State champions from three states and a pair of course records – not to mention glorious running weather – made the fourth Tracy Walters Invitational at Audubon Park on Saturday a great start to the cross country season.
The Bozeman girls and North Central boys handily won team titles in the event that scores eight of 10 runners instead of five of seven, and Coeur d’Alene’s Kinsey Gomez (17 minutes, 48 seconds) and Kamiakin’s Anthony Armstrong (15:15) set records for the deceptively difficult three-lap, 1-mile course.
Bozeman, with four runners in the top 10, three freshman in the top 13 and seven in the top 20, beat Boise 95-157.
“The girls had a great day,” Hawks coach Clint May said. “I knew they had a good chance. I didn’t know what the other teams had.”
Gomez sliced 9 seconds off her course record from last year, when she coasted to a 33-second win, but her time of 17:48 was just 13 seconds in front of Bozeman freshman Caroline Hardin.
NC had three top-10 finishers and six in the top 20 for 133 points to 175 for CdA, coached by former Indians runner Cathy Compton. Armstrong, a junior, ran 15:15, 5 seconds less than the race record set by NC’s Andrew Kimpel two years ago but only 3 seconds in front of Indians senior Vince Hamilton.
“That’s what cross country is all about,” NC coach Jon Knight said. “It’s a neat feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood, and great competition. It’s a neat, neat, neat day for everybody, for our sport.”
Gomez made it look easy, separating from Boise senior Kate Jamboretz about two-thirds of a mile into the race, but judging from the way she had to be helped at the end of the race, it was anything but.
“I haven’t been sleeping much lately, I think my schedule has been way too busy …” the senior said about the first week of school. “I always eat organic and I love my sleep so when things get out of whack, it shows in my performance.”
She showed her determination – and a little bit of fear of the unknown runner she couldn’t shake.
“I’m a very competitive girl and I will push my body to the limit,” Gomez said. “I did that today. … You can look back, there are quite a few sharp corners. … I don’t know her, so I don’t know how to race against her. I don’t know if she was saving up to surge, so I pushed myself.”
Maybe with Gomez’s experience on the course, Hardin’s race would have been different.
“I liked the course. I liked the hills, the hard part of it,” Hardin said. “Coach said to not go too fast, settle into what we felt was comfortable. He said if that was too slow then do what we want.”
Hardin buried Jamboretz by 48 seconds but couldn’t close on Gomez.
“I just have to organize my life and simplify it, because obviously running is the No. 1 priority now,” Gomez said. “It took me overscheduling myself and this to happen to realize I perform best when I don’t overschedule myself.”
Hamilton is adjusting from being a pack runner to NC’s leader. His surge on the final lap broke up the pack of six leaders.
But Armstrong sprinted past him in the final 200 meters.
“I knew he was going to be a tough challenge,” Hamilton said. “I was very surprised when I couldn’t see him on the last lap. Then he came (and) it blew my mind. I thought he was far away, but he was pretty close.”
That was what Armstrong expected from the start.
“Once the gun went off, I knew it would come down to this, just the way the pace was,” the Kamiakin junior said. “That’s the pace I was hoping for.”
Armstrong said the deceiving hills were taxing, preventing him from surging, while Hamilton felt the first lap was too slow, which makes their record-breaking times more impressive.
Meadlander: Shadle Park junior Nathan Weitz, Mead sophomore Andrew Gardner and Lewis and Clark senior Kenji Bierig had a close battle for medalist honors – but in three different races – at Shadle Park’s displaced Highlander Invitational.
Weitz was the winner, taking the junior race in 12:25, 2 seconds faster than Gardner posted in taking the sophomore race. Neither was challenged. Bierig won the senior race in 12:45, 9 seconds better than John Smith of University.
U-Hi edged LC 26-27 for the senior race. CV won the junior and freshman races, LC the sophomore.
Mead’s Baylee Mires coasted to an easy overall win (15:17) in the senior girls race and her Panthers beat Richland by 10 for the team title. Molly Cole took the junior race, helping Mt. Spokane to the team title.
Cheney’s Sanne Holland and Kinsey Pease won the sophomore and freshman races, respectively, and Missoula Big Sky and Richland earned team titles.
Silverwood Invitational: Rocky Mountain won the girls competition and Timberline the boys. Katie Bianchini of Glacier Peak was the top varsity finisher in 18:36.3. Justin Ross of Rocky Mountain was the top boy with a time of 15:50.0 over the 5,000-meter course.