BOZEMAN — Morgan Sulser and the Billings Senior girls track team keep getting farther away from their competition.
Led by Sulser’s state-record performance in the 100-meter hurdles, the Broncs blew away the competition at Bozeman High’s Van Winkle Stadium to win their fourth straight State AA team title. Senior finished with 100.5 points, nearly doubling the total of runner-up Helena High (54).
“These girls are awesome … phenomenal,” said Senior coach Dave Creger. “I couldn’t be happier for the girls. They’re great kids and they work hard, and it continues to pay off for them.
“It’s not easy to perform like that when everyone is expecting you to, but these girls just continue to come through time after time.”
Helena’s girls were second with 54 points, followed by Billings West with 53, Kalispell Flathead 50.5 and Billings Skyview 38.
On the boys side, Missoula Big Sky won with 87 points, followed by Kalispell Glacier with 73, West 72 and Senior 56. Big Sky’s win ended a string of seven straight years a Billings team has won the boys title -- with West winning five of those seven.
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Junior Sulser (110 hurdles, 200) and freshman Christina Aragon (800, 1,600) each won two events for Senior, and Sulser also added a second in the 300 hurdles and a fourth in the 100. The Broncs’ other event win came from sophomore Taylor Mims in the high jump.
The highlight was Sulser’s remarkable run in the 100-meter hurdles. She was the state champion in the event last year in Butte, but fell short of the state record (14.34 seconds) by one one-hundredth of a second.
She wouldn’t be denied this time, running away from Missoula Sentinel standout Liz Harper and the rest of the competition to shatter the record with a time of 14.11.
“It’s been a long season,” said an emotional Sulser after the win. “This is the first year my dad (Mark) hasn’t been my hurdles coach, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that record since I came so close to it last year.
“When she read that time, it was just overwhelming. I couldn’t believe it. I ran the best race I could, but I didn’t think it was going to be good enough. I was thinking my time would probably be around 14.4. I don’t think I can put into words what it was like to hear that it was 14.11.”
After Sulser and Harper swapped roles in the 300 hurdles — with Harper setting the state record with a time of 42.87 and Sulser finishing second — Sulser ran away from the field to win the 200 in a time of 25.20.
“I was not expecting that at all,” said Sulser. “That’s only the sixth time I’ve run the 200 … I just started running it about three weeks ago. Winning it at divisionals was kind of a wake-up call that I might have a shot (at state), but this is a surprise.
“I just figured I’d give it all I got and whatever happens happens.”
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Just as she did in the 800 on Friday, ninth-grader Aragon extended a lengthy streak in the 1,600. Her win in 4:59.43 marked the eighth straight year that a Billings Senior girl has won the 1,600 — including the last six by an Aragon sister.
She caught and passed Missoula Hellgate’s Paige Gilchrist on the final lap after Gilchrist had run out to a sizeable lead early in the race.
“I really wanted to break five minutes … that was my main goal going into the race,” said Aragon. “I was a little off the pace that I wanted after the first two laps, so I started speeding up a little and when I did that, I started to catch Paige.
“On the last lap, I just wanted to run with Paige because I knew if I did, I would run a good time. Then once I caught her and realized I had a chance of winning, I went for it.”
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Senior’s Nolan Saraceni finished his prep career in style, repeating as the champion in the boys 100 and 200 and running a leg on the Broncs’ winning 400 relay team.
Saraceni, who’s headed to Montana Tech to play football, clocked personal-best times of 10.71 in the 100 and 21.66 in the 200. The 100 marked the third straight race in which he’s lowered the Senior school record — last week’s divisional meet, Friday’s prelims and Saturday’s finals.
“I never thought I had times like those in me,” said Saraceni. “I felt good today and I felt like I was going to be fast, but I didn’t know it would be that fast.
“There were some great runners pushing me. In the 200, I knew it would be tough to hold off Dalton Daum (of Butte). Once I got the lead (with about 50 meters left), I knew I had to push it all the way to the finish.”
