As they’ve done for much of the season, Manhattan Christian’s boys dominated Saturday in their regular season finale.
The Eagles boasted four runners in the top seven en route to winning the Rusty Raisland Invitational in Townsend. Christian finished with 24 points in the five-team meet, while Manhattan was second with 34.
The invitational served as the final tune up for local harriers before competing in the all-class state meet Oct. 26 in Great Falls.
“Last week during practice you could feel that it’s championship time,” Eagles coach Nate TeSlaa said. “They’re excited. They just want to go and get it done.”
Christian, the three-time defending Class C champion, was led by Ben Morrison. The senior placed second with a time of 16:39.21 after Samuel Smith, of Richey-Lambert, pulled away late to win in 16:25.71. The duo will likely be battling for the individual title at state.
“He (Smith) ran a smart race and we’ll see,” said TeSlaa. “It was pretty windy and Ben led most of the way. After a while, after cutting the wind, it gets tough. But you learn from every race, come back, think about it and try something different the next time.”
The Eagles’ Riley Schott placed third in 17:06.82, while Matt Kenney and Devan Walhof were sixth and seventh, respectively, with times of 17:44.90 and 17:58.83.
Manhattan had two runners place in the top 5 in Michael Tenney and Wyatt Barney. Tenney was fourth in 17:22.46, while Barney was fifth with a time of 17:24.64.
“Things went pretty well,” Tigers coach John Sillitti said. “It was a very windy day but we stayed dry and the temperature wasn’t bad. Or maybe we’re just getting used to less than ideal racing weather.”
Three Forks, which placed fifth with 115 points, was led by Devon Potts. He placed 29th with a time of 20:20.46. Teammate Jaron Berg was 32nd in 20:40.83.
“We had a good effort from the team and although we weren’t necessarily competitive as a team I am happy with the boys’ times,” Three Forks coach Tara Forsberg said. “Our state team was pretty much set, so no surprise there.”
On the girls’ side, Manhattan had four harriers place in the top 10 en route to winning the meet with 24 points. Emma Stolte won with a time of 19:42.76 to lead Townsend to a runner up finish with 33 points.
The Tigers were led by Hallie Hemenway, who was third in 20:03.61. Teammates Jodi Cameron and Saige Duffin placed fourth and fifth, respectively, with times of and 20:23.84 and 20:36.07, while Pralie Duffin was seventh in 21:06.64.
“It was a pretty solid day for our program, top to bottom. There are still some things I think our team can do better in our final week, mostly in terms of individual preparation, making good choices throughout the week, and attitude,” said Sillitti. “Our seniors have been great. All five of our seniors have been stepping up in a huge way to set the tone for us, on the course, in practice, as runners and as teammates. The fact that these are their last couple meets is not lost on them. It showed in the race.”
Three Forks, which placed fourth with 94 points, was led by Hannah Wilson. She crossed the finish line 18th with a time of 22:08.55. Kodee Kolberg followed in 23:38.77 to place 28th.
“The girls were struggling today for whatever reason but still ran strong,” said Forsberg. “I’m looking forward to seeing how it all goes next week.”
Mali Kamerman and Ava Bellach posted times of 23:30.37 and 23:36.81, respectively, to place 26th and 27th. The duo helped Christian place fifth with 96 points.
“The girls ran strong too. The weather wasn’t probably the best, but who knows what state’s going to be like,” said TeSlaa. “Just getting out there and running, and having another strong meet, it drives them too.”
Eagles’ boys eyeing four-peat
TeSlaa doesn’t like to make predictions, but Christian’s boys are the favorite heading into state. They boast last year’s individual state champion in Schott, and Morrison has been a consistent top 5 placer in nearly every meet this season.
While those two will likely be among the top runners again, it’s the rest of the Eagles’ squad who will be key to bringing home gold for a fourth consecutive season.
“The younger guys, they’re coming on at the right time and the older guys are zeroing in,” said TeSlaa. “I think this is right where we want to be. Townsend’s kind of the tune up. You see where you’re at and what you’re doing, and I think they’re just getting excited.”
It’s unlikely that Christian’s girls will challenge for hardware, but they continue to improve with each meet. Thus, TeSlaa is looking for them to finish strong at state.
“They’re all so young. Well not young age-wise, but young running-wise,” he said. “Rachel (Bos) is the only one who’s run at state before. I think they’re just excited on the girls’ side.”
Tigers hope to be in trophy hunt again
Both teams won Class B championships a year, but expectations weren’t quite as high after graduating several key runners from both squads. But their progression throughout the season has made hardware a possibility.
“Heading into state, I think our boys are in a mix of teams that all have a shot at a trophy,” Sillitti said. “Eureka is still the overwhelming favorite, but our boys have worked up from being projected to finish ninth early in the season to being legitimately in the picture with other teams like St. Labre, Townsend, and Glasgow. I like our chances to finish in the top 5, but where we fall in that range will depend on the decisions our boys make this week.”
Manhattan’s girls have battled more than their share of issues this season. But, like the boys, have continued to improve and Sillitti likes their chances and earning a trophy.
“Our girls have overcome some adversity with off-season injury and health issues to become a very solid team. So many girls have stepped up that our depth is better than it’s ever been. They have also grown more confident with experience,” he said. “Townsend’s girls are very, very good and Red Lodge looks solid. If we are healthy next weekend I like our chances to place in the top 3.”
Editor’s note: The all-class state meet will be held Saturday at Eagle Falls Golf Course in Great Falls beginning at 11 a.m.