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Historic Wins, Statement Finishes For Idaho Runners at State XC
Idaho's best runners were crowned at Eagle Island Park
Published: 10/31/2021 4:24:00 PM
Marlowe Hereford
Contributing Writer


A year after winning the 5A state title with an impressive low score of 18, the Boise girls took to a course they are more than familiar with and added another state championship banner and blue trophy to their collection.

With another impressive low score of 27, six top 12 finishes and a 1-2 finish from sophomore duo Allie Bruce and Sammy Smith, the Brave extended their 5A state title win streak to four years Friday with an 86-point victory margin at Eagle Island State Park. Boise, which held the No. 6 spot in Friday's DyeStat girls team national rankings, is the first Idaho team to win four consecutive 5A girls titles since Meridian did so from 1999 to 2002.

In addition, Boise claimed a second trophy Friday upon placing third in the boys race and will have five returning boys runners.

"We're pretty excited about that," Boise head coach Aaron Olswanger said Friday evening by phone. "We're so proud of those boys. We didn't even make the state meet a few years ago."

Bruce and Smith did not move into the lead until 1,000 meters left, when they passed Post Falls junior Annastasia Peters. Entering Friday, Peters and Post Falls teammate Samantha Wood had the fastest girls times in Idaho this season (16:53 and 17:12.1, respectively). Bruce won the individual 5A girls title in 17:47.9, pushing past teammate and defending champion Smith in a sprint in the final 200 meters. Smith took second to Bruce by five seconds, Peters finished third in 18:00.3 and Wood was fifth in 18:11.6.

"Quite honestly, there was nothing too surprising about them being up in the front," Olswanger said of Peters and Wood. "We were pretty confident. That course plays into our strengths. Annastasia Peters did a heck of a job dictating the pace. Gotta give her credit for that."

Smith ran with a calf issue from state soccer and had to be taken to the medical tent upon finishing. Bruce, Sammy Smith and Stanford women's soccer commit Logan Smith, who are Boise's top three runners, had a six-day turnaround from Idaho's 5A girls soccer state championship match to the 5A girls state meet.

Logan Smith also had a top 10 finish Friday, placing seventh in 18:26.8.

"I love watching those kids give it their all and run max effort to be in there," Olswanger said. "They were really helping each other. Allie just had a little more in her."

With such a quick turnaround from state soccer to state cross country, Olswanger said recovery was the biggest priority for the soccer girls. Due to schedule overlap, the Smiths and Bruce were limited in how many cross country practices and meets they could participate in, including the 5A District 3 championship meet which was the same weekend as state soccer. Boise won the district title by 12 points in their absence.

"Sammy told me during their semifinal game, I think she ran nine miles," Olswanger said. "It was a double overtime, rainy game. They got some easy runs in (this week), some stretching, ice baths."

Annika Zuschlag (18:39.5), Lydia Nance (18:48) and Jamie Hamlin (18:49.9) also medaled for Boise with ninth, 11th and 12th place finishes. Olswanger said a handful of Boise runners will compete Nov. 13 at the Nike Cross Northwest Regional Championships at Eagle Island, then the season will conclude by competing as a team at the Pacific Northwest Regional XC Showcase on Nov. 20 in Arlington, Wash., on the Hole in the Wall course.

Boise graduates Hamlin, Zuschlag and Logan Smith from its seven girls state runners. Depth has been a strongpoint for the Brave in recent years, and Olswanger said incoming and returning runners will need to continue to develop.

"We've gotta keep developing these kids," Olswanger said. "It's gonna be a challenge to stay on top."

On the boys side, Rocky Mountain claimed its first state title since 2018 with a score of 40 points. Trent Wigod (second in 15:37), Landon Heemeyer (third in 15:56.3), Keith Uitdewilligen (11th in 16:10.9), Zac Pollock (12th in 16:11.2) and Tyler Sainsbury (16th in 16:18.6) medaled for the Grizzlies. Idaho Falls, which entered Friday's meet with four consecutive titles (three in 4A, one in 5A), had three medalists and placed second with 56 points.

The 5A boys individual title was anyone's for the taking upon the graduation of Borah's Nathan Green, the three-time defending individual state champion who is now competing for Washington. Idaho Falls sophomore Luke Athay, who entered Friday undefeated this season in 5k races, won in 15:19.8. He was fourth last year, and he joins Zac Bright (2019) and Adam Follett (2003) as Idaho Falls boys individual state champions from this century.

With COVID-19 canceling Nike Cross Northwest last year and Bob Firman Invitational last year and this year, Athay had not competed at Eagle Island since middle school.

"When I first crossed the line and went over to my mom, I was crying," Athay said Friday evening by phone. "I thought, 'Wow. I just actually won.' On the bus ride over (leaving Eagle Island), it really hit me. It's really special. It's really cool."

When Athay was an eighth grader, his older brother Mitchell made a prediction to longtime Idaho Falls coach Alan McMurtrey. A contributing member to I.F.'s four-year title run, Mitchell told McMurtrey that his younger brother would be a multiple state champion in high school.

