Guide to the state cross country meets
at Rebecca Farm, Kalispell
• Due to COVID-19 restrictions, races are spread out over two days and spectators limited to two per athlete.
• Temperatures are forecast to be in the 20s to low 30s with chances of snow.
This will be the first time this season the Eastern AA and Western AA race each other after teams were limited to conference-only races during the regular season as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
2019 team champion: Bozeman Hawks
2019 individual champion: Simon Hill, Kalispell Glacier (graduated)
Start day/time: 3 p.m. Saturday
2020 storylines: The last non-Bozeman team to win the Class AA title was Missoula Hellgate in 2007. The Hawks would like to keep their state-record title streak alive with their 13th straight championship this weekend, but if it's anything like 2019, they'll have to work for it. The Knights finished runner-up the last two years, including a points tie in 2019 with the Hawks that came down to a tiebreaker on the sixth runner. The Hawks bring back three runners from last year's team in Xander Danenhauer, Joe Johns and Stirling Marshall-Pryde, who has posted the best time in the state so far this season. They have a top five with times among the top 22 best in the state this year.
But the Hawks' biggest challenge may come Missoula Sentinel, which also comes in with five runners who rank in the top 25. The Spartans have been led this season by junior Tanner Klumph and senior Wyatt Mortenson. Individually, there will be a new champion after Kalispell Glacier’s Simon Hill and seven of the top eight finishers from last year graduated. The lone returnee from last year's top eight is Missoula Hellgate senior Ignatius Fitzgerald, a University of Oregon commit. Great Falls sophomore Mac Palmer, Billings Skyview freshman Gavin Budge and Bozeman Gallatin sophomore Carson Steckelberg are ranked third, fourth and fifth in the state.
2019 team champion: Bozeman Hawks
2019 individual champion: Kylie Hartnett, Helena
Start day/time: 2 p.m. Saturday
2020 storylines: No one has repeated as AA individual state champion since Kalispell Glacier’s Annie Hill (2014-15). Helena's Kylie Hartnett would like to change that, but will face off against a group of standout competitors, highlighted by Missoula Hellgate senior Sage Brooks, a Syracuse commit. Brooks has beaten Hartnett this year and owns the top time in the state at 17:59.4. Leading nationally ranked Bozeman into its attempt to win a 13th state title since 2007 is freshman Natalie Nicholas, who has the No. 2 time in the state, about 11 seconds behind Brooks.
The Hawks’ top seven runners are among the best 12 times in the state despite returning just four runners from last year’s group of seven state participants. Included is Hayley Burns, who won the Class B title last year for Colstrip. Billings Skyview’s Emberlyn Hoffman-Gaschk owns the No. 4 time in the state and is one of four two-time all-state runners competing this year, along with Hartnett, Missoula Hellgate senior Abby Kendrick and Kalispell Flathead senior Tori Noland-Gillespie. Billings West junior Alli Keith has the fifth-fastest time in the state.
2019 team champion: Columbia Falls Wildcats
2019 individual champion: Sam Fulbright, Lewistown (graduated)
Start day/time: 11:30 a.m. Friday
2020 storylines: Columbia Falls raced to its second-consecutive title during the 2019 state meet, but lost its top finisher in Aidan Jarvis to a family move after last season. The Wildcats still return five varsity runners from last year's squad, but Hardin and Hamilton are both eager to claim the top trophy. The Broncs have gone undefeated this season, including wins over both Columbia Falls and Hardin.
Last year's individual runner-up, Hamilton junior Colter Kirkland, returned and has help from teammates Lane Cole and Colter Purcell. Hardin senior Tegan Medicine Bull is fresh off a win at the Eastern A meet. And while the Bulldogs have become accustomed to seeing their girls team atop the podium in recent years, if the Bulldog boys win it will be for the first time since 1993. Ronan's Brant Heiner comes in with the top time so far this season.
