Friday Night Lights 2-Mile a Superb Stage for Bengals’ Magnificent Seven

Left to right with signs in front, Helena runners Hannah Romney, Grace Oelkers, Eva Hicks, Alivia Thunstrom, Katelyn Hamill, Eva Cobb and Aelish Barrs pose with their Western-themed teammates after the Friday Night Lights 2-Mile at Vigilante Stadium.

Seven is a special number in cross country, being that it’s the designated number required for an official team. It’s appropriate then that on a night set aside for runners unable to travel to the first away meet this season that seven Bengals donned cardinal uniforms under the lights at Vigilante Stadium for a 2-mile race Friday, Sept. 4.

And with their teammates donning Western outfits for cheering duties, it seems the “Magnificent Seven” was an appropriate title for the Bengals who steeled their nerves with music blaring from the overhead speakers as they dueled with 11 equally excited Bruins from across town, supported by a more futuristic looking neon-clad group of fellow runners.

The evening began with the boys division, which featured only Bruins, but the crosstown vibe soon took over when the girls toed the line with a stunning sunset providing a backdrop.

Senior Katelyn Hamill, juniors Grace Oelkers and Hannah Romney, sophomores Aelish Barrs and Eva Cobb, and freshmen Eva Hicks and Alivia Thunstrom represented Helena.

From the start, Oelkers got herself into the mix up front, while Hamill and Romney established a consistent pace just behind the leaders and the others settled in a little further off that pace. Oelkers led the team through the halfway point in 7:27 and Hamill finished four laps about 7 seconds behind her.

While all seven runners kept up a consistent pace heading into the second half of the race, Hamill and Hicks were the big movers. Hamill moved into the top spot with about 1 kilometer remaining and pushed trough the last kilometer to finish in 15:36, while Hicks ran nearly even splits of 8:07-8:11 to cross second for the Bengals in 16:18. Hicks entered the second half of the race fifth among her teammates.

Moments after Hicks finished, the trio of Oelkers, Barrs and Thunstrom finished in 16:32, 16:32 and 16:34, respectively. Romney was next, battling through the finish line against a Capital rival, and Cobb ran a very respectable 17:21 after just recently returning to running.

The energy remained palpable after the race as teammates cheered and congratulated their Magnificent Seven, who will have the opportunity to join them in Kalispell for an official race Friday at Saturday at Rebecca Farm.

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