EAGLE – With the finish line in sight, Blackfoot senior Eli Gregory charged ahead. He’d been working for this moment for four years and imagined what it would be like to finally win a state championship.

“Every night going to sleep, especially the past week, I’ve been imagining going across that finish line,” Gregory said after celebrating a 4A cross country title Friday at Eagle Island State Park.

Gregory became the first Bronco boy to win an individual state title since 1974 and his win helped propel Blackfoot to its first boys team title since 1975.

“All the preparation, all four years of high school, has been going into this … trying to get better and better each year just for this moment,” Gregory said.

The 5A and 4A state championship races were run Friday and Gregory wasn’t the only area runner celebrating.

Skyline’s Nelah Roberts repeated as 4A state champion and Idaho Falls’ Luke Athay claimed the 5A boys title.

Both runners are only sophomores, but have been nearly unbeatable all season. Both had the same strategy for Friday’s competition.

“I wanted to go out hard and my goal was to lead the race line to line,” said Athay, who clocked 15:19.8 to outdistance runner up Trent Wigod of Rocky Mountain by nearly 18 seconds. “I wanted to push the race hard the whole time.”

“We talked about leaving no doubt and he didn’t,” Idaho Falls coach Alan McMurtrey said.

Roberts took the lead early in her race and finished strong in 17:53.3.

“I knew I had to start out fast like I usually do,” Roberts said. “I knew it would be all mental.”

Roberts finished nearly 30 seconds ahead of Pocatello’s Bailey Bird.

The 4A boys race was a little different. Gregory and teammate Matt Thomas were out front early pushing the pace. Justin Whitehead and JT Morgan were also running in the top 10.

“As we got to one mile to go me and my teammates just worked off of each other,” Gregory said, adding he was giving fist bumps to teammates throughout the race.

“When you’re with someone you know it helps so much,” he said.

Even with Athay’s win and a sixth-place finish from Nico Sanchez and a 10th-place finish from Jaiden Little, Idaho Falls had its state title streak snapped at four. Rocky Mountain held off the Tigers 40-56.

“Our expectations are high and the kids did work to win a title,” McMurtrey said. “They can be very proud to lose as much talent and experience as we did and to come back and be as strong as we were. They should be proud and happy with the result, but it’s still a little bittersweet because they did have their hopes high … The kids had made the commitment to go for the blue trophy but we’re very happy with the red one.”

The Tigers were led by seniors Zac Bright and Mitchell Athay last season, both of whom now run for Division I colleges Idaho and Utah State, respectively.

Luke Athay credited last year’s seniors for helping mentor him, especially his older brother.

Roberts did the same, crediting a long line of talented Skyline runners, including Sariah Harrison, for her development. With a pair of state titles, Roberts also said she’s intent on carrying on a legacy.

“Last year everything was new, taking things meet by meet, but this season I’ve been trying to PR and get better,” Roberts said.

Rigby placed fourth and Thunder Ridge was fifth in the 5A boys race. The Titans’ Cooper Andrews finished eighth and Benjamin Ricks of Rigby was ninth. Seth Bingham of Thunder Ridge was 14th and Ryan Stutz of Madison finished 16th.

Courtney Earl of Thunder Ridge was the top area 5A girls finisher in eighth-place. Elanor Eddington of Idaho Falls was 15th.

Medalists in 4A included Maddy Larsen of Blackfoot in sixth, Alivia Johnson from Bonneville in 10th, Kennedy Kunz of Bonneville in 11th, and Emily Despain of Blackfoot in 19th.

In the boys race, Blackfoot’s Thomas placed third, Whitehead was eighth and Morgan was 11th. Skyline’s Ridge Wilding was 13th.

Saturday’s 3A/2A/1A races

The 3A competition was one of the closest of the meet, with Snake River holding off Sugar-Salem’s girls 67-69. South Fremont claimed the third-place trophy for the second straight year.

The loss snapped the Diggers’ team winning streak at four straight.

The Sugar-Salem boys ran their team win streak to seven straight with Snake River right on their heels. The Diggers managed to beat the Panthers 42-47.

As with previous years, Sugar-Salem’s depth proved hard to beat. The Diggers placed five runners in the top 15, which was enough to overcome a 1-2 finish by Snake River’s Keegan McCraw and Lincoln High.

“I expected it to go out quick, but it went out really slow,” said Sugar-Salem senior Brigham Dalling, who finished fourth. “The whole first three-quarters of a mile we were all together and I was just waiting for someone to take the lead … The Snake River boys took off and I just went with them … We knew they’d be tough, but one thing I like about our boys is we’re super close together and that’s my favorite thing about our team – we push each other. I just love that about our team.”

Mason Smith and Porter Holt finished fifth and sixth, with Mason Lewis taking 11th and Dylan Ball placing 16th.

South Fremont’s Connor Beck medaled in 12th place as the Cougars just missed out on a trophy, placing fifth by two points behind Fruitland.

On the girls side, Sugar-Salem’s Jaresa Jackson finished third with South Fremont’s Cecily Eagleton right behind in fourth.

The Cougar girls earned their second straight third-place trophy. The goal was to challenge for a first-place banner, but Snake River and Sugar-Salem were the deeper teams.

“I think it was overall a good race,” said Eagleton, who found herself out front of the pack early on and had to dial it back. Sage Lyon placed 14th and Breklynn Gee was 15th. McKenzie Winegar medaled in 19th.

“We had a little plan going in that was pretty aggressive and the kids executed pretty well,” South Fremont coach Ryan Campbell said. “It wasn’t quite enough for a banner, but I’m really proud of our kids. They worked hard and sacrificed a lot.”

Salmon won the 2A girls title, edging Soda Springs 62-66. It was the first title for Salmon since 2002 and first at 2A.

Salmon placed four runners in the top 12 with Abby Williams finishing eighth individually.

Firth’s Kynzi Nielson was the top area finisher, claiming sixth. Ririe’s Liza Boone was 10th.

In another tight race, North Fremont’s boys beat three-time defending state champion and conference foe Salmon by four points to win the program’s first state title.

Salmon’s Daniel Simmons was second, with North Fremont’s Corbin Johnston and Zack Johnston finishing third and fourth. The Huskies’ Max Palmer was seventh, with West Jefferson’s Hyrum Spencer placing eighth.

Jaten Hymas of Butte County finished 15th in the 1A boys race.

Taylor Redick of Challis was fourth in the 1A girls race and Alayna Babcock of Butte County finished 14th.

Notes: For complete results check athletic.net

{span}Allan Steele is Sports Editor of the Post Register. Reach him at 208 542-6772 and follow on Twitter at asteele12000{/span}

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