The Rocky Mountain Grizzlies brought home some major hardware from the state cross country meet in Sheridan Saturday, placing third in the 11-team Class 2A field with 55 points, just seven points behind second-place Wyoming Indian.
A deep Saratoga/Encampment squad won the state boys title with 13 points, placing four runners in the top six.
“I think I got everything out of my athletes I could hope for this season,” coach John Bernhisel said. “They performed their best at the meets that counted the most, which, as a coach, is what you’re looking for. I think every athlete finished pleased with their state performance as well as their season. That’s all you can hope for.
“We beat Wyoming Indian at the regional meet the week before, and they picked up one runner who ended up third at the state meet. That made the difference between second and third. I was in awe of how those four Saratoga runners ran. I’m sure that’s the best 2A team ever in the state of Wyoming.”
Senior Dominic Twomey three-peated as an all-state runner, placing fifth with a time of 18:30, and senior Zack Milbrad joined him in the all-state winner’s circle with a ninth-place finish in 18:44.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had a runner get all-state three years in a row,” Bernhisel said. “Dominic ran a gutsy race. The difference between fifth and 11th place was only about 20 to 25 seconds. There was nothing guaranteed. It ended up being this half-mile sprint to the end.
“Zack was running 12th or 13th with a half mile to go. We told him and he pulled it out.”
Showing potential for the future, two sophomores placed 20th and 21st in the 72-man field. Damon Watts placed 20th with a time of 19:39, and Skyler Drewes was right behind Watts in 21st, crossing the finish line in 19:45.
“They ran their best performance when it counted,” Bernhisel said. “Our mantra this week was ‘Every place counts,’ and it does. They worked through the whole race.”
Junior Jonathan Allred finished the course in 20:36 to place 33rd, and Burlington senior Benjamin Smith held off teammate Kyler Muffett (sophomore) to finish 39th in 20:59. Muffett finished 40th in 21:02, giving Rocky Mountain seven runners in the top 40.
“Jon improved so much during the course of the season,” Bernhisel said. “He ran a strong race and had an excellent finish. Ben Smith was out for the first time this year and ran his heart out. Kyler Muffett rounded out the team as a sophomore. I’m really excited for the next couple of years. Justin Dausman and Trevan Lytle were a part of the state team as managers and alternates.”
The Lady Grizzlies didn’t have enough runners to field a scoring team, with Burlington senior Pacee Garza unable to compete. Sophomore Jacque Leonhardt finished 34th with a time of 24:51, sophomore Makaila Twomey 39th in 26:15 and foreign exchange student Pani Areeprachapirom 52nd in 33:32.
“Jacque came out late in the season and ran her best time of the year,” Bernhisel said. “Makaila, another sophomore, had a strong performance. Pani ran with an injury and decided at the last minute that she was going to run and did her very best.
“My main goal is always to have a good time and get kids to enjoy a lifetime sport. I really feel we did that this year. When you get 20 kids to go on a five-mile run and enjoy it, that’s a success to me.”
Bernhisel said he would like to thank assistant coaches Tim Jones and Penny Tolman, along with volunteer assistants Mindy Mickelson and Eric Anderson.
By David Peck