Hoist the trophy. The Rocky Mountain Grizzlies are regional champions.
The Grizz snapped a multi-year string of Wyoming Indian boys cross country championships by beating the Chiefs on their own course in Ethete Thursday to win the 2A West Regional/Five Rivers Conference title.
Rocky claimed three all-conference runners en route to a final total of 25 points. Second-place Wyoming Indian tallied 29 points, Lovell 37 and St. Stephen’s 79.
“The last time we won a (regional) title was 1994,” coach John Bernhisel said. “Caleb and Josh Sanders (Lovell teachers and coaches) were on the team. We won two to three times with the girls teams in later years.
“I knew I had a great team going into the season. You push them harder. You do the extras – more track workouts, more Saturday workouts. We’ve run more total miles than any team I’ve had. That’s what it takes to win.”
Bernhisel said it was satisfying to beat a quality team like Wyoming Indian, winner of 11 straight state titles.
“Wyoming Indian is always going to have a great team,” he said. “To beat them you’ve got to work harder than they do, and you’ve got to have depth. We’ve been really injury free, which is a little bit of luck, too.”
Senior Dominic Twomey defended his regional title of a year ago with a first-place finish in 18:09 and was joined on the all-conference top-10 list by senior Zack Milbrad, fifth with a time of 18:43, and sophomore Skyler Drewes, seventh at 18:55.
“Dominic is clearly one of the best runners I’ve coached,” Bernhisel said. “He works hard in every practice and pushes himself in every race. He had a great race at the perfect time.
“As a team we were all at our best on the day we should be. Going into this meet I knew all three of us – Wyoming Indian, Lovell and Rocky – had a chance to win. It just came down to a few points. What I was yelling to my athletes was that every place counts. Obviously, it did. They all improved and worked hard to the very end.”
The fourth scoring finisher for the Grizz was sophomore Damon Watts, who placed 12th with a time of 19:22. Joining Twomey, Milbrad, Drewes and Watts on the state team this week will be junior Jonathan Allred, 16th at Regionals with a time of 20:15, Burlington senior Ben Smith, 18th at 20:33, and sophomore Kyler Muffett, 21st at 20:44. Alternates are senior Trevan Lytle, 22nd with a time of 20:54, and freshman Justin Dausman, 24th at 22:08.
Other finishers on Rocky’s deep squad were freshman Richard Spann, 27th with a time of 22:23, sophomore Isaac Baird, 29th at 24:12, and junior Alecx Christensen, 31st at 24:39.
The Rocky Mountain girls regional marked the return of sophomore Jacque Leonhardt, who had moved out of town but returned to RMHS after school started and just became eligible to run for the regional meet. Leonhardt placed 13th with a time of 25:14 to top the Lady Grizzlies.
“She fit right in. That was a great first time,” Bernhisel said.
Burlington senior Pacee Garza finished 16th with a time of 26:11, sophomore Makaila Twomey 18th at 26:37 and Thai foreign exchange student Pani Areeprachapirom 31st with a time of 33:21.
“I’m thrilled Pani came out,” Bernhisel said. “She had never experienced competitive athletics.”
Bernhisel said the Grizz are working hard for the Wyoming State Cross Country Meet to be held in Sheridan at the VA Hospital.
“We practiced Saturday and Monday (an in-service day with no school for students),” he said. “We’re working hard. This time of the season you worry about injuries and staying focused. We’re working hard every day.”
Bernhisel said Saratoga is “clearly the favorite” for the boys title at State, with Wright, Big Horn, Rocky, Wyoming Indian and Lovell battling for top-three finishes.
Running begins at 10:30 a.m. with the 4A girls race, followed by the 3A girls at 11 a.m. and the 2A girls
at 11:30. The 4A boys race is scheduled for 12:15 p.m., followed by the 3A boys
at 12:45 and the 2A boys
By David Peck