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Valley Runners Stride into State Meet
Exciting cross country season concludes in Helena this weekend
Glacier’s Troy Fraley leads the pack early during the Glacier Invitational at Kidsports Complex in Kalispell. Fraley placed first with a time of 15:12. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
So far Paul Jorgensen’s 40th year as a Hall of Fame running coach has already been a memorable one. As the Flathead High coach describes it, this cross country season has produced awe-inspiring performances and historic results, especially from a talented group of local runners. According to Jorgensen, the Flathead Valley’s storied tradition of long distance running lives on.

The season will come to a rousing conclusion this weekend in Helena. The 49th annual state cross country meet is Saturday on the three-mile course at Bill Roberts Golf Course. The Class A girls will race first starting at 11 a.m. followed incrementally every half hour by B girls, A boys, B boys, C girls, AA girls, C boys and AA boys.

Bigfork sophomore Makena Morley will try to remain unbeaten in Montana and defend her Class B state title. She won last year in Missoula with a record-breaking time of 17 minutes, 44 seconds. The previous record was 17:58, established in 1996 by Eureka’s Elizabeth Roodell.

This fall Morley has already broken the 17-minute mark on multiple occasions, including on the state course in Helena. The reigning Montana Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year ran 16:50 at an invitational on Oct. 4, becoming only the second female to break 17 minutes on the Bill Roberts course. Former Flathead national champion Zoe Nelson accomplished that feat twice in 2002 on a slightly different course setup. Last weekend Morley won the Western B divisional title in Ronan with a time of 16:56, almost three minutes faster than the runner-up.

The top three male runners in Class AA — Flathead senior Zach Perrin, Glacier senior Troy Fraley and Missoula Hellgate senior Adam Peterman — have consistently battled with race times hovering around or below 15 minutes.

Fraley edged Peterman by less than a second at the Flathead Invitational in early September, breaking the course record in 15:10.

In the high elevation of Butte later that month, Perrin won in 14:52. Peterman trailed by seven seconds. At the largest and most competitive race in the state, the Mountain West Classic in Missoula, Peterman came out ahead, placing second with 14:33. Fraley was third, 14:45. Perrin was fifth, 14:58.

At the recent 7-on-7 race on the state course in Helena, Peterman won in 14:26, which was 11 seconds faster than the previous best set in 1986 by Eureka’s Shannon Butler on a different course setup at Bill Roberts. Perrin was second, 14:46. Fraley missed the race due to illness.

“Over the course of my tenure I’ve seen some pretty good runners but I don’t think I’ve seen three that good together in the same year,” Jorgensen said of Perrin, Fraley and Peterman. “Somebody might argue with me about that, but I’m looking at their times.”

At state last year Perrin placed second, 15:25. Peterman was third, 15:31. Fraley was fifth, 15:40. The AA state record is 14:41 set in 1993 by Billings Skyview’s Jorn Grimsley.

Flathead’s Zach Perrin, right, and teammate Ben Moon run in the Glacier Invitational at Kidsports Complex in Kalispell. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

Fraley and Perrin tuned up one last time at the Glacier Invitational last week. Fraley strode through the finish line in 15:12. Perrin ran noticeably restrained. He held back with teammates, motivating them to stay on his heels.

His final days of high school cross country have been “surreal,” he said afterward.

“I have a lot of pride in my school and our tradition. I want to make sure I represent that well (at state),” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have great coaches and it’s been so cool to be able to wear the Flathead jersey and be able to run for such a good team. I feel super honored and blessed.”

Longtime local coach Mike McLean, who took over the cross country program when Glacier was founded in 2007, credited Fraley with helping establish a new tradition.

“He’s worked so hard over the years,” McLean said of Fraley. “The other kids see that. And this year we have freshmen who think they’re supposed to be fast. They don’t know any other way.”
Bozeman has won four straight boys state titles and five straight girls championships.

In Class A, the Whitefish boys are riding a successful streak down the stretch under new head coach Sara Brist, who took over for her husband Bill after he accepted the head coaching position at the University of Great Falls last summer. The Bulldogs had seven runners under 17 minutes and won the Northwestern A division title in Frenchtown last week with 22 points. Senior Jace Kalbfleisch won the individual title in 15:28, edging senior teammate Fischer Gangemi by less than a second. Caleb Knox was fifth, 16:24, Keaton Grove was sixth, 16:33, Waylon Roberts was eighth, 16:50, and Thomas Hanson was ninth, 16:54. Elias Taylor was 11th, 16:59.

Flathead’s Natalie Jeude, center, races to the finish with Glacier’s Jessica Chery close behind during the Glacier Invitational cross-country meet at Kidsports Complex in Kalispell. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

Frenchtown was second as a team and Columbia Falls, led by seventh-place Zane Brunz, was third.

Corvallis has won the last two state championships.

The Polson girls barely edged Columbia Falls for the division title recently. Columbia Falls finished with 43 points, four behind Polson. The Wildkats had four runners under 20 minutes, led by third-place Samantha Mundel, 19:26. The Whitefish girls were third and led by fourth-place Sarah Latcham, 19:49.

The Corvallis girls won state last year.

In Class B, the Bigfork boys recently achieved an inspiring victory. The Vikings, who have struggled to field a complete team in recent years, won the Western B division title. Morley’s younger brother, Logan, placed second, 16:30. Paden Alexander from Ronan won in 15:56.

Other Bigfork runners landing in the top 20 were sixth place Carson Cantrell, 17:17, 11th place Chance Kittle, 17:49, 14th place George Gibson, 18:03 and 20th place Craig Cheroske, 18:44.
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