Kylie Hartnett

Helena High’s Kylie Hartnett wins the girls 1,600 with a time of 5.09.25 during Western Divisional meet last weekend at Vigilante Stadium.

HELENA — Helena High assistant track coach Jesse Zentz can't measure how much the synergistic relationship between freshmen runners Odessa Zentz and Kylie Hartnett contributes to their success on the track.

Jesse Zentz knows the co-dependence between the duo exists, and one without the other wouldn't be as good.

Odessa Zentz and Hartnett turned last weekend's Class AA Western Divisionals at Vigilante Stadium into their showcase.

Odessa Zentz claimed two first-place finishes in the 400 and 800 meters. She recorded a time of 57.44 in the 400 and in the 800 her time of 2:16.88 was a personal record.

Hartnett refused to be out-shined. She placed first in both of the distance events recording a 1,600 time of 5:09.25 and 11:11.04 in the 3,200, both personal records.

Jesse Zentz said the success resulted from chemistry they cultivated since meeting each other playing youth soccer as fourth graders.

"They've influenced each other's development (as runners)," Jesse Zentz said. "I think they drive each other and test each other in workouts, even though their specialty is a little different."

Odessa, who is a sprinter and a varsity soccer player, utilizes her speed built playing soccer in the fall to give herself a powerful starting kick.

Hartnett, in sharp contrast, participated in cross country this fall and earned all-state accolades. She built herself into a distance runner who excels in races with long grueling intervals.

Odessa Zentz and Hartnett are now ready to elevate their levels as runners  when they participate in the state track meet Friday and Saturday at Legends Field in Kalispell.

"We as coaches can only do so much, but (they) hold each other accountable and they fed off each other's energy at divisionals," Jesse Zentz said. "When Odessa ran a great 800, Kylie tried to prove a point in the 3,200 and tried to top that effort. I have no doubt they might not have accomplished what they have without each other."

Helena head coach Sheila Williams attributed the tandem's success to their lack of fear, a characteristic atypical of underclassmen.

"These two just have no fear," Williams said. "They give it their all, and they are (both) pretty determined. I just love to watch them compete."

The fearless nature Hartnett and Odessa may serve them well at the state competition when challenged by some of Montana's top runners from the east and west.

Williams believes they will meet the challenge.

"You just can't teach that competitive drive, and I found over the year that competitiveness pretty much drives these athletes in everything they do," Williams said. "(They) also challenge themselves academically, and no matter what, they want to be successful."

Jesse Zentz, who is Odessa Zentz's father and has been her coach since 2015, said Odessa's desire to compete has existed since the beginning. 

"(Odessa) has been a runner since the day she was born," Jesse Zentz said. "Since Day 1, she has probably had that in her. It's exciting to see her take this route. I am incredibly excited for her, and proud of her no matter where she places."

John Hartnett, Kylie Hartnett's father, says the common denominator of the success of the two is Jesse.

"Jesse is an incredible support, and those kids only get better and better because they challenge each other," John Hartnett said. "It's a neat chemistry Jesse has created, and it's just amazing to see when they go to practice they want to live up to Jesse's expectations. He's good to them and believes in them so much, and they do feed off each other."

Jesse credited Odessa's middle school track coach, Dave Stergar, for cultivating her passion as a runner.

"I don't think they would probably hate to lose as much they love to win, it's a nice mix for both of them," Jesse Zentz said. "They enjoy winning, and they don't like losing, but not one or the other drives them. They both have that competitive edge and fire in their belly, and both have worked incredibly hard for what they've achieved this year."

John Hartnett will find himself in a position, like many of the coaches at the state meet, as a fan of the sport.

"State will be a blast for all of us," John Hartnett said. "I am not quite nervous yet, and I am just a proud dad."

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Jason Blasco is the lead prep sports reporter for the Helena Indepedent-Record and a sports reporter for the network.

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