By Kim Staudinger
The Havre High girls and KG boys cross country teams both traveled to Helena Saturday for the State Cross Country Meet with the same goal in mind, bringing home a state championship trophy.
While, the KouGars knew Plenty Coups would be their main competition, the Ponies figured Bigfork, Miles City and others to be in the running for the top spots.
KG wound up in second place overall, but celebrated having three runners place in the top 15, one who ran away with the state championship. Senior Aaron Smith won his second state title in three years, finishing second to Craig Widhalm at last year's meet.
"We knew it would be very stiff competition against Plenty Coups," head coach Kathy Preeshl said. "We just didn't know what they would be bringing. We knew we would have to have all five runners in the top 20 if we wanted to win."
Heart Butte's Nat Iron Heart, who had defeated Smith once during the season, had hopes of ending his senior year in first. But, in the end, it was Smith who outlasted Iron Heart to claim his second state championship.
"I was behind so much of the race that I was about to give up," Smith said. "But, I didn't want to lose. I felt like I had no gas from the beginning and kind of got a second wind at the end. I thought I would stay back and see what would happen and, luckily things worked out for me.
"He (Iron Heart) beat me once this year and I promised my dad I wouldn't lose to him again. I am glad I held out my promise."
Fellow seniors Justus Wendland and Deven Donoven each improved one place from last year's finish. Wendland finished in eighth with a time of 17:06 and Donoven in 13th at 17:32.
Juniors Tyler Kapperud and Thomas Marshall rounded out the KG team with finishes of 18:21 and 19:10, respectively.
Kapperud, who has never ran cross country before and suffers from asthma, ran his personal best time, taking nearly one minute off from his time last week.
"I'm so proud of Tyler Kapperud," Smith said. "He's normally just an 800 runner and he came in here and ran his best time. He took over a minute off his best time. There is no one I'm more proud of than Tyler right now."
Although second place isn't exactly what the KouGars had hoped for, Preeshl said her team has her team has to be pleased with how their season ended.
"They overcame a lot from their first times in the season," she said. "They improved a lot over the year and to go injury free, we were thankful for that. We were very happy with how our season ended."
Havre, who was not as heavily favored to win the title as KG, hoped to take advantage of being the underdog to surprise the favorites and place in the top three.
"I was going for at least third," head coach Kim Ray said. "We had four girls that ran really well, but you can't win or place at state with only four people who give it their all."
Bigfork, who felt like the championship was theirs last week, cruised to an easy 30-point win over Miles City. Columbia Falls edged Havre by seven points to finish in third.
Alicia Rundquist, the only Havre runner in the top 15, finished in 11th for the Ponies with a time of 20:02, split seconds behind Corvallis' Athlene Allred.
"It was a fun race to compete in," Rundquist said. "I went out a little too fast, which hurt a little in the end. I ran a really fast first mile and my body wasn't used to that. I had nothing left at the end."
Junior Katie Siebrasse, competing in her first state meet, moved up to Havre's second runner position, placing 20th with a time of 20:33.
"Katie had a wonderful first state race," Ray said. "It was like she was a freshman; she had never ran before, never been on the course before and never ran cross country before."
Jenna Baltrusch finished just six seconds behind Siebrasse in 23rd place with a time of 20:39. Maureen Porter and Shannon Newth rounded out Havre's top five finishers placing in 41st and 42nd with a time of 21:29. Although
Porter was given credit for finishing 41st, Ray said Newth beat her out at the line.
"Shannon went from being usually our sixth runner to our fourth runner," Ray said. "It was a great race for her, especially since it was also the first race for her at state."
Nikki Dibblee and Hailey Schnittgen were Havre's other finishers with times of 21:41 and 22:02, respectively.
"The three people who had never been on the course before really helped our team," Ray said. "We needed all seven of our runners to help us out at state and three didn't. We had four who ran well, the others just ran to run the race and it hurts the ones who did really well."
Ray said the Ponies could have come away with a third place finish, but that a few girls dropped during the last mile, which hurt all trophy hopes.
"A couple of the last miles were over eight minutes," she said. "You can't run that at state. We were OK until about that point."
Still, the Ponies, who only lose one senior, can reflect on their season with positive thoughts and look forward to next year.
"The season didn't end the way we wanted, but we had a successful year," Ray said. "It's sad because you had hopes for a different place, but fourth is still good. They can't feel bad about how they did because they are fourth in the state out of 15 teams."
Rundquist echoes Rays comments about the finish to the season, and looks forward to using the experience to improve for next year.
"Everybody put forth a tremendous effort," she said. "We did have a really good season, but it was sort of disappointing to come away with fourth when we expected higher.
"We learned a lot of things we can apply to next year," she continued. "Now we can really concentrate on the things we need to improve on for next year."
One other area school also took to Bill Roberts Golf Course on Saturday, coming away with a sixth place team finish. Harlem High placed two runners in the top 10, en route to earning sixth place honors.
Junior Wes Main raced to second place, finishing in a time of 16:09. Kyle Raining Bird finished ninth with a time of 16:41.
Ben Carry Water finished in 30th, followed by Jim Kennedy in 64th, Jeremy Messerly (71), Al Obey (83) and Frank Skinner (86).
Missoula Loyola Sacred Heart took the Class B state trophy, closely followed by Thompson Falls, Poplar, St. Labre and Plains.