MISSOULA — The widest smiles don't always belong to the winners.
Take, for example, Missoula Hellgate junior Ian Curtis. On Saturday his team pulled a rabbit out of its hat by placing second in the Class AA state cross country meet at the UM Golf Course.
Curtis, who just 11 days ago finished second along with his squad in Missoula's City Meet, took fifth individually in the state race in 16:11.96. For the Knights, it was a day in the sun in more ways than one.
"I'm just super happy we were able to pull it off," Curtis said. "We've definitely had some difficulties throughout the season but we ended it on a high note.
"I was definitely happy with fifth. I've struggled a little bit with injuries and I'm really happy I could pull through and finish strong. It's been awesome."
On the subject of awesome, no one beat the Bozeman boys Saturday. The Hawks took top team honors for the 11th year in a row.
"Going into it we try not to think about (the title streak), try not to add any pressure and tell ourselves it's just another race," Bozeman coach Casey Jermyn said. "We just knew we had a great group of guys coming in. It was pretty hard even narrowing down our state team, just because we're so deep.
"This year was different though, in that it's been the most pack mentality we've ever had. Just a solid pack of guys 1 through 7. Our goal today was to run a good race. You can never take state for granted."
Jermyn tipped his cap to the Knights. Joining Curtis in the top five for the team were Dax Summers (13th in 16:29.39), Lukas Horejsi (18th in 16:39.04), Miles Colescott (37th in 17:07.62) and Aidan Duffield (55th in 17:33.12).
"I knew they were in the running to take a trophy but I don't think they were pegged for second," he offered. "There were a couple teams that didn't have a great day but Hellgate ran very well."
The Hawks won by placing three runners in the top 12 and five in the top 25. But no one could match Kalispell when it came to top finishers individually. Flathead's Ben Perrin won the Class AA race in 15:43.60 and Glacier's Simon Hill and Aren Alexander-Battee finished second and third, respectively.
Perrin joined his two older brothers in capturing an individual title. Though he wasn't able to reach his ultimate goal of setting a state meet record, he did deliver a clutch performance in his final race as a senior.
"Winning is really all I could ask for and I'm happy with it," he said. "The first mile I wanted to try to get a lead as soon as I could but I knew Simon (Hill) was behind me. I could hear the crowd cheering from behind me so I was just trying to stay in the lead.
"It's just nice being able to end my season the way I wanted it to end. I've been thinking about this for a while."
Columbia Falls takes team
title, Laurel's Taylor breaks record
The Wildcats earned their first team title since 2009 behind Joe Lamb's third-place finish in 16:42.20 and Seth Umbriaco's fourth-place showing in 16:44.99.
Columbia Falls totaled 76 points, which was 31 fewer than second-place Hardin. That was a little surprising considering the teams appeared to be on a collision course at state.
"Hardin is an amazing team and all year watching us and Hardin, it's been a real even season," Wildcats coach Jim Peacock said. "If you took a look, one week one team would do something cool. The next week the other team.
"Hardin is every bit our equal. Really it was whichever team had the better day today. I'm really happy today was our day. These guys are young but very smart."
Columbia Falls had a junior and three sophomores on its list of top four finishers Saturday. The only senior to score finished fifth among Wildcats.
Laurel's Levi Taylor made a big individual splash, repeating as state champion and setting a Class A record in the process in 16:18.24. He shaved about 11 seconds off his state-record time from last October.
"But what I'll definitely remember more than anything is placing third as a team," he said. "That's like the highest placing Laurel has done. We've gotten third before but we tied the highest."
Corvallis junior Will Flowers made the most of the balmy conditions with a fifth-place finish in 16:48.15.
"There couldn't be a better way to end the season," he said. "I'm just ecstatic right now. I was hoping at least top 10 and I got top 5, so I was happy about that. I was trying to run with the Columbia Falls runners. Just staying up with them really helped me out."
No even Hudson Atkinson himself expected to make such a big splash at in Missoula. The Poplar sophomore set a state record in winning the Class B boys race in 16:18.21.
"My goal was just to run my race and hope for the best," he said. "I had an injury last year and didn't place the greatest (21st). So this year I wanted to come back and do better.
"I was nervous and didn't know if I could do it at first. But I put a lot of hard work into it and it just came down to whoever wanted it."
Manhattan took the team title for the second straight year and third time in four seasons. Afterwards, the Tigers had a heartwarming exchange of handshakes and hugs with the Glasgow team as they passed the Scotties on the way to the podium.
"We've been battling them for a few years, just awesome kids, super classy," Manhattan coach John Sillitti said of Glasgow. "We've been going back and forth. Last year it was the same. Our kids have just become friends.
"I told (the Glasgow runners) last night, 'If it's not us, I hope it's you guys.' They said the same thing. Just a cool relationship."
Sillitti lauded his seniors for setting the tone for this year's team. The trio includes Bryce Love, Zak Meeker and Isaac Boyd.
"They were really committed, all heart, just amazing leaders," he said. "They got the younger guys to buy in and commit and they ran with so much heart."
Manhattan finished with 80 team points. Glasgow was a close second with 86 and Eureka took third with 101.
"We knew if might come down to a couple spots," Sillitti said. "Last year we felt more confident we had it. But our guys were so passionate about it this year."
Eagles soar behind
Sophomore Riley Schott set a Class C record with his winning time of 16:54.18. His Manhattan Christian team earned top honors for the third year in a row with just nine points — 15 fewer than runner-up Richey/Lambert.
"I sure didn't see it coming man. It was wild," Schott said of his record-setting day. "I just wanted to go out and see if maybe I could get top 5 or something.
"I would have been happy with top 15. On this course I haven't performed the greatest. I had my hip messed up early in the season and I was out for a bit. But I just kind of went for it."
Asked about his team three-peating, Schott summed it up with one word: crazy.
"I couldn't even imagine this would happen back when I was in eighth grade."