McMurtrey has heard numerous predictions about middle school runners over the years, but he said Luke Athay has surpassed those predictions because he has been so consistent.

"For a sophomore to be able to do that and be so reliable, so dependable, it wasn't necessarily a surprise," McMurtrey said Saturday morning by phone. "It was almost more of a relief. For that to happen so early in that kid's career, it's pretty amazing. I don't think there's many people outside of the distance running community that appreciate how difficult it is what he achieved."

Friday brought a mix of emotions for the Tigers runners and coaches. Athay's individual title brought elation, the second place team finish brought sadness, and late evening brought pride and gratitude for an accomplished season. elation of his individual title, to initial sadness from placing second as a team, to gratitude and pride for what Idaho Falls accomplished this season. The Tigers had several newcomers to varsity this fall, and Athay was the lone returning medalist.

By late evening Friday, Athay said Idaho Falls' season felt more meaningful.

"At least for me, I think I'm more proud of that second place than first place last year," said Athay, who plans to run at Footlocker West and Nike Cross Northwest. "Last year, we were so dominant. This year we had to bond and had so many new faces. I'm really proud of that second place trophy and I'm really proud of my team. Rocky is just a great team. They earned that first place trophy."

Friday also brought many emotions for McMurtrey. It began with a less than ideal situation as both the 5A girls and boys races were delayed due to timing equipment difficulties, causing the boys to warm up twice within 80 minutes. He said the Tigers chose to run for first place Friday, and he noticed their disappointment upon learning they placed second. He is already noticing motivation for more among the returning runners, and he and the other I.F. coaches took the opportunity during dinner to remind the Tigers of their accomplishments this fall.

"'You guys have had a great year and you went for it,'" McMurtrey said. "You lost to a good team and you beat some good teams. I couldn't ask for one more thing out of that group. Our depth is one of the reasons why we were able to be consistent as we were. They have fun training together and making each other better. They gave it a heck of a run."

Two eastern Idaho schools claimed 4A team titles Friday and ended droughts in the process. Blackfoot senior Eli Gregory won the boys individual title in 15:43 while teammates Matt Thomas (third in 15:46.4), Justin Whitehead (eighth in 16:14.6) and JT Morgan (11th in 16:24.2) also claimed medals to give the Broncos 44 points for their first boys cross country state title since 1975.

"Our quote before the race was, 'Pain is temporary, but glory is forever,'" Gregory said Saturday afternoon by phone. "I know all of us will take that for the rest of our lives that we're all state champions."

Gregory is also Blackfoot's first boys individual state champion since Dave Draper in 1974, and he is the nephew of Mike Gregory, who won individual titles for Blackfoot in 1972 and 1973.

Gregory said the Broncos knew what it would take to win the title on Friday, especially having competed against the likes of Bishop Kelly and defending champion Preston earlier in the season. For Bishop Kelly, it came down to Blackfoot's fourth and fifth runner breaking up the Knights' third, fourth and fifth runners. Furthermore, it came down to Gregory, Thomas and Whitehead being ahead of Preston's top two runners.

Blackfoot carried out that plan on Friday, and Gregory and Thomas were running shoulder to shoulder leading the race by the second mile mark.

"When we took the lead like that, we were just working off each other," Gregory said. "After I finished, it was awesome. Matt came up and gave me a hug and said, 'Congrats, man.'"

The senior expressed excitement for the future of the Blackfoot program. The Broncos have steadily progressed during his four years, placing eighth in 2018, sixth in 2019 and third last year before winning it all on Friday. Blackfoot also has a new youth club program.

"I feel so confident in them," Gregory said. "I feel like they're gonna be in great hands. Especially with the state championship, it's gonna show kids around Blackfoot and the youth that we're an amazing team and you want to be on a great team."

A year after placing second, Preston won the 4A girls state title for the first time since 2008. Angelie Scott (third in 19:19.2), McKinley Scott (seventh in 19:29.2), Oakley Reid (14th in 19:54.5), Tenley Kirkbride (17th in 19:58.6), Maren Leffler (18th in 19:59.1) and Elly Jeppsen (20th in 20:05) earned medals, and all seven Preston runners finished in the top 22. The 4A girls state title had been decided by single digits for four of the previous five seasons, but Preston ended that trend by winning 59-89 over conference foe Pocatello.

Skyline sophomore Nelah Roberts repeated as 4A individual state champion, crossing the finish line in 17:53.3 for a 28 second victory margin. Roberts now now has two sub-18 times in her career and is also the first eastern Idaho girl to break 18 minutes at Eagle Island.

Roberts had never competed at Eagle Island before Friday, and she couldn't hear anyone behind her after the first mile.

"The beach was probably the hardest part," Roberts said. "I didn't want to change anything for this race. I went out pretty fast like I usually do. Breaking 18 was definitely a goal of mine and PRing, which I just barely missed."

Roberts led defending champion Skyline to five top 40 finishes and the third place trophy behind fellow eastern Idaho teams Preston and Pocatello. The Grizz competed with an alternate in place of No. 2 runner sophomore Marina Renna, who missed the meet with strep throat and a high fever, and finished Friday with 119 points.

