Havre Daily News Sports Editor
The first steps of the 2005 cross country season will be eager ones for the Havre High cross country team. After three straight weeks of practice with only last Saturday's intrasquad meet to break up the monotony, the Ponies are hungry for some competition from other teams.
The Ponies will get a chance to feed that need on Friday when they travel to the Cut Bank Time Trials.
New head coach Tim Ranes has sensed in recent practices that his boys and girls teams are ready for a race.
"I think practice is starting to wear on them, especially since we haven't had a race yet," said Ranes, who took over for Kim Ray, who resigned to take a principal's job in Alaska. "They just want to go out there and see where they are at compared to other teams."
The HHS intrasquad race went as expected, with the boys running a little ahead of last year. The defending state champion girls team was also sharp.
Junior Darci Briere won the girls portion, while senior McKayla Patterson was second. It was a finish that didn't surprise Ranes.
"Darci and McKayla have been strong since the first day of practice," Ranes said. "They're running well right now."
Briere and Patterson return from last year's championship squad along with Christina Armstrong, Mandy Nystrom and Kelsey Malsam.
Patterson was the highest placer on last year's state championship team, earning all-state honors by finishing 10th.
Briere also picked up all-state honors, finishing 13th. Nystrom finished 33rd, Malsam finished 34th and Armstrong finished 42nd, despite taking a nasty spill early in the race.
The two remaining varsity spots are up for grabs with Christine Keltgen, Danika Patterson and Meredith Hanson all vying for spots. Since Friday's time trials don't feature any team scoring, Ranes will take his entire roster of runners. He will be watching his younger girl runners carefully to see who can make a push for varsity.
"The girls team is very deep," Ranes said. "We legitimately have 10 girls who could vie for a spot on the varsity team."
With that much talent and experience returning, dreams of a repeat title are racing through his girls' minds.
"The big thing for the girls is that they know what it takes in practice and in races to be successful," Ranes said. "I know they expect to be competing for another championship this season."
While the Pony girls program has established itself as a power in Class A, the Pony boys established themselves as an official team last year. The first season was a relative success, with the boys finishing 13th at the state meet.
This year the Ponies hope to improve on that finish, but will have to overcome the loss of some key runners.
Havre lost four runners from last year's state meet squad. Gone is top finisher Tyler Crossley along with Kyle Baltrusch, Michael Welch and Seth Hinckley.
Havre does return Marcus Campbell, who was Havre's second-highest placing runner at state. Also returning from that team is Jeff Hedstrom, who has looked strong in practice. The remainder of the runners will come from a group of 10 runners. Leading that group are freshman Jade Nystrom and junior C.J. Leeds, who is competing in his first year.
The HHS boys will get to see the best Class A has to offer right away as the defending state champion Browning Indians will bring its solid squad.
For many of the boys, it will be their first official cross country race and Ranes has been trying to teach them that there is more than just running.
"There's a lot of race strategy," he said. "We've been working on getting our runners to focus on their race and not run everybody else's."
The race will feature the varsity and junior varsity runners from Class AA CMR and Great Falls High, along with Browning, Cut Bank, Shelby, Conrad, Heart Butte and others. It should offer plenty of the competition the Ponies crave.
"The boys will get to see some good teams, especially Browning, which is in our conference," Ranes said. "I expect us to be right up there."
Ranes' expectations for the girls are a little higher.
"The girls are ready to go," he said. "They want to go out and make a statement in this first race. We'll keep track of the team scores and I expect them to be right up there with CMR and Great Falls High, if not win it."
The Cut Bank Time Trials will be held at the Cut Bank Golf Course and will start 4 p.m.