The Libby High School cross country team competed at the Montana High School Association Cross Country State Championship at the University of Montana on Saturday, continuing to set new personal bests even at the close of the season.
Libby Head Coach Rodd Zeiler extended a special congratulations and thank you to his seniors at the end of the season.
“Those seniors will be missed. They always showed their best and they’re leaving cross country a better place than when they started,” he said.
The Logger seniors include William O’Connell, who set a new personal record 18:59.4 5k time at state, cutting seven seconds from his time at the Western ‘A’ Classic a week before.
Senior Lauren Thorstenson had her second-fastest time of the season at state with a 22:05, as did fellow senior Mikalyn Zeiler with a 23:09.4.
Zeiler also called out senior and team manager Cort Stern, who has been with the team all four years, and was able to run in one race this year.
“He’s been exceptional — a lot of help,” Zeiler said.
For the boys, five of six Loggers who competed at state set a personal or season record, Zeiler noted. The sixth, freshman Dawson Rose, still had his second-best time of the year.
Rose pulled off a 21:45.7 to close a year in which most of his times have hovered between 23 and 24 minutes.
“We’re still by no means competitive in terms of speed, but we do have some stamina, and we’re chomping at the bit, and we’re starting to learn what it’s going to take,” Zeiler said. “What’s nice is that they’re all capable runners, and they’re learning some speed. Some things clicked at the last second.”
Junior John Cheroske had a new personal record 18:49.6 5k time at the state championship, cutting almost 21 seconds off his previous best from a week earlier, and beating his sophomore season record by two seconds.
After state, Cheroske, told Zeiler that “something just clicked” that day.
Junior Freddy Moore ended the year with a season record 24:26.3, taking his time down 13 seconds from the Mountain West Classic Sept. 29.
The Lady Loggers did not have quite as good of a day at state as the boys with personal times, but still placed 16 out of 21 to end a season where they had often found themselves not even placing as a team in some meets.
And while they didn’t have as many personal bests, the members of the girls team still knocked out some of their best times of this season by significant margins.
Sophomore Gabby Fantozzi pushed out a 30:21.0, coming within seconds of besting her time from the Mountain West Classic Sept. 29, to end a season during which her times had steadily dropped.
Sophomore Savanna Sanderson came up short of a new season record at state with 30:46, after dropping her best time by nearly three minutes a week prior at the Western ‘A’ Classic. Yet, she still pulled off her second-fastest time of the year.
Sophomore Sally Weber also had her second best time of the year at the state meet, with a 31:32.4, almost a full five minutes faster than her slowest time in her first season as a cross country runner.
Freshman Lucky Martin — who also competed as a middle schooler — has been making big strides in his first season as a high school runner. His personal record 19:45 on Saturday comes at the end of a season he began with a 22:25.
Freshman Vance Ward pulled off another personal record with a 22:35.8, besting his 23:00.4 from a week prior at the Western ‘A’ Classic. Ward has dropped almost four minutes from his 5k time over the course of the year.
The season has seen the runners dealing with injuries as they pushed to make up for training time lost to the fire season, and Zeiler said he felt like he had to push the runners harder than he would have liked.
Yet, he said he was proud of the dedication the team members have shown, and the excitement they are carrying out of the season.
After the state meet, Zeiler said he had runners asking how soon they could start training again, encountering resistance even to telling them to take two weeks off.
His runners are showing they understand the importance of continuing to do more than just run, with a focus on lifting and exercises to improve posture, balance and form.
There’s more than just being better cross country athletes behind the program, Zeiler said.
“I believe that what we do on a daily basis will improve your life, lifelong,” he said.
Some of that is balance in life, as the athletes struggle to find time in their routines for training, he said. When talking to them about finding time in their day for their personal health and well-being, he emphasizes that it won’t get any easier later in life to make those things fit, and to make it a habit now.
With running itself, Zeiler said he has athletes who, though they may not rank high competitively, he focuses on because of the grit they show and personal benefit he sees them get out of running.
“I’ve got a few junior high kids that just know that this is going to have to be an entire-life skill,” he said.
There is a common misconception about the healthfulness of running, Zeiler said.
“What I tell athletes and what I tell people is that, running doesn’t create problems, but it will find them,” he said.
Just like any other physical activity, running done improperly can cause injuries, and everyone needs a coach to help them stay on track, even adults, he said.
But running can help to identify potential health issues and address them as well, he said. “If you have an issue, if you have an imbalance, if you have poor posture, you will feel it.”
And that’s when the runner can seek out a trainer or an instructor, engaging in weight lifting, yoga or other activities that will improve their overall health and their running, he said.
“So that’s what all my athletes are starting — I think they’re really realizing that, which I’m really proud of them,” he said.
MHSA ‘A’ XC Championship
Saturday, Oct. 20
Boys Varsity 5k
Team scores: 1. Columbia Falls 76, 2. Hardin 107, 3. Laurel 110, 4. Fergus 115, 5. Corvallis 189, 6. Frenchtown 203, 7. Belgrade 205, 8. Hamilton 216, 9. Havre 250, 10. Ronan 262, 11. Polson 274, 12. Whitefish 291, 13. Custer County 309, 14. Park 335, 15. Dawson County 342, 16. Billings Central Catholic 355, 17. Browning 475, 18. Beaverhead County 481, 19. Libby 536, 20. Stevensville 598, 21. Sidney 610
Top 3: 1. Levi Taylor (Laurel) 16:18.24, 2. Sam Fulbright (Fergus) 16:28.79, 3. Joe Lamb (Columbia Falls) 16:42.20
Also for Libby: John Cheroske 18:49.52, William O’Connell 18:59.32, Lucky Martin 19:44.96, Dawson Rose 21:45.64, Vance Ward 22:35.80, Freddy Moore 24:26.26
Girls Varsity 5k
Team scores: 1. Hardin 56, 2. Whitefish 73, 3. Corvallis 118, 4. Frenchtown 163, 5. Polson 174, 6. Columbia Falls 178, 7. Laurel 182, 8. Beaverhead County 184, 9. Havre 188, 10. Hamilton 223, 11. Belgrade 233, 12. Fergus 355, 13. Dawson County 367, 14. Browning 440, 15. Custer County 459, 16. Libby 477, 17. Billings Central Catholic 489, 18. Ronan 510, 19. Sidney 526
Top 3: 1. Beatrix Frissell (Polson) 19:02.57, 2. 10 Brynnli Poulsen (Hamilton) 19:23.59, 3. Khylah Two Leggins (Hardin) 19:32.15
Also for Libby: Lauren Thorstenson 22:04.95, Mikalyn Zeiler 23:09.38, Gabby Fantozzi 30:20.99, Savanna Sanderson 30:45.91, Sally Weber 31:32.32