As the teams lined up for the start of the Idaho Girls 2A Cross Country State Championship meet, there was a feeling of expectation on the air. Runners were huddled in groups giving each other last-minute encouragement, and often a team cheer would erupt loudly. When the gun went off, 83 runners surged across the line sprinting for the position.
Present among the eleven teams and nine individual runners who had qualified to run in the state meet were Soda Springs High School and Bear Lake High School. Soda Springs had just won the 5A district championship the week before and was planning on extending the longest state championship-winning streak in Idaho high school sports history. Soda Springs had been winning state longer with fourteen continuous victories than some of the runners have been alive. The Bear Lake High School team had taken second to Soda Springs in the district meet by four points and knew they had the potential to break Soda Springs winning streak.
Despite the excitement and pressure that comes with a big meet, the girls were calm before the race. “We didn’t have a big pep talk or inspirational speech before the race,” stated Coach Tarl Vickers. “We just told them, ‘Hey, you can do it. If you run hard, we’ll win.’” He continued, “The girls all knew what they needed to do from earlier races. We just wanted them to believe in themselves and what they can do.”
The meet, originally scheduled to be run at Eagle Island State Park near Boise, was moved to the Portneuf Wellness Complex in Pocatello a few weeks earlier to allow spectators to attend. Their number was limited, but as the 3.1-mile race began, the spectators cheered loudly before scattering to different parts of the course to cheer again.
The Bear Lake team all got out quickly and were well positioned at the start of the race. Junior Elise Kelsey was in a pack of four front runners who quickly pulled away from the rest of the field.
The other six Bear Lake runners, juniors Elli Kelsey and Rachel Holmquist, sophomore Katelyn Crane, freshmen Addysen Ure, Kinsee Hansen, and Mitzie Hunt, were spread among the top twenty-five runners.
Coach Vickers recounted how the race went from his perspective. “After the first mile, they looked good. I just kept saying, ‘Keep it up, just keep it up.’ After a mile and a half, my assistant coach, Rick Saunders, called me on the phone and asked, ‘Did they go out too fast?’ But when I saw them again at the end of two miles, I could see they were holding on and running strong.
When they had only 800 meters left, and six of our runners were far ahead of Soda Springs third runner, I knew we were going to do it. I knew we were going to win.”
Elise Kelsey finished the race in second place to Jessica Duran from Wendell with Cameron Moore from The Ambrose School in third. Kelsey’s time of 19:03 was her season record. Kelsey
says of the next minute and a half, “I…ran to see everyone else finish. My heart fell a little when I saw two Soda girls. But then I looked up and saw my whole team. Right then, I knew we had
won.” Mitzie Hunt crossed the finish line at 20:34 in 15th place, followed closely by Addysen Ure at 20:36, Kinsee Hansen at 20:44, Katelyn Crane at 20:49, and Elli Kelsey, who has struggled with injury this season, at 20:56. Rachel Holmquist finished with 22:11. Hunt, Ure, Crane, and Holmquist all ran their personal best times in this race.
As the Bear Lake team finished the race and began to realize what they had just done, there was excitement, and tears mingled with their fatigue. The team, including alternates Hattie
Mattson and Hailey Roberts, who were both varsity runners in different races this year, gathered together to watch the race’s end and wait for the official scores to be posted.
When the results were announced, Bear Lake won second with 79, and Salmon was third with 80 points.
If you ask the runners on the Bear Lake Cross Country team about the secret to breaking the longest winning streak of any high school sports team in Idaho, they will give you several answers. They will tell you that believing in themselves was important, and trusting God allowed them to be more than they could be. But then they will all begin to talk about how important it was to work together as a team and how much their team meant to them this year. With most of their runners in a group, they could encourage and push each other to keep running faster than they might have done. This was the key to having six runners finish in the top 21 racers, five of them medaling individually. Vickers named watching that group of runners comes in as a team as one of his favorite memories from the day.
To punctuate their focus on teamwork, the girls paused their celebration to cheer on teammate Tyler Saunders. Saunders, a sophomore who qualified to run in the state meet as an individual runner, ran a season-best time of 17:06 to place 19th and medal in the Boys 2A State Cross Country Championship. Coach Vickers noted that to medal, Tyler ran faster than multiple opponents he had lost to earlier in the season.
The cross country team would also like to thank the City of Montpelier and the county fairgrounds for allowing the use of their facilities for the District 5 1A/2A Championships this year. Their assistance enabled the team to host a great meet on a technical and challenging course.