By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
Hosting a cross country meet is not an easy thing to do for Havre High cross country coach Kim Ray. With all of the preparation before the races, the variety of different chores during the races and the cleanup afterwards, Ray has little if any time to do any coaching.
However, when her runners take to the starting line at Saturday's Havre Invitational cross country meet at the Montana State University-Northern campus, Ray knows that it will be worth it.
"For a lot of our runners, it's a chance for their parents and friends to come and watch them run," Ray said. "We also have a lot of our support from the community and it's homecoming weekend. It's really exciting for them."
The Ponies have plenty of other reasons to be excited. Both the boys and girls teams are coming off solid showings at last weekend's Mountain West Classic in Missoula.
The HHS girls finished a strong seventh, the highest placing of all Class A schools. The Pony boys might not have had as high of a team finish as planned, but they made some serious strides in terms of individual times.
"I was really happy with how we performed," Ray said. "They were excited with how they ran and their times."
With the Central A Divisional meet looming, Saturday will offer both teams another solid race in preparation.
Central A rivals Lewistown and Browning will be in the field, along with cross country teams from up and down the Hi-Line.
Regardless of the competition, the Pony girls will be looking to repeat as team champion. Last year, Havre edged Lewistown 33 to 34 to take the title.
"The girls definitely want to win their own meet," Ray said. "We're certainly capable of doing that."
Actually, the HHS girls are more than capable. They are one of the favorites to win the Class A state title, let alone their own invitational. Varsity runners Mandi Nystrom (11th), McKayla Patterson (12th), Amy McLain (13th) and Kristine Keltgen (26th) were a part of last year's Havre Invitational-winning team. They will be joined by steadily improving senior Rebecca Hilliard and sophomore standouts Darci Briere and Christina Armstrong.
The Pony boys team competed in last year's meet as well, finishing sixth as the Havre High boys cross country club team. This year, the Ponies are a fully sanctioned program and fully capable of finishing in the top three of their own meet.
Marcus Campbell (35th), Jeff Hedstrom (53rd) and Clay Nottingham (57th) all raced for the Ponies last season and will run this weekend. Campbell has been Havre's top runner at the last four meets, while Hedstrom has been consistently in the top three placers on the team.
Ray wasn't certain of her varsity lineup this week, but Campbell, Hedstrom, Tyler Crossley, Kyle Baltrusch, Justin McLeod, Michael Welch and Jacob Verploegen, all ran sub 19-minute times last weekend.
"The boys get to see Browning again, which is important," Ray said. "I'm just looking for our boys to continue to show improvement like they have all season."
Besides the varsity races, there will also be junior varsity and junior high races as well
"Everybody gets to run at home," Ray said. "It's nice to run at home, we get to be a part of homecoming, we don't have to travel anywhere and we're very familiar with our course."
Unfortunately, Ray admits her runners don't really like their home course in front of Northern's Cowan Hall.
"The kids don't like the course because it's very tough," Ray said. "It's got a lot of hills with a couple big ones"
With Ray busy running the meet, she must rely on her runners to prepare themselves on Saturday.
"Putting on a home meet is tough," Ray said. "It gives the kids some notoriety. But I don't get a chance to coach much. The kids have to be self-sufficient. About the only time I get to see them is during the race"
The Havre Invitational begins on Saturday at 10 a.m.
HAVRE INVITATIONAL SCHEDULE
10 a.m. - Junior High girls
10:30 a.m - Junior High boys
11 a.m. - Junior Varsity Girls
11:40 a.m -Junior Varsity Boys
12:20 p.m - Varsity Girls
1 p.m - Varsity Boys