Pipi Eitel of Belgrade catches her breath after winning the 3,200-meter run at the State A track and field meet at the Laurel Sports Complex. (SLIM KIMMEL/MTN Sports)

LAUREL – Pipi Eitel was exhausted.

The Belgrade senior, who made running look so effortless at the Class A state track and field meet at the Laurel Sports Complex, fell to the ground and lay on the track, arms spread as she caught her breath. It would be almost another 30 seconds before the second-place finisher in the daunting 3,200-meter run would cross the finish line.

By the time most runners had crossed the finish line, Eitel was back up, offering words of encouragement and congratulations to her fellow competitors. It was just the third time all season she had run the 3,200, and she set the new Class A record with a mark of 10 minutes, 56.69 seconds. Bea Frissell of Polson was second at 11:25.23.

“There were two strategies,” Eitel said of the race. “I could either sit with the pack, like sit and kick and just go for the 10 points, or I could try and go for the record. I was honestly just going to feel out the first laps, see how it went. The first lap, when I was in the lead, I was just like, ‘Ok, I guess I’m just going to go for it.’”

Story continues below

The 3,200 capped an incredible individual performance for Eitel at the State A meet. She won four individual championships – also breaking the class record in the 1,600 with a time of 4:57.07 – and placed third in the 300-meter hurdles, but she wasn’t quite done after the 3,200.

Eitel scraped together what energy she had left and joined her Belgrade teammates for the 1,600-meter relay. They placed fifth to put the finishing touches on the Panthers’ team title, but it was more emblematic than anything for Eitel. It served as the final race, the final 400 meters, of her high school career.

“I was yelling at her on the corner, the last 150 (meters), and I was saying, ‘Last race, Pipi. What do you got? This is your last race.’ And she just hit a gear and launched it, man,” said Jacob Grinwis, who won three individual titles to help Belgrade’s boys to a third-place finish in the team standings.

Grinwis ran across the infield as Eitel sprinted the final 150 meters of her high school career. The two standout runners met at the finish line, embracing in a prolonged hug, tears streaming down Eitel’s face.

“Jacob, he’s one of my closest friends, so I was just really sad that it was all over,” Eitel said, noting her conflicting emotions. “It couldn’t have gone better, so I was just really happy.”

“Jake and I have been friends all in high school; we sort of got into running at the same time,” Eitel added. “Just how focused he is really helps me focus in on my workouts. Seeing him work hard makes me want to work hard. It’s not just with me, too. Jacob just brings up the entire boys team. Jake’s like a brother to me. He just really is.”

“She’s my family, honestly. … Her and I have come a long way together since freshman year,” Grinwis said. “I’m not surprised she did that well (at state). I’m not surprised she broke two records, won four state titles and two other state places. She works her butt off.”

Pipi Eitel of Belgrade runs during the 800-meter run at the State A track and field meet at the Laurel Sports Complex. (SLIM KIMMEL/MTN Sports)

Grinwis and Eitel have worked side by side for the past four years, molding each other into two of Montana’s premier middle-distance runners. They proved that at the state meet, combining to win seven events and carrying their teams to top-three finishes. The girls snapped Corvallis’ six-year state championship run, claiming their first title since 2009.

Eitel has running in her blood: Her mom was a distance runner and her dad, Tom Eitel, is an assistant coach for the Montana State track and field team, focusing on the jumps and multi-events.

“My dad never pushed track on me,” Pipi Eitel said. “I think I really fell in love with track the past few years, so I’ve been working really hard. It’s been really nice not having him push me when I was younger and stuff, just sort of letting me come to it on my own.”

Eitel had tasted championship success prior to the 2017 final, previously earning gold medals in the 400 (2016), 800 (2015 and 2016) and 300 hurdles. She added the 1,600 and 3,200 to her repertoire this spring, capitalizing to grab the Class A state record in both. Eitel has signed to run track in college at Northern Arizona.

The road was a little longer for Grinwis. He had never won an individual state title prior to this season, with two third-place finishes (the 400 last year and the 300 hurdles in 2015) serving as his best state performances.

“I crashed and burned, and I kind of hit rock bottom last year at state,” he said. “I knew that I never wanted that to happen again. I did cross country, and my mindset changed – I wasn’t just doing it to do good in my individual races. I was doing it with this day (Saturday at state) in mind.”

Grinwis placed fifth at the state cross country meet and followed that up with an impressive indoor season running for the Bozeman Track Club, but not without some help. Grinwis started training with Dawson LaRance of Billings Senior (who broke the all-class state record in the 800 at the State AA meet with a time of 1:50.22) and Simon Petsch of Billings West, who were receiving tutelage from Chuck Aragon. Aragon, who now lives in Billings, ran at Notre Dame and was the first runner in school history to a run a sub-4:00 mile. His daughters Dani and Christina are running in the 1,500-meter race at next week’s NCAA national championships.

“Chuck contacted me and said, ‘Hey, do you want to join us? Do you want to be on our program?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do. You’re Chuck Aragon and that’s Dawson LaRance and Simon Petsch. Yeah, I want in on that,’” Grinwis said. “Chuck gave me his training plan. I did the majority of it on my own on a treadmill, but a lot of the times I got to drive down to Billings to do workouts with Simon and Dawson, so that was really cool.”

In March, Grinwis won a national championship at the USATF Hershey Youth Indoor Championships in New York, setting a new 800 meet record with a time of 1:56.15. He shaved more than two seconds off that time to win the 800 at the state meet.

Grinwis added state titles in the 400 and 1,600 and ran the anchor leg on Belgrade’s championship-winning 1,600-meter relay team.

“It feels really good to be a Belgrade Panther, it always has,” said Grinwis, who will run at Boise State. “I actually had the option to go to Bozeman High this year, and said, ‘No, my team’s in Belgrade and that’s where I want to be. My friends go there; I’ve been on their team.’ I could not have done this without Pipi, and Sawyer (Degen), too. They’re my best friends. This team, they’re all my friends.”

Jacob Grinwis (left) of Belgrade leads the pack in the 800-meter run at the State A track and field meet at the Laurel Sports Complex. (SLIM KIMMEL/MTN Sports)