State XC preview: I.F. boys aiming for trophy

Idaho Falls High School boys cross-country runners take off at the start of the boys race of the 4A District 5-6 championships Friday at Freeman Park. John Roark /

The Idaho Falls High School boys cross-country team ended one trophy drought last week and is aspiring to end another this weekend.

Behind eight top-20 finishes, the Tigers won the boys title of Friday’s 4A District 5-6 championships at Freeman Park for their first district championship since 2005. The 2005 season was also the last time the boys team won a state cross-country trophy, placing third in 5A.

Idaho Falls junior Zach Erikson said finishing 14 points out of trophy contention at last year’s state meet in Pocatello provided motivation for this season. Erikson’s ideal finish at Saturday’s state meet at Eagle Island State Park would be a blue trophy and a 4A state championship banner, something that hasn’t happened for the I.F. boys since 2002.

“Another trophy would be good, but we’re definitely striving for first,” Erikson said. “I don’t feel there’s any reason we shouldn’t perform our best. We’ve done all our training right. We’re healthy. We’re good enough.”

Entering Saturday, the Tigers have placed fourth or better in the team standings of six of the seven meets in which they registered a complete varsity boys team. Four of those top-four finishes were wins. Erikson and senior Matthew Gyles said they knew this year’s team had potential considering the number of returning runners from last season and the influx of a solid freshman class.

Erikson and Gyles realized that potential at different moments. For Erikson, it was last year’s state meet and knowing the Tigers had only one senior, Ben Pinkham, in their top seven. For Gyles, it was last month’s Tiger-Grizz Invitational, where the Tigers led local teams in the varsity A division with a fourth-place finish.

“Running against all those bigger schools … it just gave us an idea of what our team could accomplish,” Gyles said.

Erikson and Gyles both increased their summer mileage compared to last summer, and have seen that pay off. They said the Tigers maintain a group chat, and they organized summer runs that way.

“Somebody would ask, ‘Does anyone want to go on a run right now?”’ Erikson said. “We’d get four to five guys and go run together. When I was on my own, I’d just go run by myself and get 60 to 70 miles in per week.”

Erikson enters Saturday with the No. 2 fastest time in Idaho per’s all-classification rankings. The No. 1 fastest time belongs to another 4A runner, defending 4A individual state champion Nick Russell of Bishop Kelly. He and Russell have gone head-to-head twice this season, with Russell winning both times.

“I’m super pumped to race him again,” Erikson said, grinning. “He’s a really good runner. It will definitely be close.”

Saturday will be the final state cross-country meet for Gyles and next-to-last for Erikson. The two upperclassmen said dedication and consistency has led to the Tigers’ success, and they hope Saturday will bring more shared accomplishments and memories.

“I definitely think the team aspect is most rewarding, especially after we’ve all run a really good race,” Gyles said.

“We’re all getting better and better,” Erikson said.

Class 5A

An ankle injury kept Bonneville sophomore Stetson Moss sidelined for three weeks, but he hasn’t let up much since running his first meet of the fall at Bob Firman and getting a personal best of 15 minutes, 35.7 seconds there. Moss, who snagged an individual medal with an 11th place finish last year, carries the No. 3 fastest time in Idaho’s all-classification rankings and the No. 1 fastest time in 5A into Saturday’s state meet. A District 6 boy has not won the 5A state meet since Idaho Falls’ Adam Follett in 2003.

Rigby sends its boys and girls to state for the first time since 2015, Madison qualified its boys and girls for the fourth consecutive season and Hillcrest qualified its boys team for state. Madison senior Rachel Morrin, who won the 5A District 5-6 individual title last week, will lead District 6’s medal hopes in the 5A girls race a year after a stress fracture kept her from running at state. Outside of Moss and Morrin, Rigby’s Hailey Phillips and Madison’s Spencer Stutz could potentially medal.

