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JOHN WARNER/Gazette staff Conrad's Loni Perkins won seven gold medals during the State B track and field meet in Missoula over the weekend.

MISSOULA - Loni Perkins gets six golds on Saturday, seven for the weekend, and the state's fastest high-schooler gets blanked. These things come out of nowhere.

That Perkins, Conrad's splendid junior track star, had the talent to win every Class B event she was in was clear. But she was probably more shocked than anyone at Missoula County High School Stadium both Friday, after she won the long jump, and Saturday, when she won the high jump immediately after setting the all-class record in the girls 400.

"The long jump was a surprise, because I hadn't been doing very well," said Perkins, who beat the likes of Townsend's Bekki Weldon by leaping 16 feet, 111/2 inches. "And I knew I was going to be tired after the 400, so I was surprised to win the high jump. I hadn't expected to win. I just had a lucky, great day."

Lucky-great. That could describe Colstrip standout Tuff Harris' Friday, when he won the high jump and long jump, but not his Saturday, where he false-started out of the race in which he holds the all-class record. He was also runner-up to Havre's Steve Heberly in the 200 for a second straight year. "Bad luck" and "unfortunate" were the words Heberly used, before adding, "maybe a little of both."

It's been written before that the 100 meter dash is the pinnacle of track - it's the one race everybody waits for, and perhaps Saturday's Class A boys final was more anticipated than any race in Montana before. Then it was over, in heart-breaking fashion.

Colstrip showed the heart of a champion by rallying around Matt Nelson's ensuing win in the 1,600, and claiming its third straight boys title. Think about this: Starting in 1997, Colstrip has had a state champion track team every season. The girls won three straight titles in 1997-99; the boys took over in 2000 - and they also won the 1995 title, so that's 7-for-8 for Class A's second-smallest school.

Something else you might not know: While Harris is a 190-pound physical specimen, Heberly weighs all of 140 pounds. "On a good day," the junior added. But he may just be able to write his ticket to Anywhere University next spring.

Heberly raised eyebrows after pulling out of the 400 trials Friday, even though he was the Central A Divisional champion. "If I run the 400 I probably don't have as good of times in the 100 and 200," he said Saturday. "And with all those Whitefish kids and that Hardin kid (Luke Peterson), I would've had a hard time placing."

In fact Heberly subbed into Havre's long relay for the finals. When he got the baton for the anchor leg, the Blue Ponies were sitting seventh. That's where they finished.

And Peterson did win the 400, earning his first state title with 49.77 seconds of sprinting. "It feels good, too," said the Hardin senior, who actually ran .03 slower than he did last year, when he finished third at 49.74. Billings Central's Jake Sienko ran sub-49 to win that one.

It was a great day - probably one of the few Memorial weekend Saturdays where it rained neither in Missoula nor in Butte, where the State AA and C meets were held.

In Butte, Harlowton's Cody Halsey walks off with six golds; in Missoula, Perkins walks off with seven, and Conrad gets its first outright girls title (the Cowgirls tied Malta for the 1985 B crown).

Colstrip's best feel-good story was Nelson, a star-crossed senior who had to have corrective surgery on his ankles as an infant, and who missed last year's state meet with mono. He ended his career with that elusive state title. "I've been looking for this for a long time," he said afterward. "I've been looking forward to it since last year."

Even before Saturday he wasn't too unlucky: He drew the attention of college recruiters long ago, and has landed scholarships to Idaho State. "It's full-ride, between academics and athletics," he said. "The parents are pretty happy about that, too."

Harris hasn't been all unlucky, either, and should be remembered more for his 100 in 2001 than anything that happened since. Two numbers to ponder: 3.88 and 10.77. The first is Harris' cumulative grade-point average, and the second is his time in the 100 trials last year. The second number will be in next year's meet programs. The false start won't.

Count javelin champion Matt Shahan among those who have the proper perspective on Saturday's events. "Yeah, but he's just got a great future ahead of him," said Shahan, who went to the Class A football playoffs and State A basketball tournament alongside Harris this school year. "He's got so much ahead of him, I don't think he should even worry about it."

Harris is set to go to the University of Montana on a track scholarship. May his career be lucky, or great. Or, if I can borrow a phrase from Heberly, maybe a little of both.

Fritz Neighbor is a Gazette sports writer. He can be reached at 657-1396 or fritz@billingsgazette.com

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