Simmons shines as Grizzly harriers start new season

The Rocky Mountain High School cross country team opened up the 2019 season Friday in Billings, running at the huge Billings Invitational at Amend Park. Coach John Bernhisel was generally pleased with the first-week results.

“It’s always good to get the first meet out of the way,” RMHS coach John Bernhisel said. “It’s often a good wakeup call to the few runners who need to push themselves more in practice or in meets. For new runners, it’s a chance for them to see how everything works and realize that cross country is really competitive and you’ve got to stay focused and push yourselves.

“I’m sad that we have so few runners out right now. We have lots of very athletic students who aren’t playing football, volleyball or cross country. We are still trying to get some kids out.”

The Grizz got a sensational performance from junior Zach Simmons, who ran a personal-record time of 17:37.94, placing a strong 46th out of 153 runners in the varsity division.

Rocky junior Zach Simmons cruises his way through the course at the Billings Invitational Saturday. Simmons placed 46th in the varsity division with a personal record time of 17:37.94.
Courtesy photo

“Zach started out the season just like he ended the year last year, with a spectacular performance,” Bernhisel said. “Last year in Billings he ran 18:53. What an outstanding improvement. I’m excited to see all he’s capable of this year.”

Also strong was Burlington sophomore Camden Jones, who placed 175th out of 267 runners in the junior varsity division with a time of 22:54.

“Camden Jones continues to be my steady runner,” Bernhisel said. “I appreciate the effort he puts in, but like everyone else, he needs to get a bit more fired up in the race. I think he’s capable of running under 20 minutes. I call it ‘running angry.’ I want to see him running with more intensity.”

Senior Trent Grohman took a big step up from last year, running the course in 25:04 in the JV division, and Sean Heiner ran 32:59.90.

“Trent Grohman improved his time from Billings last year by almost 50 seconds,” Bernhisel noted, “but he was still a bit frustrated after the meet about his time. I’m hoping that will motivate him as the week goes on. The word of the week will definitely be ‘intensity.’ I had a good talk with Trent this week, and I’m sure he can find it.

“Sean’s best time last year was 32:07, so his time of 32.59 was OK, but I know he can do much more. I’d like to see him break 30 minutes right away. He’s physically capable of that; he just needs to find his running zone. We’re going to work on that.”

Senior Justin Dausman did not run Friday, Bernhisel said, noting that he had been sick and hadn’t attended enough practices to run in a meet.

Two Lady Grizzlies ran in the girls junior varsity division Friday. Junior Dakota Watts ran 28:03 and freshman Katelynn Woodington 28:29.

“Dakota had a frustrating race and didn’t run what she’s capable of,” Bernhisel said. “We’ve got some things to work on this week. She works hard in practice and is a team leader, but she struggles in meets. She can do way better.

“Katelynn Woodington ran a tough first high school race. It’s at bit intimidating to run with more than 200 other runners. She’s such a gifted runner, and I’m excited to see all she can accomplish this year. Her time of 28:29 will improve quickly, I’m sure.”

Sitting out the race were Devin Gilmore and Nuria Ruiz.

“Devin has a foot injury that’s going to keep her out for a couple of weeks,” Bernhisel said. “Nuria has worked hard at every practice, but she wasn’t quite ready to run in Billings. Having a week off will be good for her, and she’ll be ready for our next meet.”

The Grizzlies are off this weekend and will return to action Friday, Sept. 13, at Big Horn. Bernhisel said he hates not being able to run in a meet this weekend.

“The Wyoming state rule is that high school cross country teams can only have eight meets before State. To me, this is a ridiculous rule. It’s pretty obvious that somebody who doesn’t know cross country decided that we should have the same limits as football. I’d be happy to compare my rate of concussions, broken bones and serious injuries against football. Because of this rule I have to take three more meets out of my schedule. It makes no sense.”

By David Peck