KALISPELL — Mark Albert might be the happiest man in Montana.
The longtime Hamilton High School cross country coach watched two runners — Brynnli Poulsen and Colter Purcell — sprint to first-place finishes at the Class A state cross country meet at Rebecca Farm on Friday. The Hamilton boys also took first in the team race.
PHOTOS: CLASS A, CLASS B KICKSTART STATE CROSS COUNTRY WEEKEND
Poulsen, a senior who set the Class A record in Great Falls last year, was the heavy favorite to win her second straight title. Her season-best time was 40 seconds better than the next competitor, and Poulsen lived up to the hype, winning by nearly that exact margin in Friday’s first of four races.
Poulsen finished with a time of 19 minutes, 2.3 seconds to cap her cross country career as a two-time state champion.
“I just wanted to make sure I had a decent gap between me and second place, just try to run the best race I could. Try to stay focused the whole race,” said Poulsen. “The cold started to get to me a little bit in the last little bit there, but the first mile felt really good.”
Laurel’s Andria Mourich placed runner-up, leading the Locomotives to the team trophy, snapping Hardin’s streak of four consecutive titles. The Bulldogs earned another trophy, third, but it was Laurel celebrating the win after four runners finished all-state in the top 15. Carly Cook was sixth, Grace Timm 11th and Lauren Taylor 13th for the Locos.
“It was amazing. Our fourth and fifth runners ran the best races of their lives, they really helped us out. Everyone encouraged each other during the race,” said Timm, a senior. “It feels so amazing as a senior to be a state champ, it’s so exciting.”
The boys race was guaranteed a new state champion after Lewistown’s Sam Fulbright graduated last spring. Ronan’s Brant Heiner owned the top time entering the weekend, but Hamilton runners were expected to contend for medalist and team trophy honors.
Heiner led after the opening lap, but Purcell made his move before the two-mile mark and never relinquished the lead, crossing the finish line first at 16:17.52. Teammate Colter Kirkland was second some 23 seconds back.
“I thought I was going to bring it in during the last mile, I was six seconds behind (Heiner at divisionals), so I thought I could shave six seconds there, maybe in two other spots and beat him,” Purcell said of the strategy entering the race. “I was really surprised coming over the hill that I had gained so much traction. The team pulled up, too. Tanner (Nead) and Colter, unbelievable. I can’t believe that performance.”
The Hamilton boys finished first, second, fifth, 11th and 16th, narrowly missing out on five all-state finishes. The Broncs totaled 35 points to defeat runner-up Hardin (54) and Columbia Falls (152.)
Full results can be found by clicking here.