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Senior Missoula Hellgate distance runners Will Dauenhauer, Ellee Becker and Isaac Schmidt, from left, stand for a portrait before practice at Sentinel High School on Wednesday afternoon. All three are continuing their track careers at the collegiate level.

TOMMY MARTINO, Missoulian

MISSOULA — When Missoula Hellgate wrapped up its distance practice with a fartlek — Swedish for "speed play" — session, Knights senior Isaac Schmidt led the pack. 

That's not unusual for the future Montana State Bobcat.

Schmidt has already prequalified for the state meet in all three distance races, despite only running the 800-meter run thrice this year. He's only competed in the 3,200-meter run three times this year as well but is currently ranked third in the state in the event. 

"Isaac Schmidt. I don't know if I've seen a kid who's as hard of (a) worker as he is," said Jeff Dohn, who's coached track at Hellgate for 32 years. "He doesn't complain about anything. He just goes."

Anders Brooker, Hellgate's distance coach since 2006, said the same thing. 

"We have never had a guy for four years work as hard as Isaac over a four year period. Never," Brooker said. "Since his freshman year, he was on the varsity, he was an all-state kid as a sophomore. The guy just goes to work every single day."

Schmidt isn't the only one. With one meet to go before the state meet, 10 total distance Knights have had performances that automatically qualified them for the big meet in Great Falls.

Those 10 are senior Will Dauenhauer, senior Ellee Becker, junior Elise Stearns, junior Ella Degrandpre, junior Madi Provo, junior Wren Cilimburg, junior Madeline Swanberg, sophomore Ian Curtis, sophomore Katie Munro and Schmidt. 

Brooker expects to have a couple more qualify this weekend. 

A WINNING TRADITION

Hellgate's track and field tradition started long before Schmidt and Co. were freshmen. 

Hellgate's hoisted three track and field championship trophies over the years, winning in back-to-back seasons in 1971 and 1972, and then winning again in 1980. 

In recent memory, the Knights have had at least one distance runner — Paige Gilchrist, Adam Peterman and Christopher Herrick, for example — place in the top six at the state meet every year since 2009.

"I've only been a part of it for two years, but it's pretty cool to make your mark here and know it's going to continue for many years to come," senior Will Dauenhauer said. 

Last year, the Knights stood at various places on the podium four times. Schmidt placed fifth and sixth, respectively, in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, Dauenhauer placed fifth in the 800-meter run and Ella DeGrandpre finished fourth in the 3,200-meter run. 

On the flip side, Hellgate hasn't had a distance state champion since 2013.

Five years ago, the Knights swept both sides of the 3,200-meter run with then-seniors Gilchrist and Peterman crossing the finish line first. Peterman broke the all-class record that year before Kalispell Glacier's Jake Perrin blew it out of the water in 2016.

But this year could rewrite that as both Schmidt and Dauenhauer have a chance to stand atop the podium in two weeks. 

Dauenhauer, a University of Montana commit, currently leads the state in the 800-meter run. He hasn't lost a race at that distance all season, outside of his participation in the Arcadia Invitational in California in early April.

"We feel like Will's been able to perform at all different kinds of paces and all kinds of different conditions and it's been really impressive to see him win in different scenarios," Brooker said.

Brooker added: "The No. 1 goal, hopefully on the right day, is be a state champion and then to run fast. We hope it's an honest, fast effort. But we also feel that if it's a slower effort, the way Will has shown he can win, either a really close race, or running away from people, we think he's got a good shot."

And Schmidt is ranked second in the 1,600-meter run, third in the 3,200-meter run and fourth in the 800-meter run. 

At state last year, Schmidt placed sixth in the mile race and fifth in the 2-mile race. Schmidt also finished 11th in the 2-mile race his sophomore year and eighth his freshman year. 

"That's been my main goal for the past four years is to win a state championship," Schmidt said. "It would be even more amazing if Will and I both get that done. That would be the best high school experience I could ever ask for."

Even Peterman wants it for Schmidt. The two didn't overlap, as Peterman graduated in 2013 and Schmidt's freshman year was in 2015, but many Hellgate alumni keep in touch with the program. 

"I was on the phone with (Peterman) the other day and even he, his quote to me, 'Man, I hope Isaac can get that state championship because nobody's worked harder,'" Brooker said. "Even he knows that and he graduated in 2013."

Schmidt, who also runs cross country, has been close to winning a title in the fall as well. He placed fourth at state cross country this past fall, ninth as a junior, 11th as a sophomore and 36th as a freshman. For context, there are roughly 100 competitors at the state cross country meet. 

FOUR CHEERS FOR FOUR YEARS

Senior Ellee Becker, like Schmidt, has prequalified in all three distance events. She's also qualified for the state meet all four years of her high school career. 

Her highest finish at the state meet came as a freshman when she was the lone Hellgate distance point winner after placing sixth in the 3,200-meter run.

"I'm just really excited to go and compete for my team this time," Becker said. "All my other years, it's been individual and trying to get a best time, but I'm excited to go for my senior year and do good for the team and place pretty high to get some points for Hellgate."

She's in position to do just that. 

Becker is currently ranked fourth in the 2-mile race, fifth in the mile event and ninth in the 800-meter run. 

But regardless of where she places Memorial Day weekend, Becker has left her mark on the program too. 

"The neat thing about Ellee, she's been a part of varsity since her freshman year. She has set the tone for work ethic for the last four years," Brooker said. "She has a good opportunity to run fast and to be all-state in the (1600) and the (3200). I think that's a goal for her in both those races.

"On the girls side, you're talking about, Montana's girls over the last eight years, we have one of the best states for distance running in the whole country. To be an all-state runner on the girls side is pretty impressive. It's an impressive feat going up against the talent we have in this state right."

Her track and field career isn't over either. Becker is running both cross country and track at the University of Portland come fall. 

"I'm real excited to up my training and see how good I can do in college," Becker said. "I'm sad to leave this team, but I know there's another team that I can fit into as well and be successful."

ALMOST TOO DEEP

Of the 10 Knights who've qualified for state, five of those are girls who've made their mark in the 3,200-meter run. 

Those girls — Becker, Degrandpre, Munro, Cilimburg and Swanberg — all ran faster than the 11 minute, 56 second cut-off to automatically qualify at some point this season. 

The maximum amount of athletes from one school who can be entered in an event at divisionals, and therefore state, is five.

"We have distance kids right now that don't get to go to divisionals that would make the top five in almost every other team in the state, besides Bozeman," Brooker said.

"Our message for them (is), 'That's challenging. You're a really good runner, but you might be our sixth girls 2-miler, and you don't get to go to divisionals. With almost every other team in the state, you would get to go, but you also have the positives of you get to run with a really great group and they make you better.'"

Amie Just covers Griz football and Missoula-area preps. Follow her on Twitter @Amie_Just or email her at Amie.Just@406mtsports.com.

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