The Great Falls High Bison boys’ and girls’ cross country teams tried to get a jump on the competition.
They started the season with a midnight madness practice on the first minute that practice was allowed last week.
“It was just a fun thing to motivate them,” veteran coach Bob Stingley said. “They got all dolled up in glow-and-the-dark stuff and just had fun.”
There has been plenty of work to go along with the fun as the Bison, like the C.M. Russell High teams, have been running together since late June in preparation for the upcoming season.
The Bison and Rustler squads are optimistic about the season.
“It’s the best team in my four years,” said senior Bison Bryce Krattiger, one of about 15 boys out for the team. “Both boys and girls.”
Krattiger is part of a top four that hopes to catapult GFH up the standings from its 12th-place finish at state a year ago.
Stingley said both the boys’ and girls’ teams hope to move up into the five to 10 spots in team standings at the state meet.
Sophomore Teagan Olson was the top runner at state for the Bison boys last year, and he hopes to be much improved after deciding not to play soccer and cross country in the same season, although he will play golf for the Bison, who are coached by his father, Lance Olson.
“I’m really excited for the season,” Olson said. “Our top four (OIson, Krattiger and seniors Connor Dennis and Will Hoard) will be stronger than ever. We’ve been pushing each other all summer.”
During the track season, Olson finished seventh at state in the two mile and set a GFH freshman record with time of 9:53.
Fellow sophomore Laura Duffy headlines the Bison girls’ squad, which has about 18 runners out for the team and also finished in 12th place at state a year ago.
Kuhnee Kuka, a talented junior, and senior returners Nelly Baltazar, Lyndee Feisthamel and Cameron Fuentez all look sharp in the early season.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Duffy said. “I’d like to win crosstown.”
The Rustlers will be tough to beat, Stingley said.
First-year coach Nathan Gregier feels his girls should be much better this year with the infusion of some talent. There are about a dozen girls going out for CMR, which finished 11th at the state meet last season.
Tricia Carlson, a talented junior, didn’t run a year ago for the Rustlers to focus on volleyball, but this year, she plans to do both sports, missing a few cross country meets and a few volleyball matches as the coaches work together.
“We all want to see how she can do,” Gregier said.
Junior Sydney Dickinson, who battled knee issues a year ago and is fighting breathing issues this year, has high hopes for the year.
“We’re just looking to get better and compete really well,” she said. “And we want to show a lot of competition and beat Great Falls High in our crosstown.”
She says that won’t be easy.
“I think they are going to be pretty good too,” she said. “So we have to work really hard.”
Roya Blake is the senior captain for the Rustlers, who also expect things from a pair of sophomores who led the way as freshmen a year ago.
Mackenzie George, who won the state doubles title this past spring, was the top Rustler at state in 2014, and Annabella Aline “really worked hard over the summer, and should be really improved,” Gregier said.
Dickinson also pointed to Aline as someone poised for a big year, but then added, “even though Annabella stands out, all the girls have so much potential and are working really hard.”
The CMR boys have about 20 boys going out this year. The Rustlers are led by seniors Collin Buck and Vincent Bohl, and they will be looking to move up from a 10th-place finish..
Gregier feels Buck has a shot at making all state by finishing in the top 15 at the state meet.
“We’re hoping to place a lot better,” Buck said. “And were’ looking a lot better. We have a lot of fast runners.”
Sophomore Cooper West was the top Rustler a year ago — “He was one of the best freshmen in the state a year ago,” Gregier said — and he returns taller and stronger.
“It’s going good,” West said. “We have a lot of people out. It’s good having a new coach and try different things.”
West and GFH’s Olson have battled back and forth for years.
“We push each other,” Olson said. “We’re friendly, but we’re competitive. I wish him the best.”
“We definitely make each other better,” West agreed.
“I’m really excited for the season,” said Gregier, who took over the reins for Doug Darko after serving as an assistant for the Rustlers. “We had a great summer. …We’ve been running for two months and definitely put the miles in.”
The season opener for both the Bison and Rustlers is Sept. 4 at the Cut Bank Time Trials.