By Rob Everingham
HELENA Its rare that one school wins four state titles in one sport, but its even more rare when they all come in a row.
The KG KouGars did just that this weekend when they won the 1999 Class C cross country championship in Helena.
KG blasted the competition, as it finished with 29 points. Manhattan Christian was second with 79.
This is just the fourth year the school has had a team, and, under the direction of coach Paul Anderson, it has risen to the top every year.
This year, however, was different as the KouGars were without three-time individual champion Travis Stehman, and brother Trevor, who dominated the team in its early existence.
KG sophomore Aaron Smith, though, made sure the top individual spot stayed in Gildford, as he took top honors, overcoming Belt junior Craig Widhalm, who was favored to win the race. Smith finished in a time of 15:37. Smith was fifth at last years state meet.
Senior Eric Hanson finished in third place with a time of 16:03. Hanson won the spot by just one second over Josh Ricardi of Manhattan Christian. Hanson had finished fourth at last years state meet.
Virgil Stewart moved up six spots from last years state meet, as he took sixth place with a time of 16:41, just beating out teammate Justin Antonich.
Antonich finished seventh with a mark of 16:45 after a ninth-place finish last season.
The KouGars final two runners were Joey Fallo, who finished with a time of 19:52, that was good enough for 58th place. Thomas Marshall finished 67th with a mark of 21:21.
The top five KG runners finished the state meet in personal-best times.
As a coach, that is what you hope happens in the last meet, Anderson said.
Anderson said the score was amazing for this group, and almost as good as last years. Anderson said Smith had a break-through race in beating Widhalm, something Anderson said Smith had wanted to do all season.
It was awesome, said Anderson.
Anderson said they talked about getting back to No. 1 at the beginning of the season, and said he is relieved after feeling some pressure this season to get back to the top.
Since the beginning, Anderson said, he knew Smith was talented.
It took him a while to figure that out, and, by the end of the year, he turned into a state champion, Anderson said.
Smith is just a sophomore and, Anderson said, he had almost the same time Travis Stehman did when he was a sophomore.
Anderson referred to Hanson as this years captain. He said he was pleased to see Hanson get fourth, and, he said, it is a great place for a senior to finish his career.
Stewart had been the No. 5 runner during the second half of the season, and, Anderson said, he went into the meet strong and nobody could catch him.
Anderson said he was pleasantly surprised to see Stewart move up to the No. 3 spot.
Antonich, along with Smith, have been with the program every year of high school. Anderson said Antonich ran a great race, but had spent everything, and could not quite catch Stewart.
Donoven was an alternate last year, and, Anderson said, he used that as motivation this year.
As for Fallo and Marshall, Anderson said, they both contributed a lot in practice, and, he said, Fallo has improved a lot since his first year in the program.
The KouGars will lose Antonich, Hanson and Stewart to graduation this year.
We lose three big seniors, it will be tough to fill in next year, Anderson said.
Smith said he feels awesome. He said it is starting to sink in and he is liking it a lot.
As far as the individual title, Smith said he has wanted it for a long time and worked very hard to get.
Smith said Anderson told him to stay with Widhalm.
I knew it in my head. I had to give it my all, and it worked for the best for me, and Im glad it worked the way it did, Smith said.
Smith added that he knew if they worked hard and gave it their all in practice they could win the title again.
Smith said he would like to thank Anderson and Hanson for pushing him all season
He did a lot for me this year, pushing me, Smith said.
Hanson said they worked hard all season and said Anderson really pushed them, and he knew they had to work harder to win.
Hanson said he knew how Ricardi ran and knew if he could stay with him that Ricardi would tire out by the end of the race and he could push past him.
From the beginning of the season, Smith said, he knew they had a good chance.
We had to push fifth and sixth runners, and had to make it to state healthy and hope for the best, Hanson said.
Hanson said four-in-a-row feels pretty good. He said he was on top as a freshman and wanted to go out the same way.
I didnt care about my individual time, I just didn't want to stop the legacy, Hanson said.
Antonich said the feeling is really awesome. He said the race was tiring, but, he said, that everybody felt good and it was just our day.
Antonich said he knew they had a good team again this year and said they just needed the younger runners to step up.
This is state title No. 7 for Antonich. Four came as a member of the cross country team, two on the basketball team, and one on the track team.
It is more deserving of the school than me, Antonich said. I was just on the team, doing my role and was just lucky to be on the team. I have to give all the credit to the kids around me, they all have a part in it.
It feels good to win a state championship, Donoven said.
Donoven said they knew they had to work hard this year.
After watching the race as an alternate last season, Donoven said, not being in that race drove him this year.
I knew I had to work a lot harder this year, and it made the season a lot more fun, Donoven said.
Donoven said the seniors on the team really encouraged him and, he added, another push was that Anderson told him he had a shot at finishing state in the top 15, after not even running in the meet last year.
Thanks to the seniors and Mr. Anderson for a great season, Donoven said.
Stewart, who started high school in Cut Bank and transferred to KG two years ago, said it feels great to win two state titles.
As for repeating, Stewart said, he thought they could do it all year.
I was feeling good, and I was out to do my best, Stewart said.
Anderson said he is very excited and already looking forward to the track season and seeing if his team can repeat there as well.
1. Aaron Smith, 822, Sophomore, 15:37; 3. Eric Hanson, 818, 16:03, Senior; 6. Virgil Stewart, 820, 16:41, Senior; 7. Justin Antonich, 819, 16:45, Senior; 12. Deven Donoven, 823, 17:10, Sophomore; 58. Joey Fallo, 821, 19:52, Senior; 67. Thomas Marshall, 824, 20:21, Freshman.
1. Aaron Smith, 822, KG, Sophomore, 15:37; 2. Craig Widhalm, 822, 15:38, Belt Valley High, Junior; 3. Eric Hanson, 818, KG, 16:03, Senior; 4. Josh Ricardi, 834, 16:04, Manhattan Christian HS, Senior; 5. Champ Falls Down, 842, 16:19, Plenty Coup High, Junior; 6. 6. Virgil Stewart, 820, KG, 16:41, Senior; 7. Justin Antonich, 819, KG, 16:45, Senior; 8. Travis Johnston, 781, 16:52, Brockton/Culbertson HS, Soph.; 9. Barry De Haan, 833, 16:56, Manhattan Christian.