HELENA – Montana’s high school cross country season is in its final weeks as the countdown to the state cross country invite is officially on. Missoula welcomes Montana’s best to the University of Montana golf course on Saturday, Oct. 20, giving athletes little time to shave precious seconds.
The Helena High Bengals entered the fall with lofty goals and high expectations, and junior runner Jonah Fisher has been waiting for these final weeks of the season.
“I was just wanting to stay the best in Helena, for sure, and keep beating Jesse (McMurtrey) from Capital,” Fisher said of his friendly rivalry with the crosstown Bruin. “I want to do better than I did at state last year, do better than 13th and hopefully get in the top 10 this year.”
Fisher owns Class AA’s ninth-fastest time this season, a 16-minute, 19-second performance in Bozeman in early September. His competition is loaded with familiar faces: Every runner ahead of him is either a junior or senior.
“You get to know some of the kids pretty well, the ones you’re close to in the races,” said Fisher. “A lot of us will talk during the race because it gets really boring sometimes. There are a couple of kids that I talk to while I’m running, so you get to know each other. I went to a distance camp this summer and made some friends there.”
“It depends on what gets brought up,” Fisher continued, discussing the conversations on the course. “Mostly it’s talking about the season, what the goal for that race is and that kind of stuff.”
Helena freshman Kylie Hartnett is hoping to let her times do the talking in the homestretch of her first varsity season. Her 18:54.9 at last weekend’s Mountain West Classic, the premier event in Montana each fall, landed her a top-10 finish and the No. 8 time of Class AA runners this season.
“It was kind of stressful at first, but it was really fun because there were 51 teams,” said Harnett. “I got out there and was like, ‘Just stick with this one pack and I’ll be fine.’ I stuck with a pack of girls and placed in the top 10.”
Hartnett admits to placing pressure on herself this season, but hoped to “break 20 minutes, so I was really happy to break 19.” She credits Bengal senior Katelyn McKay, as well as Helena’s other fantastic freshmen – Kylee Wetzel and Rylie Schoenfeld – for the push in practice, leading to the results on race day.
This Thursday, the city of Helena plays host to one of the other significant events on the schedule, the Capital City 7-of-7, where harriers can key in on final tune-ups before the state meet.
“I don’t have to wake up at 5 a.m. and I get to miss school, so that’s exciting,” Harnett joked. “I’ll train really hard and mentally prepare myself to push myself and know that I have to be in the top 15 to all-state. I’ll really work hard to all-state. I really want to all-state all four years.”
Added Fisher: “It helps that you can kind of see who you need to pace with. If you see someone run what you’re trying to get time-wise, you can try to keep with them at state. It helps that you get to see everyone there.”
Thursday’s races begin at 12:30 p.m. with the junior varsity. It is expected to conclude somewhere around 5:30 p.m.