MISSOULA — Hellgate cross country runners Isaac Schmidt and Ella DeGrandpre felt a little uneasy about head coach Anders Brooker’s game plan for the Runner’s Edge Meet.
Brooker felt the same way.
It was the first time this season Brooker had his top runners stay with a group of other Knights through the first two miles to help pull along the slower racers and lower the team score. The third mile then became an all-out sprint for Hellgate to try to also win an individual title on Wednesday at Linda Vista Golf Course, which doubled as the host of the city-title meet and senior night for Hellgate, Big Sky and Sentinel.
The strategy paid off when Schmidt and DeGrandpre both pulled out come-from-behind individual wins while the Hellgate boys and girls took both team titles. It’s the first individual win in the city race for both Schmidt and DeGrandpre, and it’s the 10th time in the last 11 years that Hellgate won both city team titles.
“That was unnerving at times throughout the race,” Brooker said. “They did great and did exactly what we wanted. It was a tight, close race. Sentinel really challenged the boys.
“The girls executed it perfectly. They showed maturity because most of them maybe didn’t think they could close in the last lap. They worked together and pulled all the girls along.
“Our goal was to get better for state, and I think we did that.”
DeGrandpre (18:45.34) won the individual girls title by 16.77 seconds after she entered the final lap in second place and 20.6 seconds behind the leader, Big Sky’s Makenna Edwards.
She ran the final mile in 5:39.88, which was 13.32 seconds faster than her closest competitor, after a first mile of 6:58.15 and a second mile of 6:07.31. She said she passed Edwards with about half a mile to go after she broke off from the Hellgate pack.
“I felt pretty good through two miles, but I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to catch her because she was pretty far in front of me,” DeGrandpre said. “I just tried to go faster that last mile.”
The win is DeGrandpre’s first individual city title after back-to-back years of heartbreak. She led in the final mile as a freshman and sophomore, she said, only to lose to a Sentinel runner.
“I was really happy because the last two years at this race I’ve been passed right at the end,” DeGrandpre said of crossing the finish line first. “I was glad to come in first this time.
“I did really want to win it for sure. My main goal was mostly to have fun with my team and try to get some of my other teammates to have a best time for themselves because we have state next week.”
Schmidt (16:27.10) was in a similar position entering the final mile of the boys’ race. He was in fifth place but just 4.73 seconds behind the leader, Big Sky’s Sean Stineford.
After breaking off from the Hellgate contingent, Schmidt ran the final mile in 4:46.85 and won the boys individual title by 16.61 seconds. His third mile was 17.88 seconds faster than the next-closest time, and it came after an opening mile of 6:09.17 and a second mile of 5:31.08.
“I definitely wanted to win it,” Schmidt said. “I felt pretty good going in, although I was a little bit worried how far away they might get. But I figured it’s always possible to catch up if you hammer it in the last mile.”
As a team, the Hellgate girls won with a score of 19, while Sentinel had 53 and Big Sky had 57. Hellgate’s Elle Becker and Elise Stearns finished second and third, and the Knights had six runners in the top nine.
The Hellgate boys placed first with a score of 29, followed by Sentinel with 38 and Big Sky with 65. Hellgate’s Ian Curtis and Lukas Horejsi were second and third, with seven Knights in the top 15.
The highest Big Sky finishers were Edwards in fourth place of the girls’ race and Stineford in fourth place of the boys’ race.
Sentinel was led by Calvin Quindry’s fifth-place finish in the boys’ race and Kelsey Mueller’s seventh-place finish in the girls’ run.