Morgan McDonnell picked the perfect time to pick up the first cross country win of her career.
The Billings Central senior, who came out for cross country this year “because she wanted to try something new” and because of the positive experiences she had running the 1,600 and 3,200 in track and field, was the girls winner at the Eastern A Classic held at Riverfront Park on Saturday.
McDonnell, who had a slim lead over teammate Alexa Horrell and Laurel’s Shae Wiggins when they passed the chute the first time, crossed the victory line in 19:08.8. Glendive’s Paitton Herbst was second in 19:10.2, Horrell third in 19:11.5 and Wiggins fourth in 19:25.7.
The 19:08.8 is two-tenths of a second faster than McDonnell’s personal record time of 19:09.
“Just thinking this is my last year, I might as well go out and end it good,” McDonnell said of motivation for the victory.
Emma Knudson was seventh and Sarah Gibb eighth for the Lady Rams, giving them four runners in the top eight. Overall, Central was the team champion with 35 points. Hardin was second with 69 and Glendive third with 71. Laurel was fourth with 72 and Miles City scored 80.
The state meet is Oct. 26 at the University of Montana Golf Course in Missoula.
“Absolutely we’ve had a wonderful season and are very excited about it,” Central coach Angela Hirt said. “We are having fun and we are clicking at the right time.”
Laurel standout Tyler Mogan had another sizzling performance as he finished the three-mile course in 15:14.4. Mogan was followed by a pair of Hardin Bulldogs in Caleb Ware (15:59.0) and Delvin Walks (16:07.2).
Mogan’s time on Saturday was just shy of his PR of 15:11.6 at the Billings Invite Oct. 5.
“I was planning on a PR today, but in the race I decided I didn’t want to go too hard and not have anything left at state,” Mogan said.
Last year Mogan was second at the State A meet. The junior said he was keeping his eye on his Garmin GPS watch that keeps track of pace, distance and time.
“Today the pace started off at 4:30. I was like, ‘This is too fast,’ “ Mogan said. “I waited for it to slow down and I pulled away after the first mile.”
The boys team champions were Hardin with 34 points. The Locomotives finished second with 38, followed by Glendive with 82, Miles City with 87 and Central with 125.
Hardin ninth-year coach Cindy Farmer said the Bulldogs have been working on their pack time. The Bulldogs also have a goal of placing in the top three at state.
“They did outstanding as a team,” Farmer said of her boys. “We have been working all year on decreasing our pack time between the first and fifth runners. They all ran hard and some ran personal bests.
“They are coming together. The goal is to come away with a trophy and now we can set our sights on that.”
McDonnell said the Lady Rams know what lies ahead of them next weekend, saying, “We are all going to have to have really good races, if not our best.”
Mogan noted that last year’s State A champion, Layne Lantis of Glendive, graduated.
He said a couple top contenders he’s going to have to deal with at state are Jonathan Eastwood of Belgrade and Anthony Schmalz of Hamilton.
“They will be right on my tail at state,” Mogan said. “It will be a good race. It is open to anyone.”