Twelve Helena High runners recently journeyed to Boise, Idaho for Nike Cross Regionals and returned to Helena with memories that will last a lifetime.
While the competition was exciting and rewarding for the runners, Helena’s contingent also had the opportunity to meet an American record-holder, take in some sites and sounds in a city/region many of them had never visited, and even got in some shopping and a couple rounds of bowling.
The hope is to make traveling to this meet an annual event. Not only does it provide athletes an incredible competitive opportunity, but it also serves to strengthen friendships and allow runners to witness the scale and grandeur of an event of this caliber. The hope is that it whets their appetites for seasons to come.
NXR is an annual postseason event that features teams from seven states (Montana, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming). Teams invited to the compete in the championship division can advance to Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) in Portland.
This year, the Bengals – competing as the Helena Vigilante Runners because of postseason rules – faced off with competition in the Open Invitational division, which featured two races, and both the boys and girls teams performed well.
We kicked off our adventure with a 1:30 p.m. caravan departure from Helena High on Thursday, November 8 and made our way to our first stop in Dillon.
While there, we gathered for a 3-mile shakeout run, a quick stop at the Patagonia outlet store, followed by an early dinner at Sparky’s Garage. The kids had a good time getting to know each other better and fueled up with fries, burgers, chicken strips and a variety of other meals for the next leg of our journey to Pocatello, Idaho.
We arrived in Pocatello at 8:30 p.m., and the team immediately found their way to the pool for a game of 500 and some good laughs.
We started the second leg of our journey early and departed Pocatello at 8:30 a.m. to make our way 2 1/2 hours to the west for lunch in Mountain Home.
The runners stopped at a variety of restaurants because Bozeman’s 80-plus runners created an incredibly long line at Subway. The majority of the Bengals shared a table at Winger’s and closed out lunch with a couple games of pool.
From there, we departed for Boise and made a detour to travel to the course the slow way. Along the way, we passed by Boise State’s Bronco stadium and got a brief look at downtown Boise.
At about 2 p.m., we arrived at Eagle Island State Park for a course preview. We jogged the course as a team – six girls and six boys – and stopped for some fun photos along the way. I sensed some nerves developing as the athletes got a first look at the course they’d race on about 24 hours later.
After our course preview, we stopped in at the Nike Outlet Store, then ate dinner before heading into downtown Boise for packet pickup.
The city was alive when we arrived with fans heading to the Boise State football game and many others just out on the town. With some time to kill, we stopped in at Dawson’s Coffee, where they runners shared a few stories and laughs.
Next, it was off to packet pickup at the Grove Hotel, where we picked up our numbers, commemorative beanies for each runner and were fortunate enough to meet Courtney Frerichs, the America record-holder in the women’s steeplechase. She also won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships in that event.
We lingered a little while longer, while the runners met a few other athletes from other states and danced … well not so much danced as bobbed to the beat.
We then departed and made our way back to the hotel, where the Bengals affixed their numbers to their Vigilante singlets and settled down for a restful night ahead of the big race.
Day 3 – Race Day
Yours truly and my youngest daughter, Leila, were the first to race, as we headed to the course for the Adult and Middle School Community Competitions.
After getting a feel for what the high schoolers were going to face later in the day, I headed back to the hotel and joined second-to-none chaperone Jesika Fisher to transport the team to the course.
The girls raced first with a 12:45 start time, and they performed admirably. Kylie Hartnett led the way and finished second overall in the merged Open Invitational races. She ran the 5-kilometer course in 18:41, while the Open Invitational winner posted a time of 18:22. Hartnett’s time was good enough for 34th overall when combined with the Championship division, truly remarkable for a freshman making her first NXR appearance. She was the fifth freshman overall on the day.
Next across the line for Helena was freshman Rylie Schoenfeld in 20:04 (49th) in the Open Invitational division. She was followed by freshman Kylee Wetzel in 20:44 (120th), freshman Linnea Onushco in 21:31 (218), freshman Odessa Zentz in 21:40 (235) and freshman Grace Oelkers in 21:56 (262). The girls posted a team score of 473 points to place 13th in a field of 52 Open Invitational teams.
Onushco and Zentz – who both love running cross country, but played soccer throughout the fall – joined the Bengal runners for the trip, which allowed the team to run with the required five runners for a team score.
After the girls completed their race, the boys were ready to hit the starting line.
As the gun fired, the Helena contingent could be easily spotted with their navy blue Vigilante tops and hot pink shorts.
Junior Jonah Fisher led the way and placed 48th in a time of 16:55. He was followed by sophomore Trystan Brewer and senior Zane Roush, who ran most of the race together. Brewer was 109th in 17:13 and Roush placed 126th in 17:17. Sophomore Ethan Nelson crossed the finish line fourth for Helena in 18:47 (461st), sophomore Ian Lovshin was 510th in 19:03 and senior Eric Carlson ran 20:05 (631st). Helena’s boys finished 37th out of 84 teams in the Open Invitational division with 974 points.
We stuck around for about two more hours to cheer Montana runners competing in the Championship division and to celebrate Hartnett’s medal presentation.
After a return to the hotel, followed by dinner, we scattered through The Village shopping center. Some shopped, some played some shopping games, and we all ended up together bowling at Big Al’s Family Fun Center. One takeaway is that I think more bowling nights are in order for team building during the winter months back in Helena.
The journey home started at 9 a.m. and consisted of a couple stops, most notably a picnic lunch at Craters of the Moon National Monument. After a quick lunch, some scattered snowball fights and a team picture, we journeyed the rest of the way back to Helena.
This trip will not soon be forgotten, and hopefully is the first of many.
Special thanks to Jesika Fisher for serving as a driver and chaperone, to the Hartnett family for taking hundreds of photos and to my wife for providing support throughout the four days to help make this trip possible.