. Shaylin Zindler, CAS 23:10; 4. Kim Jestrab, HAV 23:20; 6. Kallie Olds, CAS 23:23; 7. Morgan Hecht, LEW 23:31; 8. Lauryl Kitson, CAS 23:34; 9. Seely Bergstad, CAS 24:04; 10. Arica Allen, LEW 24:19.
Other Havre finishers: 12. Meredith Hanson 24:48; 13. Chloe Kinna 24:51; 16. Jessica Obrecht 25:36; 17. Kaitlin Perrodin 25:38; 20. Becka Stone 26:11; 24. Megan Toldness 27:09; 26. Sara Lippy 27:17; 31. Mara Malsam 30:12.