FRENCHTOWN — After a surprising run to the 2016 Class A team state title, a new-look Frenchtown/Alberton team is aiming to make the podium if not repeat this weekend.
All classes will be competing in the state finals starting 11 a.m. Saturday at Bill Roberts Golf Course in Helena. The Class A boys race is the first race of the day at 11 a.m., and the Class AA girls close the slate at 2:45 p.m.
“We only have … two of our returning runners from last year, so we’re just happy to be where we’re at right now,” Frenchtown coach Dennis Normand said. “Going into state, we’re hoping to get in the top three. A year ago, I think some people probably didn’t think that was going to be possible.”
Frenchtown is led by senior Brock Rugg and sophomore Tyler Schmautz. Rugg has the 11th-best time in Class A with a 16:55.7, while Schmautz is third at 16:24.8. Laurel’s Levi Taylor (16:15.3) and Corvallis’ Anders Watt (16:20.8) led the way.
“Those two have immensely stepped up,” Normand said. “I think Rugg would like to be running better right now, but out of our eight races, he’s won four or five of them, so he’s had a great senior year for us.
“And Tyler, being a sophomore, took second in our conference meet, so they’ve really stepped up. That’s one reason why we’re competitive. When you have two people way out in front like that, everybody else can chase them.”
Frenchtown beat out Corvallis, 66-72, last season, and this year’s Corvallis team has again impressed Normand, along with a handful of others.
“Corvallis (boys) have been real consistent,” he said. “Columbia Falls has been really coming on. We’ve been a little inconsistent, but we’ve run well. (Last) weekend (at Western A Divisionals) we ran really well. For us to do well at state, we just need to make sure our top five are where they need to be.
“In the East, Fergus is good, Laurel is good; those are the two we’re kind of looking at there.”
Among area teams on the girls’ side, Whitefish finished second last season with five underclassmen. Corvallis finished third and graduated just one of its Top 6 runners, as did Columbia Falls, which finished fourth. Polson was fifth and didn’t graduate any runners.
Polson junior Beatrix Frissell has the fastest time among Class A runners with an 18:23.8. She was third at state last year, while state champ Pipi Eitel of Belgrade graduated.
Hamilton senior Lyric DeVries is second at 18:40.4. Other area runners in the top eight include Hamilton freshman Brynnli Poulsen (fourth), Polson senior Naima Crowl (sixth) and Corvallis freshman Kailee McCready (eighth).
The Bozeman boys will be going for a complete decade of dominance when they try to win the Class AA team state title for the 10th season in a row. The last team other than Bozeman to win a state title was Missoula Hellgate in 2007.
Expect a battle between Hellgate, Glacier, Flathead, Billings Senior and Great Falls CMR to make the podium.
Hellgate senior Isaac Schmidt leads all Class AA runners with a time of 15:18.5 this season. Bozeman’s Duncan Hamilton is second at 15:20.17. Cooper West of Great Falls CMR (15:30.5), and Flathead’s Ben Perrin (16:00) are also favored.
“It’s a pretty slow course, which is fine with me,” Schmidt said. “It has certain parts that really suck the energy out of you. It’s a very hilly one. Small rolling hills. There’s also some pretty deep grass. Some of the surface isn’t great and can kind of suck the energy out of you.”
Added Hellgate coach Anders Brooker: “Ian Curtis and Lukas can also be all-state in the top 15. If you can put three guys in the top 15 and have your four and five guys compete well, usually you’re going to walk away with a trophy. We feel good about where we’re at, but we think it’s going to be a dogfight, a fun competition between three or four different teams.”
On the girls’ side, Bozeman will try to win its 11th consecutive state team title. Look out for Hellgate, Flathead, Capital and Billings Senior to be in the hunt.
Glacier senior Annie Hill (18:10.2) and Hellgate junior Ella DeGrandpre (18:11.6) are the top two area runners in Class AA. They are third and fourth in the state, trailing Billings Senior’s Tiahna Vladic (17:36.7) and Bozeman’s Camila Noe (17:39.7). Vladic won the state title last year, while Hill won as a freshman and sophomore.
“On the individual side, it’s going to be wild,” Brooker said. “We expect Ella to be in the mix out front. Elle Becker, our only senior on varsity, and Elise Stearns could both be top 10. We’re looking forward to again having at least three all-state girls and three in the top 10 if everything goes right.”
The Bigfork girls will be looking to win the team championship after they placed second last year. They graduated just one of their top six runners.
This season, Bigfork senior Bryn Morley and junior Anya Young have the two fastest times in Class B. Morley ran an 18:08.4 on Oct. 12, and Young ran a 19:35.0 on Sept. 30. They finished first and second overall last year.
On the boys’ side, Deer Lodge junior Marik Chrisman has the fastest time among area runners this season with a 17:38.4 on Oct. 12. That’s the 17th-best time in Class B.
Darby sophomore Gracie Lang will be aiming for her second girls’ individual title in as many seasons. She has the fastest time among area runners with a 20:24.6. It’s the fifth-fastest time in Class C and is 36.1 seconds behind No. 1 Avery Parker, a West Yellowstone sophomore.
Lang won the individual title as a freshman with a time of 19:18.1. Charlo senior Brooklyn Foust sixth last season.
On the boys’ side, Charlo junior Wills DeGrandpre has the fast time among area runners this season with a 17:21.6. It’s the 10th-fastest time among Class C runners this season.