Defending 5A girls state champion Mountain View is favored to handily defend its title behind reigning 5A individual state champion sophomore Lexy Halladay, who enters Saturday with a personal best of 17:19.6 and a No. 8 ranking from last week’s top 30 girls national rankings. The boys race could be a tight battle between Rocky Mountain and Mountain View.

Class 4A

While Erikson will vie for the boys individual title with Russell in attempts to become I.F.’s first boys individual state champion since 2003, Skyline freshman Sariah Harrison will be in the mix for the girls individual title with Twin Falls’s Mattalyn Geddes and Emmett’s Gemma LaVergne. I.F. and Skyline should have numerous individual boys and girls medalists while Abby Hurst, Tenleigh Smith and Austin Despain will lead Blackfoot’s medal hopes.

The Idaho Falls boys, Skyline girls and Blackfoot boys are all in trophy contention while the Idaho Falls girls, Blackfoot girls and Skyline boys should place in the top 10. Idaho Falls should battle Vallivue for the boys team title while defending girls state champion Twin Falls will be challenged by Skyline and Sandpoint. Idaho Falls has not won a boys cross-country state trophy since 2005, Skyline has not won a girls cross-country state trophy since 2004 and Blackfoot has not won a cross-country state trophy of any kind since 1975.

Class 3A

District 6 has cleaned up at 3A state cross-country for the last decade with eight consecutive boys state team championships, five consecutive girls state team championships, seven consecutive girls individual state champions and four of the last five boys individual state champions.

The Sugar-Salem boys had all seven runners finish in the top 12 last year to repeat as state champions by 57 points. They are not only in contention for a three-peat, but to claim the top three individual spots with Brennan Anderson, Kooper Williams and Taylor Hill. The Diggers swept the 3A state track titles in May and could complete the cross-country title sweep Saturday after claiming team titles at last week’s 3A District 6 championships. Sugar-Salem, Kimberly, Shelley and Timberlake will make for a tighter trophy race on the girls side. Sugar-Salem’s Sarenady Price and Shelley’s Karlie Callahan are both in the mix for girls individual state champion. Shelley has won the last three girls team and individual titles. The Russets will be in trophy contention in both the girls and boys races and should join Sugar-Salem as recipients of several individual medals.

South Fremont and Teton both qualified individual runners for state and will be led by Emma Dunster, Elizabeth Ripplinger and Ben Janus. Snake River qualified both its boys and girls teams for state upon sweeping the team titles at last week’s 3A District 5 championships.

Class 2A

Salmon, Ririe, West Jefferson and Firth have all accounted for several state medalists in recent seasons and Saturday should be more of the same. Salmon leads District 6’s 2A trophy hopes this weekend, however, having swept team titles at last week’s 2A District 6 championships and having won a boys or girls state cross-country trophy for the last five seasons. Ririe, which placed third at last year’s boys meet and fourth in the girls meet for the program’s first state cross-country trophies since 1996, shouldn’t be too far behind Salmon in Saturday’s trophy races.

Soda Springs, which won its 11th consecutive girls cross-country state title last year to set an Idaho record for most consecutive state titles for any sport in any classification, is on track to continue its dominance on the girls side while Melba and Cole Valley Christian should both be in contention for top-three finishes in both races. Bear Lake could potentially sweep the 2A individual titles with Jackson Pratt and Josi Kelsey, although Kelsey is in the mix with McCall-Donnelly’s Sophie McManus and Melba’s Kylahn Heritage.

Class 1A

Challis qualified its boys and girls for state for the second consecutive year. The Vikings have significant experience for a 1A school, featuring six seniors on the boys side. Two-time state medalist Ty Redick is among those seniors and will help lead Challis’s medal and trophy hopes along with exchange student Takehito Koizuka. Butte County and Leadore qualified individuals for state and will be led by Natalya Babcock and Austin Beyeler.

Logos has won the boys titles since the 1A and 2A classifications were separated for the state meet beginning in 2015, but Valley and Liberty Charter appear to be title favorites this year. On the girls side, defending champion Deary should be challenged by Liberty Charter.