HAMILTON — Brynnli Poulsen did nothing to discourage her status as favorite for the Class A state cross country title with her performance at the Western A Classic on Poulsen's home course of the Hamilton Golf Club.
In fact, Poulsen continued to separate herself — just like she did from the rest of the competition Saturday.
The Bronc junior ran a winning time of 18 minutes, 53.86 seconds to claim the girls' Western A individual title by more than a full minute. Dillon's Madalen Shipman finished in second with a time of 20:10.19.
Big leads in a race, like the ones Hamilton junior Brynnli Poulsen has had this season in cross country, can sometimes keep a runner from pushing themselves to a faster time.
Poulsen's race extended her tour de force this season, as she's now won the last four races she's entered ahead of Saturday's state cross country meet in Great Falls.
It was at Great Falls on Sept. 20 that Poulsen, last year's state cross country runner up to since-graduated Beatrix Frissel, ran her personal best time of 18:28.2, according to athletic.net. That mark is almost a minute faster than the next closest competitor in Class A (Laurel's Grace Timm, 19:21.8, Sept. 20).
"...She's the favorite to win it all and she just deserves it," coach Mark Albert said Tuesday after Saturday's race. "She is gritty and tough and just looks fantastic. She's really going to go for it Saturday (at state)."
After making it out of the Western A unscathed, and with one week to go before state, all signs are pointing toward a Poulsen title.
Hamilton's Colter Kirkland also kept himself in the state title contender conversation after Saturday's race. The sophomore, who finished ninth last year at the state meet as a freshman, won Saturday's Western A Classic in thrilling fashion.
Kirkland won in a photo finish against Ronan's James Normandeau, as the Bronc runner beat Normandeau by just .16 seconds. Kirkland crossed the finish line with a time of 16:45.55; Normandeau came in behind at 16:45.71.
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"Before we thought, hey, let's go after (Normandeau) and see what happens," coach Albert said Tuesday of the pre-race strategy. "Boy (Kirkland) responded. He's just running really, really well."
The boys' team title was just as close for second and third place between Hamilton and Corvallis. While the Class A defending champion Columbia Falls boys ran away with the low-score team title at 53 points, both the Broncs and the Blue Devils scored 93 points as a team. Tiebreakers are decided by each team's sixth place finisher.
Harrison Silverio placed 34th overall and sixth for the Broncs to give Hamilton the edge over Corvallis, which got a 38th-place finish from its No. 6 runner, Cole Henry.
It was the first time Hamilton had topped Corvallis at a divisional meet in four years, Albert said.
"I'm super jacked about Saturday; just really, really proud of our kids as a whole," Albert said. "It's really cool when that tiebreaker happens because it just shows you the importance of that sixth and seventh runner to help break that tie."
Will Flowers paced the Blue Devils, who took home Western A's bronze trophy, with a time of 17:09.01, good for sixth place overall.
The girls' team title — just like its individual race — wasn't nearly as close. Corvallis brought home gold with a first-place score of 51. Whitefish was second with 65 points and Hamilton brought home third with a 115.
Three Blue Devils cracked the Top 10 and a fourth made the Top 15 in the 67-girl field.
Katie Gleason led the Corvallis contingent with a time of 20:44.57, crossing the finish line in fifth place. Gleason, a junior, was an all-state finisher a year ago at the state meet.
Rose Day and Olivia Buoy finished in seventh and eighth, respectively, for the Blue Devils, who will try to repeat the team success they saw at state last year. The Corvallis girls, which last won the Class A team title in 2015, finished third at state last year.