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MISSOULA — Coming off an upset win over Bozeman, the Missoula Hellgate girls cross country team had a disappointing seventh-place finish at last week’s Bob Firman interstate meet in Boise.

The Knights rebounded by beating Bozeman and winning the prestigious Mountain West Classic on Saturday at the University of Montana Golf Course, where the state meet will be held on Oct. 20.

“For them to bounce back emotionally and come back on their home course and regroup, that was very important for us,” Hellgate coach Anders Brooker said. “I think more than anything, whether we won today or not, I walked away from today feeling we regrouped. That’s the most positive thing because if you have a couple bad races in a row, that adds up.”

The win was Hellgate’s second victory in three races against 11-time defending state champion Bozeman. The first of those wins is believed to be the first time any Montana team beat Bozeman at full strength in 11 years.

The Knights posted a team score of 50 on Saturday to edge out the Hawks, who totaled 54 in the state cross country preview that included runners from 68 schools across Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Wyoming. If the out-of-state and non-AA runners were removed, Hellgate would’ve topped Bozeman by one place, 42-43.

Senior Ember Stratton paced Hellgate with a second-place finish, behind only Billings Senior’s Tiahna Vladic. Stratton, a transfer from Portland, has been dealing with injuries and hasn’t been able to train at full strength yet.

Knights senior Elise Stearns finished fourth, senior Ella DeGrandpre took seventh, sophomore Abby Kendrick placed 15th and junior Katie Munro was 22nd.

Bozeman placed its five runners in the top 18, but the Knights had three in the top seven, while the Hawks’ third runner was 13th. Junior Terra Trom finished third, junior Alex Moore placed sixth, sophomore Natalie McCormick took 13th, sophomore Ellie Hull was 14th and sophomore Riley Moore placed 18th.

“It was a good, close call,” Bozeman head coach Casey Jermyn said. “We’re happy with it. Obviously, we’d like to see it bounce the other way, but we ran tough and will continue to do so.”

Billings Senior’s Tiahna Vladic 3-peats

Billings Senior’s Tiahna Vladic won the girls race of the Mountain West Classic for the third year in a row.

The senior cross country runner won by 27.75 seconds in the field of 384 girls for her largest margin of the three wins. However, her time of 17:48.74 was her slowest time in the wins, but it came on a slow running day that was overcast, windy and had a temperature in the low-50s.

“Cold weather’s not my ideal kind of weather,” Vladic said. “I’m more of a hot-weather person. But I decided that I wanted to make today, since it’s my senior year, like of Mountain West, my best race. I’m glad to have like my best race.”

Vladic ran a conservative first mile and pushed herself throughout the second mile. She led by several strides at the halfway point as she made the turn to climb the hill.

After she descended the hill and went into the final mile, she tried to keep from zoning out as she continued to widen her lead.

“My last races in the past couple years, I’ve kind of been a weaker second-mile runner,” Vladic said. “I’d take it out fast with those top dogs, and then my second mile is where it’d get me. I really wanted, for my senior year, to focus on my second mile and get bigger gaps.”

Vladic has won every race this year in which she’s been given the green light to go all out.

As a team, the Broncs were a distant third. Their team score of 108 trailed Missoula Hellgate (50) and Bozeman (54).

Kalispell Flathead’s Ben Perrin takes 1st

Kalispell Flathead senior Ben Perrin won the boys race of the Mountain West Classic for the first time in his four attempts.

He crossed the line in 15:38.50 to win by 8.89 seconds in the field of 446 runners. Taking second place was Wil Smith from Lewis and Clark High School of Spokane.

“It really boosts my confidence,” Perrin said of the win, “but I’m trying to take it one week at a time. We still have three weeks before state. When state comes, I’ll give my best and know my coaches and teammates are going to push me hard every day in practice.”

Perrin was in a group of three runners halfway through the race. He started to make a move on the hill — “a tough place to do that,” he said — and made his push after descending the hill into the final mile.

“I’m glad that I pushed the hill hard,” Perrin said. “I think I’m going to try to do that at state and take it from there.”

Perrin has won all five races he’s run this year.

Bozeman boys highest-placing Montana team

The Bozeman boys’ cross country team was the top finisher among Montana teams and placed third overall.

The Hawks had a team score of 127. Lewis and Clark High School of Spokane was first with an 85. Central Valley High School of Spokane was second at 112.

“That was a tight race on the guys’ side,” Jermyn said. “We knew it was going to be close. The guys’ team is improving well.”

Kalispell Glacier was the second-place team from Montana and was sixth overall with a team score of 262.

Polson senior top Class A girl

Polson senior Beatrix Frissell was the top finisher of Class A runners, placing fifth overall. She finished in 18:40.37, just 0.05 seconds behind the fourth-place runner.

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Frank Gogola covers Griz men's basketball and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at Frank.Gogola@406mtsports.com.

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