KALISPELL — Move over, Kremlin-Gildford and Seeley-Swan. Manhattan Christian needs to climb past you.
Christian scored nine points on Saturday, winning the Class C boys state cross country championship for the fifth straight year, setting a new Class C record. The Eagles were previously tied with Kremlin-Gildford and Seeley-Swan with four in a row, while Northern Cheyenne (Busby) also won four straight in the 1960s, though the first was in Class B.
“It was great to see all the guys come across the finish line,” said senior Riley Schott. “That was a very, very cold race, I was in pain for a lot of it. But I think we did good, I can’t complain. I can’t complain with how we did.”
Schott led the Eagles with a second-place finish at Rebecca Farm, one year after going for third in a similarly-snowy race in Great Falls. The Eagles finished Saturday's race in second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, and scored the nine total team points. The top three runners in Class C count toward the team standings.
Schott, who clocked a time of 17 minutes, 28.43 seconds, was followed across the finish line by Oren Arthun (18:28.47), Devan Walhof (18:44.97), Matt Kenney (19:10.56), Nathan Adams (19:13.80) and Cullen Visser (19:30.95). Christian’s final runner, Cody Hager, earned a respectable 25th-place finish.
Manhattan Christian set the Class C scoring record last fall with only eight points, nearly tying that mark on Saturday.
“I don’t know what to say about that. There’s our trophy,” Schott said, as race officials handed the Eagles their first-place plaque. “It was a very cold race, a hard race, but this is fun.”
“It’s just surreal what we do as a team. I’m thankful the girls got to have a great day today,” said Kenney. “The guys, we just put it together. I’m super grateful. There are a lot of people that help put this together, and it’s a surreal moment. Coaches and teammates have done a lot to get here, so I’m super thankful.”
The boys first-place trophy wasn’t the only hardware headed back to Churchill. The Manhattan Christian girls earned an exciting one-point victory over last year’s champion Seeley-Swan, topping the Blackhawks by the narrow 29-30 margin.
Ava Bellach led the Eagles with a third-place effort at 23:16.32.
“We wanted it so bad that it was something we really wanted, so coming into the finish line, looking behind me and seeing it was that close,” said Bellach. “We were counting before they even announced it, we were like, ‘Let’s get it.’ It was really cool to see it happened. It’s what we wanted.”
Belt-Centerville junior Lindsey Paulson ran away with the girls race, crossing the finish line in 20:50.75. Plentywood’s Annie Kaul, a sophomore, was runner-up 61 seconds back.
“My goals coming into the race were to come away with the first-place title and to run as hard as I could in the conditions. That’s what I was hoping for, a good placing and knowing I gave it my all out there,” said Paulson.
“I got to the top of the first hill and I was like, ‘All right. It’s only one lap left. I know how far I have to go, I just have to give it all I’ve got right now,’” Paulson continued, referencing where she created the separation from Kaul. “That’s when I started to pick it up and create more distance right there.”
Richey-Lambert’s Samuel Smith, who entered the final meet with the fastest time in Class C, won the boys race with a time of 17 minutes, 4.18 seconds. Smith was the runner-up at last fall’s state meet in Great Falls.
“It’s an amazing feeling. I am absolutely so blessed. I have a wonderful coach, wonderful family, a gift from God for running. All the credit to God, there’s nothing else,” said Smith. “Work as hard as I possibly can. Don’t try to do anything special, just work hard and run as fast as you can."
Smith’s medalist honor, along with Nicholas and Matthew Ellerton’s 11th- and 12th-place finishes, respectively, launched the Fusion into second place in the team standings. Belt-Centerville was third.
“That’s a lot of fun. Individual is one thing, but getting a trophy as a team is a special thing,” Smith said of the second-place trophy. “It’s a lot sweeter. All in all, a medal doesn’t matter. It crumbles into dust. First place, nobody will remember that in a while, but it’s so much fun to be here, so much fun to run and use the gift God gave me.”
Full results from the State C cross country meet can be found by clicking here.