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There’s no question West Side’s girls cross country program has made significant strides over the past few years, and the results could be seen last weekend in Pocatello, Idaho.

The Lady Pirates had a pair of runners secure their spots in the top 10 at the 2A State Championships, which took place Saturday at the Portneuf Wellness Complex. Freshman Aubrie Barzee powered her way to the No. 4 position, while senior Ashlyn Willis was 10th.

“It was a pretty big deal,” WS coach Stacey Olsen said. “It’s by far the best finishes we’ve ever had.”

West Side was talented enough this season to challenge Melba for the fourth-place trophy at the state meet. Unfortunately for the Pirates, they didn’t get to compete because only the top two teams at the 2A Fifth District Championships qualified for state. The top two teams in West Side’s district, Bear Lake and Soda Springs, happen to be the two best squads at the 2A level. Barzee and Willis advanced to state as individuals.

It was an epic weekend for Bear Lake, which snapped Soda Springs’ spectacular 14-year winning streak at state. The Bears placed six harriers in the top 21 and outpointed the runner-up Cardinals, 53-79. Salmon was third and only one point behind Soda Springs.

West Side and Soda Springs were the only two teams to have two of their athletes finish in the top 10.

“I’m proud of their effort, their consistency throughout the season, and it’s been the most cohesive team I’ve ever had,” Olsen said. “They really worked well together and I think that they’re excited to move the program forward. I think Aubrie brings a really good energy to the team. She’s super competitive and she wants to take the team there, not just herself and so I think we’re going to have a couple of good years ahead of us.”

Barzee has been one of 2A’s premier runners all season long and likely would have challenged for medalist honors had she been 100 percent healthy. The freshman still covered the 5-kilometer course in 19 minutes, 37 seconds.

“She wanted to be up there with (the top three girls) but her body just wasn’t letting her, so I think next year will be a different story,” Olsen said. “... I think it was pretty big that she pulled out a fourth-place finish (all things considered).”

Barzee won five meets this season, was the runner-up twice and beat 2A silver medalist Elise Kelsey of Bear Lake five times in 2020. Kelsey crossed the finish line in 19:03, which was eight seconds slower than titleist Jessica Duran of Wendell.

“I like this course a lot,” Barzee said in an interview with the Idaho State Journal last Saturday. “I was going to try to stay behind the lead runners and just stick it out until the end.”

Barzee shattered the 5K school record at the Preston Invitational with her time of 19:12.7 on Oct. 14.

As for Willis, she put together arguably the best performance of her prep career. The senior clocked in at 20:17 and claimed the final position in the top 10 by less than one second. This is the second straight season Willis garnered all-state honors, which is awarded to everyone in the top 20.

“With Ashlyn ... this is her fourth year with me and so she’s a senior, and she’s just been consistent and diligent, and just kept improving and improving,” Olsen said of West Side’s standout 800-meter runner. “... She was ranked 20th and she moved up to into the 10th-place spot. She really ran well.”

It was also a good season for the West Side boys, which finished sixth in a very strong field. The field was highlighted by Salmon, which put four of its kids in the top nine and dominated the race with 33 points to runner-up Soda Springs’ 72. Based on times at the state meet, Salmon might have challenged Preston for the second-best boys team in the Gem State, regardless of classification.

“I think it’s kind of interesting that our 2A division is usually a lot more competitive than our 3A division, for the boys and the girls,” Olsen said. “And so the boys compete against some tough teams, too. There were some excellent runners there this year.”

The Pirates were led by Brentan Noreen, whose time of 17:08 was .09 seconds behind the boy who secured the final all-state spot. Noreen’s time would have been good enough for 11th place in the 3A division.

Braydn Noreen (23rd, 17:31) and Samuel Beutler (25th, 17:34) also finished in the top 25 for the Pirates. West Side’s other competitors were Grant Clawson (46th, 18:32), Trevin Juhasz (57th, 19:05) Kaden Telford (59th, 19:25) and Brennon Winward (71st, 20:07).

Salmon’s Johnathon Simmons was the medalist was his impressive clocking of 15:38, while teammate Daniel Simmons was second in 15:50.

Jason Turner is a sports reporter for The Herald Journal. He can be reached at jturner@hjnews.com or 435-792-7237.

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