BOZEMAN — The upper-echelon of male cross country runners in the state added another to its club, Saturday afternoon at Bozeman’s Bridger Creek Golf Course.

Perhaps more appropriately, Missoula Hellgate’s Isaac Schmidt added his own name to the list.

The boys’ varsity event of the Bozeman Invitational was filled with suspense as teammates, parents and other assorted fans lined up in front of the finish line to see which runner would break out of the woods first.

It was Schmidt.

The Hellgate senior crossed the finish line in a time of 15:18.47, outracing Bozeman’s Duncan Hamilton Jr. by just more than four seconds.

The times were based on the new 5K distance, which is now being used by meets throughout the state.

It was Schmidt’s second meet of the season but by far his best time.

“I just wanted to try to win it, whatever that meant,” Schmidt said after being mobbed by his male and female Hellgate teammates. “It was a pretty hard pace for me. I wasn’t expecting it to be that fast. “

Schmidt can now expect the rest of his races this season to be hard-paced and tough. But that’s what you have to expect when you’re one of the best.

Schmidt finished ninth at the state championship last season and has been eyeing the No. 1 spot since the current season started. Saturday’s effort proved that goal is a realistic one.

“It was justification for him,” Hellgate coach Anders Brooker said. “Every season since he’s been a freshman, he’s gotten better. We have had a lot of hard-working kids but no one has worked harder than him. No one has put more miles and more time and more effort so to see him make another big jump this fall, with all of the effort he puts in is just good for him. It feels good for him.”

Brooker said that the distance changes and the time he turned in on Saturday equates to about a 35-second drop from his personal best.

“He has a lot of respect for Duncan Hamilton,” Brooker added. “He has a lot of respect for (Flathead’s Ben) Perrin and the other kids. But I think today it put him in a position for him to believe he has a chance.

“Up until today, people have been talking about Duncan and Perrin and the guys who have been around for so long. His name was usually the last one to be brought up. I think he opened a few eyes for sure.”

Despite Schmidt’s victory, the Bozeman boys’ team, which is will be defending yet another state championship this season, won the overall competition with 25 points. Hellgate finished with 116 points, while Manhattan Christian (174 points) and CMR (177) battled it out for third.

And then there is the Bozeman girls’ team.

Camila Noe led the way in the girls’ varsity race, clocking in at 17:51.62.

Bigfork’s Bryn Morley and Bozeman’s Ell Degrandpre were about 20 seconds behind Noe, and placed second and third, respectively. Morley and Degrandpre were separated by about 2 seconds.

“I wasn’t super-happy with my time but was happy with the win,” Noe said. “That was my goal going into it. I was hoping to get around 17:30 but it was the first meet of the season so I’ll have plenty more opportunities to do that.”

Noe hopes to lead the Bozeman girls to bigger and better things this season. There is no reason to see any failure in that area.

“Our big goal this season is to win state again and we’re hoping to make it to nationals again, for the third year and hopefully get in the top five,” Noe said.

Senior Hawk Laina Hall added, “I know when we’re out there, we’re all thinking about each other and we’re all contributing to something bigger than ourselves. I think what is more motivating is having each other there on the course. I think we have a pretty good stack-up. We lost a few of our top girls from last year but we’ve had a few girls step up as well and I think it’s going to be a good season.”

Bozeman led the girls’ team standings with 25 points, followed by Hellgate (69), Capital (141) and West (155).

Butte High is also looking for an improvement over years’ past.

Bulldog coach Guy Wadas saw some good outings on the boys’ and girls’ side and that gives him reason to be optimistic.

Jake Vetter, Austin Gerry and Erik Casagranda finished 38th, 39th and 44th in the boys’ race, while Aubree Corcoran and Hailey Tonneson led the girls.

"Aubree Corcoran is a freshman and she’s running great,” Wadas said. “Probably the race of the day on the girls’ side came from Heiley Tonneson. She knocked off a ton (of time) and was much closer to the front that I expected.

“All the way down the line, we’re looking really good. We’re going to be ahead of some teams that in the last few years were ahead of us.”

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