KALISPELL -- Hallie Hemenway knew the race for the Class B girls cross country state championship was going to be a close one. Even she couldn't have predicted how close.
Hemenway's Manhattan Tigers lost by a single point to now two-time champion Townsend, but the senior did everything she could to put her team in position.
Hemenway took the individual title by an impressive 14 seconds, finishing the 5K race in 20 minutes, 10.99 seconds, well ahead of runner-up Natalie Wood of Big Timber and third-place finisher Emma Stolte of Townsend. Hemenway trailed Wood for the majority of the first two miles, but her final mile was 17 seconds faster than her Sheepherder counterpart, guiding her to the title after a seventh-place effort a year ago.
"It felt good to go out and run my hardest to win," said Hemenway. "For me, it felt like it was a lot closer than that. We ran together for most of the race, and it was a good feeling to win."
Stolte, who finished second last year, knew the race against Hemenway and her Tigers would likely come down to single digits, but she never expected a single point.
"Coach (Brooke Dolan) came on the bus and she goes, 'I think we won by one point,' but we didn't get too excited yet because we didn't know if it was for sure or not," said Stolte. "She came back on and said, 'We won.' We all started cheering, super excited. ... It's awesome, incredible. It's one of the best feelings ever."
Townsend placed three in the top 10 and five in the top 30, creating the edge over Manhattan. The top five runners from each team are included in the final team scores. Along with Stolte, Bailey Taves (eighth), Sarah Christensen (ninth) and Justene Santi (12th) finished with all-state honors, which require a top-15 finish, for the Bulldogs.
"I came across the finish line and immediately looked for my team, because they're my support," said Stolte. "Right away I saw Bailey come across, then Sarah, and then after about 10 more seconds I saw Justene come across. I was like, 'We might have just done it.'"
Manhattan sent three to the all-state list -- Hemenway, Madeline Serverson (11th) and Saige Duffin (15th) -- narrowly missing two more as Rylee Cameron finished 16th and Miah Fenno was 17th. The sixth and seventh runners for the Tigers, Deanna Yung and Kit Wiersema, were 20th and 22nd, respectively, placing each Manhattan runner in the top 22 for the race, though only the top five contribute to the team score.
"I'm very proud (of my team). They've worked very hard, and if it wasn't for them, I don't know if I would have been able to win a state championship," said Hemenway. "They push me in practice, they're always there, even on those days I couldn't get motivated, they were there saying, 'No, it's time to get motivated and run and work at this.'"
"As an individual, I'm very happy," she continued. "I worked all summer to get up to where I am now, to run my best and compete well, because there are so many good girls competing in Class B. It was exciting to be able to see my hard work pay off from the summer and the season."
Red Lodge placed third behind sophomore Brayli Reimer's fifth-place effort.
The boys race was the most exciting of Friday's first four runs at Rebecca Farm. Wolf Point's Zander Ackerman sprinted past Thompson Falls' Justin Morgan down the hill in the homestretch, winning by a slight margin of 0.84 seconds.
The duo traded places throughout, with Morgan leading after the first mile and Ackerman after the second, but the downhill kick at the end was enough to propel the Wolf Point senior to the title.
"It makes me want to cry. No one would have ever expected me to come out on top (Friday), I wasn't ranked first," said Ackerman, who crossed the finish line in 17:16.85. "I'm glad I came out like that and glad I finished strong."
"I took the lead for a little while and thought I was going to take it all the way," Ackerman continued. "(Morgan) is a strong kid, he came back and got in front of me again. The backstretch, I really raced him, but he was tough to beat. He's a great competitor."
Eureka, as expected, made quick work of the team title, scoring 63 points on three top-10 finishes. Chaidh Lochridge, who placed seventh last fall, ran to a third-place finish Friday, crossing the tape in 17:43.43, while Gavin Bates was sixth and Isaac Reynolds 10th for the Lions.
Manhattan was again second, with Wyatt Barney leading the Tigers, finishing seventh. Three Forks collected a third-place team trophy.
Full results from the Class B cross country state meet can be found here.