The Bigfork High School cross-country team battled chilly weather and a snowy course during the Montana State Cross Country Championships in Great Falls last Saturday. The girls finished 8th overall out of the 21 Class B teams, while the boys put up a respectable 13th-place finish in a field 26 teams strong.
Thirteen Bigfork athletes took on the 5,000 meter course at Eagle Falls Golf Club, which was not especially difficult terrain, apart from the layer of snow that made for some slippery footing. When they arrived the Friday night before the race, temperatures were in the 60s, assistant coach Holly Wielkoszewski said. But when they woke the next morning, it was a mere 21 degrees with a few inches of snow on the ground to boot.
“The kids just went out and ran and did a really great job of dealing with the conditions that we have sometimes here in Montana,” Wielkoszewski said. “I think that’s one of the great things about cross country — we run in all types of terrain, all types of conditions.”
Despite the cold, the team performed well, she said. Standouts included sophomore Elliot Sanford, who finished in 18:46.48 — just a few seconds behind his best time.
“He went out with a lot of focus and a lot of heart,” Wielkoszewski added.
For senior runners Corina Wallace, Scout Jessop, Kylie McMullen and Aiden Butterfield, the state meet was also their final high school race. Wallace posted the fastest time for the Valkyries with a 22:59.43 finish, while Butterfield led the Vikings, coming in strong at 18:42.97.
The girls team even bested their conference rival, Thompson Falls, which came in 11th overall.
“They were able to come out and beat them on a state course, which was a really nice feeling,” she noted.
Looking ahead to Bigfork’s 2020 season, Holly Wielkoszewski said there are quite a few up-and-comers. Ones to watch include Sanford, a sophomore, freshmen runners Bo Modderman and Tabitha Raymond and Grace Stewart, who Wielkoszewski describes as “really tough runner with a lot of great heart.”
The Bigfork cross-country program is no stranger to strong finishes. The Morely siblings are perhaps the most notable talent to emerge in recent years — sisters Bryn and Makena have seven state championship wins between them. But this season was more about team building and consistent improvement across the board, rather than celebrating a singular talent.
“We ran amazingly, and more importantly, the kids cheered each other on and supported athletes of all levels,” said head coach Beau Wielkoszewski. “Every kid is important and out there for their own goals and reasons and desires — it’s all about personal best and personal records.”
Beau Wielkoszewski, a Navy veteran and ultra runner, began leading the program about a year ago after two years as an assistant coach, alongside longtime track and cross-country coach, Sue Loeffler. This year, his objective was to foster a sense of family among his athletes and to help do so, started training the girls and boys teams together.
He’s also hoping to grow the program, and looks to Eureka as an example. Three or four years ago, their team was small, but coaching staff worked hard to develop a culture of inclusion and strong work ethic, he said. This year all those efforts paid off — the Eureka boys walked away with the state title for the first time in the school’s history.
But Bigfork also has a lot to celebrate this year — a solid end to the year and an injury-free season.
“They did great,” Beau Wielkoszewski said. “We didn’t set any records for our times at the meet, but everyone walked away smiling and having a good time.”
Valkyrie Cross County, Class B State results
Team finish: 8th place
Corina Wallace, Senior, 40th, 22:59.43
Tabitha Raymond, Freshman, 55th, 23:19.40
Scout Jessop, Senior, 62nd, 23:36.27
Alaura Zarn, Junior, 65th, 23:44.50
Grace Stewart, Junior, 67th, 23:45.06
Kylie McMullen, Senior, 129th, 26:42.37
Jasmine Gardner, Junior, 130th, 26:45.73
Vikings Cross Country, Class B State results
Team finish: 13th place
Aiden Butterfield, Senior, 28th, 18:42.97
Elliot Sanford, Sophomore, 31st, 18:46.48
Bo Modderman, Freshman, 79th, 20:16.96
Ryder Nollan, Sophomore, 87th, 20:25.60
Shelton Woll, Junior, 131st, 21:50.12
Colton Wroble, Sophomore, 162nd, 23:04.64