SEELEY LAKE — Wednesday's walk down the final fairway at the Double Arrow Golf Course was bittersweet for Manhattan Christian's Jillian Frye in a couple different ways.
The 2018 Class C girls golf champion already knew her group partner — and last season's runner up — Landri Paladichuk, of Ennis, had bested Frye for the individual state title.
But the Manhattan Christian senior could still smile, which she did as she hugged and congratulated the 2019 state champion while they walked to the final green in Seeley Lake. Not only is Paladichuk a good friend of Frye, but Frye's girls' golf team had also captured the Class C state team title, too. It was the Eagles' third straight championship trophy, a feat no other Class C school has accomplished since the classification started playing its own state tournament in 2000.
"I'm just extremely happy for (Paladichuk). It hurts, no doubt, because you want it, too, but I knew it was coming down to her," an emotional Frye said at the clubhouse. "...I'm really just grateful to play with all of my teammates and get the three-peat. I'm also so grateful I got to play with some great people and two of my really good friends."
Frye finished with a two-day score of 90-95-185 to take home second place and help power Manhattan Christian's first-place team score of 618. That bested Chinook, in second, by 31 strokes. The Fort Benton girls placed third.
The Ennis girls didn't have enough players to post a team score, but the Mustangs are still bringing home a champion in Paladichuk.
And what a tournament she had.
The sophomore led throughout the second day, and she finished with an impressive two-day score of 88-85-173. She closed out her round with a string of three straight pars, and she nearly chipped in for birdie on the final hole of the tournament.
Her chip from the fairway off the front of the green actually hit the cup but bounced out.
"Honestly it felt so unreal. I was just thinking, 'Don't mess up, there's so many people here watching,'" Paladichuk said, explaining her mindset on the final hole. "I almost fainted. If I would have made that shot, my coach would have had to drag me off the course."
After Paladichuk hit the putt to put the finishing touch on her state title, she got one more hug from Frye, and then a slew of hugs from her friends, family and coaches — only fitting for a state champion.
Also celebrating a state championship were the Manhattan Christian boys, winners of back-to-back Class C state titles. The Eagles shot a combined team score of 502, powered by Caidin Hill's tour-de-force and Class C individual title defense. Park City placed third at 527 and Westby/Grenora finished third with a 532.
Hill shot a 74-81-155 to win the state championship for the second year in a row. What's scary for the Class C field going forward is that Hill is just a sophomore, and the Eagles bring back two more sophomores from this year's now two-time defending state champs.
"This has been a special year and a special run," said Manhattan Christian coach Jeff Bellach, who also coached Manhattan Christian to a Class C boys' basketball title earlier this year. "We'll never take this for granted. I'm just really proud of the kids — they've put in the work. We're just there to nudge them along and encourage them."
Hill and the Eagles certainly showed Wednesday why they should be contenders for years to come, too.
The sophomore standout, playing with a nine-stroke lead entering the tournament's final day, simply played smart all day. He drilled a 25-foot birdie putt on the group's third hole and almost coasted to a 39 on the front-9.
"That's when I started thinking, 'Phew, this is it. This is going to happen," Hill said.
It hardly mattered that he carded an '8' on 18 — he had still captured the crown by 12 strokes.
"I kind of lost focus a little bit and duffed one off the tee, but it was nice knowing I had that buffer and I could afford to hit a bad shot," Hill said of the 18th hole.
Fortunately for Hill, those bad shots were few and far between for him and his team. All four Eagle golfers shot in the 80s on Wednesday. Hill led the quartet with an 81, while sophomore Trevor VanDyken chipped in an 83. Sophomore Cullen Visser tied Manhattan Christian's lone senior, David Aamot, with an 85.
"It's awesome knowing how young we are and how much potential we have and I think the chances are pretty good we're going to repeat again next year," Hill said.
Darby's Ryley Conner will likely have a say when it comes to any thought of a repeat for Hill and Manhattan Christian next season. The Tiger sophomore tied for second place with Park City's Austin Popp (84-83-167). Conner finished with a two-day score of 85-82-167, and he particularly looked strong in Day 2 of the state tournament.
"I feel like I had an almost great round I kind of messed up my last four holes, and that would have definitely put me up there," Conner said. "But I was blocking everything out, I was really focused today because I knew I had a chance to at least take second."
His younger brother, freshman Ryder Conner, was just two strokes from an all-state finish, and Michael Talley showed strong improvement in his second season for the Tiger golf team.
Coach Mark Snavely thinks the next couple years — with the bevy of talent in the underclasses — there could be quite the battle between his upstart Tigers and the two-time champs.
"As far as the individuals playing between Manhattan Christian and Darby go, they better get to know each other, because it's going to (neck-to-neck) for a while," Snavely said.
But that's for later. This year — just like last year — belongs to Manhattan Christian.