2019 team champion: Hardin Bulldogs
2019 individual champion: Brynnli Poulsen, Hamilton
Start day/time: 10:30 a.m. Friday
2020 storylines: The Class A girls will be the first on the course and the first to race under the new state format. The field is led by Hamilton's Brynnli Poulsen, who won in 2019 in Class A record-setting fashion. This season, she holds the top Class A girls time this season by almost a full minute. For the team race, members of the Hardin Bulldogs squad do not know what it's like to not win a state title as they have four in a row. They only graduated one scorer from last year's squad and freshmen Mariah Aragon and Dierra Takes Enemy have been solid contributors thus far.
But the Bulldogs' biggest challenge this season has come from Eastern A rival Laurel, which topped them in the Eastern A divisional and have three runners who have posted times below 20 minutes at some point this season. Columbia Falls could also make a run into the mix with a strong team effort.
2019 team champion: Eureka Lions
2019 individual champion: Brad Cichosz, Harlem (graduated)
Start day/time: 3 p.m. Friday
2020 storylines: The Lions would love to defend their first cross country title in school history after leaving Great Falls triumphant last year, but they stopped a Manhattan team that would also like get back to winning and earn its third championship in four years. This year, the Lions get to race a little closer to home and if they do come away with a trophy, it would be just the third cross country title of any kind in school history.
The Lions were led last season by Isaac Reynolds, but his teammates have been working on their depth after Reynolds suffered a concussion earlier this season. If cleared to race, Reynolds will attempt to improve on his third-place finish as a sophomore. Glasgow's Carl Zabrocki enters with the top time this season, but the Scotties' eastern Montana rival Wolf Point comes in as a strong contender for a place on the podium with five potential scorers within the top 40 of all Class B times recorded this season.
2019 team champion: Townsend Bulldogs
2019 individual champion: Hayley Burns, Colstrip
Start day/time: 2 p.m., Friday
2020 storylines: Colstrip's Hayley Burns won't make a bid to repeat and keep the individual state title for a third year in Colstrip because she's now running at Bozeman High, leaving the door open. Last year the Townsend girls were able to unseat Manhattan, which has won three of the last four state titles. The Tigers bring back three scorers from last year's squad, led by Hallie Hemenway, while the Bulldogs will bring back all five scorers and state runner-up Emma Stolte.
These teams are familiar as they have have met four times this year, with Manhattan triumphing in the three of the four, including the last two. 2019 third-place team Red Lodge could also round out the podium as the Rams are led by sophomore Brayli Reimer, who comes in with the top time. Glasgow's Iris McKean could challenge for that top finish as well.
2019 team champion: Manhattan Christian Eagles
2019 individual champion: Ben Morrison, Manhattan Christian (graduated)
Start day/time: 11:30 a.m. Saturday
2020 storylines: The Eagles will be going for their fifth straight Class C title after placing seven runners (only three of whom score, according to Class C rules) in the top 15 last season. Riley Schott leads a quartet of Eagles who currently hold top five times in Class C. The top time, however, belongs to Richey-Lambert's Sam Smith, who has finished runner-up the past two years, including in 2018 to Schott.
Smith and his Fusion teammates are hoping to break a streak of three runner-up finishes as a team and bring the trophy back to the Hi-Line, where it was before Manhattan Christian began its streak. The darkhorse in this mix could be Belt-Centerville, whose top three runners all are within the top 15 times this season. The one time the three teams met, at the Fergus Invite in Lewistown, Manhattan Christian triumphed, with Belt-Centerville narrowly edging Richey-Lambert.
2019 team champion: Seeley-Swan Blackhawks
2019 individual champion: Averi Parker, West Yellowstone (graduated)
Start day/time: 10:30 a.m. Saturday
2020 storylines: Led by sisters Sariah and Emily Maughan, who both finished in the top five last year, the Seeley-Swan Blackhawks will attempt to defend their first title since 1978. The top time coming into this meet is Belt-Centerville's Lindsey Paulson, who is undefeated. But last year's runner-up, Annie Kaul from Plentywood, has the next best so far.
Add that combination to Sariah Maughan, who's also a former winner (2018). Manhattan Christian also brings in experience that could land the Eagles a podium spot led by sophomore Ava Bellach, who earned a top 10 finish last season.