"I think we all came off the bus and it wasn't our day," Roberts said.

Roberts plans to run at both Nike Cross Northwest and Footlocker West to conclude her sophomore season. She said repeating as individual state champion gave her a boost of confidence after bursting onto the scene last year by winning as a freshman.

"Last year was huge for me because it was breaking a barrier," Roberts said. "It was something a lot of people didn't expect."

The 3A boys and girls titles did come down to single-digits margins on Saturday. Sugar-Salem extended its 3A state record boys team title streak to seven years in a row with a winning score of 42 points, but the Snake River girls edged Sugar-Salem 67 to 69 to end the Diggers' four-year streak of sweeping both the 3A boys and girls titles.

Hailey Raymond (seventh in 20:00.9), Ainslee Miller (ninth in 20:06.7), Reagan Van Orden (10th in 20:10.7) and Allister Dillow (20th in 21:03.9) earned medals for Snake River, which had never won a girls cross country state championship before Saturday. While Sugar-Salem also had four medalists, Snake River's fourth and fifth runner finished ahead of Sugar-Salem's fifth runner.

Longtime Sugar-Salem coach Brett Hill had anticipated a tight battle for the girls title with fellow eastern Idaho teams Snake River and South Fremont. Early in the meet, he and South Fremont head coach Ryan Campbell ran into each other and discussed that very subject while trying to keep track of Sugar-Salem blue, Snake River purple and South Fremont red jerseys on the course.

"He asked, 'What are you thinking?'" said Hill, who now has a combined 49 state titles beween cross country and track in his coaching career. "'I said, 'I think you've got us by two points.' He asked, 'What about Snake River?' I said, 'I think they've got us by two points, too.' I was thinking at one point, we might be third. Snake and South, man, they both pushed us to the very limits. It makes the state meet fun."

South Fremont, which took second to Sugar-Salem by six points at last week's 3A District 6 championships, claimed third place on Saturday with 82 points.

Coeur d'Alene Charter junior McKenna Kozeluh won the 3A individual title in 18:46.8.

Snake River and Sugar-Salem also battled it out on the boys side, with Sugar-Salem taking a five-point win. Snake River had five medalists, led by senior Keegan McCraw claiming the individual title in 16:19.3 and Lincoln High taking second in 16:21.2. Top-seven finishes from Brigham Dalling (fourth in 16:57.6), Mason Smith (fifth in 16:59.9) and Porter Holt (seventh in 17:06.4) led Sugar-Salem to six medals.

Hill said the Diggers had a rough week entering state. Kate Dickson, who pulled her meniscus during districts, was replaced at state by Rebecca Galbraith. His boys team was almost in the same boat as Parker Dupree sprained his ankle earlier in the week, but was able to run on Saturday.

"Adversity is a good learning tool," Hill said. "I thought we ran really well. The last few years, we've been fortunate to win by big margins. This was one of those nailbiters."

Like 3A, the 2A team titles went to eastern Idaho teams separated by single-digit margins Saturday. Salmon, winners of the last three 2A boys state titles, edged powerhouse Soda Springs 62-66 to win its first girls cross country state title since 2002, when it competed in 3A. Soda Springs' top five runners finished in the top 30, but the title came down to Salmon having four medalists in Abby Williams (eighth in 20:01.4), Sara Deschaine (14th in 20:26), Brylin Bills (17th in 20:29.2) and Sedona Cannon (18th in 20:29.4). All seven of Salmon's girls runners Saturday were underclassmen.

Cameron Moore, a junior from The Ambrose School who placed third at state a year ago, ran 19:05.8 to win the 2A girls individual state title.

North Fremont claimed the 2A boys state title 60-64 over three-time defending state champion Salmon. A week earlier, North Fremont edged Salmon 36-39 to win the 2A District 6 championships. Saturday's title is the first cross country state championship, boys or girls, for North Fremont. Corbin Johnston (third in 16:11.5), Zack Johnston (fourth in 16:16.6), Max Palmer (seventh in 16:30.5) and Eric Anderson (18th in 17:38) medaled for the Huskies in their historic win.

Nampa Christian senior Grady Mylander, whose 14:59 earlier this month made him the second Idaho boy on record to run a sub-15 minute 5k, had the fastest time of this weekend upon winning the 2A individual title in 15:15.8. He was third last year.

The 1A girls team title race ended up as close as the 3A girls. Logos edged defending champion Raft River, which won a program first state title last year, 39-41 to win Saturday. Sara Casebolt (fifth in 19:59.90, Clara Anderson (sixth in 20:12.7) and Alyssa Blum (11th in 20:40.1) medaled for Logos.

Raft River did claim another individual girls gold as sophomore Allie Black, who placed third last year behind her former teammates Kaybree and Karlee Christensen, won Saturday in 19:20.7.

The 1A boys title race was not as close, as Victory Charter won 53-70 over Rockland. Victory Charter junior Ian Stockett ran 15:59.2 to win the individual title and teammates Luke Stockett (third in 16:24.7) and Connor-Douglas Robbins (eighth in 17:10.5) also medaled.

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