HELENA – The past few seasons have been some of the best in the history of the Helena High boys track and field program. In fact, according to head coach Tony Arntson, since 2015 the Bengals have seen every record on the track, with the exception of the 100-meter dash, broken, some more than once.
Of those program records, arguably the most prestigious came in the 400. Connor Matthews posted a time of 47.75 seconds in 2016, winning the State AA championship and setting a new all-class record. Matthews, now at Princeton, became the first Treasure State sprinter to run under 48 seconds with fully automatic timing.
“It was pretty crazy, but he worked so hard that we saw it coming, really. He was the hardest-working kid I’ve pretty much ever seen in a sport,” said current Helena High senior Kaleb Winterburn. “That was well-deserved, and it was pretty awesome. I can remember watching him get his medal and stuff. It was pretty cool.”
“We definitely expected it, just because he was so dominant the whole year, statewide and in general,” added Bengals’ senior Ray Trudeau. “He worked so hard and we honestly expected that to happen.”
But Matthews’ record didn’t stand for long. Less than a year after watching his teammate set the new mark, Helena’s Zander Mozer crossed the finish line in 47.52 seconds at the State AA meet.
“When Zander broke it, that was pretty wild. That whole meet was pretty wild for Helena High. It was pretty exciting,” recalled Trudeau. “I remember he broke the record and I ran out there and hugged him right after. It was crazy to watch. It was super exciting to watch.”
“Zander is just a freak of nature, really. He wins the 200, the 400 and gets second in the 100 and his times were insane,” said Winterburn. “He wasn’t even running 47s coming into the meet and then he drops to 47. Anything can really happen.”
After two straight seasons of record-setting, the streak falls on Trudeau and Winterburn at this weekend’s State AA meet in Great Falls. The seniors have each qualified for state in the 400, but do they have a chance at continuing the record-setting for the Bengals?
“You know, I think we do. With Raymond Trudeau and I, we’ll just drop our personal bests by 3.5 seconds each and hopefully get the state record once again,” Winterburn said with a grin.
A heavy dose of sarcasm shows Winterburn’s true feelings about the record, with Trudeau laughing in the background. Though neither is expected to touch their former teammates’ records, they’re hoping to find some motivation in their performances.
“It’s cool running with these guys that are so good in years prior. Then you come in and you’re thinking, ‘OK, maybe if I can get at least a little bit of that I can do something, place or something.’ That’s kind of the mentality I got from it,” said Trudeau.
Trudeau and Winterburn aren’t alone in chasing a seemingly untouchable record this season; no sprinter in the state has gone below 49 seconds in the event. But the Bengal teammates would like to keep a different program tradition intact, sending a Helena High 400 runner to the podium for the fifth consecutive year.
“I think Ray and I would both like to place,” said Winterburn, who ranks 11th in Class AA with a personal-best of 51.16. “I think we’ll have a little different strategy this week and just go a little harder the whole race, start out a little faster and hopefully end up top six.”
“I’m coming in ranked seventh right now, so I’m really hoping to PR. Honestly, if I could go sub-50, that’s my goal. I PR’d last week, got to the 50-flat range, so I’m hoping to get down below 50. If I did that I would be ecstatic no matter how I placed,” said Trudeau, who ran his personal record of 50.65 at last weekend’s divisional meet. “(But both of us placing) would definitely be a surreal moment. It would definitely be fun. It’s happened a few different times this season, so hopefully it can happen at state.”