BOZEMAN — It was another successful year at state for Bozeman High’s girls cross country program, which took home its 13th State AA title in the past 14 years. While a state title is almost expected from the program each year, 2020 found a way to make this season more difficult than others.
“It was a challenging season," said head coach Casey Jermyn. "You have to do temperature checks and contact tracing checks every practice."
Navigating a season affected by COVID-19 wasn’t the only curve ball thrown at the girls this fall. Extreme weather was the other -- battling the heat just a few months ago to running a state final in snowy, cold conditions.
“I don’t think any of us knew what to expect," said senior Grace Gilbreth, who finished ninth at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell last weekend. "A lot of us have done state before, and this year has been anything but normal."
Through the chaos and uncertainty surrounding the season, all seven runners finished within the top 20, beating Missoula Hellgate by five points. The Knights snapped Bozeman's streak of 11 consecutive championships in 2018.
It was a special win for the seniors who didn’t even think they’d get to compete this year.
“Getting to run this year was definitely a reminder of why you do it," added Gilbreth. "You don’t do it for the big races or anything that normally comes with it -- just being thankful that any race could be your last high school cross country race.”
“I feel like each race was kind of, you’re just happy to have that race, especially after having to cancel track season (last spring). It was just great to be able to race again," said senior captain Natalie McCormick, who earned all-state status with a 13th-place finish.
Bozeman’s success over the years has been fueled by its veteran returners, but this year a major part of the success was in the hands of several newcomers.
“We did have a freshman come in, Natalie Nicholas, who was our top runner this year," said Jermyn. "She stepped into the program and almost didn't even miss a beat. She was our top finisher at state.”
Nicholas finished fifth at the State AA championships, a race she never imagined running this year.
“At the beginning of the season I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make varsity, so the whole thing was kind of a big surprise for me," said Nicholas.
So much success over the years has turned the heads of many cross country teams, including ones out of state. The Hawks still have one more race on the books this year, an invitational in Oregon, where they’ll be competing against some of the best talent in the northwest.
“Our coach told us an hour after state was over, 'Guys, we have this opportunity,'" said Gilbreth. "I'm really excited to see how we stack up against other northwest teams because that’s normally who we think about and compete against.”
“It’s just a chance to get down to sea level and run on a fast course and run against some of the top-ranked teams, " said Jermyn.
The Hawks will travel to Oregon next week for the Hydrangea Ranch Cross Country invitational, showing no plans of slowing down, even in the offseason.