Saraceni joined Kelly Tipton, Sam Sparks and Scottie Crigler on the Broncs’ 400 relay team. Their win marked the third straight year that Senior has won that event — Saraceni has run on all three — but it was unexpected, to say the least.
“That’s the first time we’ve won all year … West had beaten us in every meet this year,” said Tipton, who was also on last year’s winning foursome. “We knew we had the potential and anything can happen at state.”
“We’ve been talking all year about running our best race of the year at state,” said Crigler, who ran the anchor leg and held off Butte and Missoula Sentinel runners to get to the tape first. “These guys got it to me with the lead, so I had to keep it … I couldn’t let these guys down.”
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Senior’s Alex Klatt got warmed up on Friday by winning his first 400 title, and he followed it up Saturday by winning the 800 for the third straight year.
Kalispell Flathead’s Zach Perrin, who had been running second, burst into the lead midway though the second lap. Klatt answered immediately though, running past Perrin and pulling away from there to win by nearly three seconds.
“I heard cheering behind me, and the next thing I knew (Perrin) blew by me,” said Klatt, who’s headed to the University of Memphis to run track. “I wasn’t really planning to pass him back right away, but I just kind of caught a stride while I was pulling up behind him and just kept it going.
“This feels great to get it three years in a row. When I won it as a sophomore it was a big surprise to everyone, so it feels good that I was able to win it again the next two years. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well, so this feels great.”
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West’s Nick Jackson followed up Friday’s win in the boys shot put with a win in the discus on Saturday, throwing 162-1 for the win and capping his prep career with four state titles — two in each event.
The winning throw was nine feet less than Jackson’s personal best, but he said he took advantage of a “dead day” in the event.
“It was one of those days where no one really threw up to their potential,” he said. “It was weird, but those days happen. There were five guys in the event with PRs that are better than what won it.
“I thought someone would bust a throw that would go over what I had. I was thinking if that happened, I’d have to man up and come up with a throw to win it, but it never happened. I’m just glad to go out on a high note.”
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West’s Samirah Dennis accomplished her goal of winning the girls discus, and she’s hopeful that it won’t be her last throw.
Dennis, who threw 138-1 for the win, is headed to Sheridan (Wyo.) College to play basketball. But she’s hoping her track days are not over.
“When I’m done at Sheridan, my goal is to go to San Diego State to do basketball and track,” she said. “I missed the first month of this season with a rib injury (suffered at the state basketball tournament), so I don’t think I’ve really hit my potential yet in the discus.
“I would love to continue to throw in college.”
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The West boys and Skyview girls finished the meet in familiar fashion --- winning the 1,600 relay with season-best times despite using new lineups.
West’s Logan Laird, Taylor Clark, Fred Petsch and Jacob Kvilhaug were running together for the first time all season, while Skyview’s Shea Wacaser, Haley Gellner, Keegan Day and Hailey Copinga were running together for just the third time — the first two coming at last week’s divisional meet and Friday’s prelims.
West clocked a 3:21.82, nearly four seconds faster than its previous season best.
“We’ve had eight or nine different kids on this relay … sometimes we didn’t find out until five minutes before the race who was running,” said Petsch. “Coach (Rob) Stanton is always looking for the most competitive kids, and we push ourselves pretty hard.
“I think we all knew we would win today … or at least we all expected to win.”
Skyview’s time of 3:59.79 marked the first time the foursome had run under four minutes this season, and also marked the only win of the meet for the Falcon boys or girls.
“Our goal was to run under four, and we knew we had a chance to win it,” said Gellner. “We just said it’s the last race of the year, so let’s go for it.”
“This is great for us to get ready for next year,” added Wacaser. “The school record is 3:59.11, so we’re definitely going to go for that.
“We’re all back next year, and most of our team is back. We’re just pups, and our pups are scoring points for us.”