The Idaho Falls High School boys cross-country team entered this season as two-time defending 4A state champion while the Idaho Falls girls team began the season with hopes of pursuing the program's first state title.
Those different paths have merged following last week's statement sweep of the 4A District 6 titles--the first such sweep for Idaho Falls cross-country since 1998--and are headed in the same direction toward the same goals Saturday at the state meet at Portneuf Wellness Complex in Pocatello.
Saturday is Idaho Falls's final state cross-country meet at the 4A level, as the Tigers will rejoin 5A next year. Since joining 4A in 2016, the girls placed fourth in 2016 and 2018 and the boys won the 2017 and 2018 state titles. This season, Idaho Falls has won varsity boys titles seven times in nine meets and varsity girls titles five times in nine meets, including a couple meets where the Tigers were missing some runners.
The Tigers said previous seasons have built up to this one. For the boys, an influx of freshmen two years ago helped begin the district title and state title streak. Now juniors, they bring experience to a team that is continuing to benefit from depth and newcomers.
“They came in—Mitchell (Athay), Zac (Bright), Joseph (Ereaux) and Porter (Elison)--all pumped to run varsity,” senior Isaac Corgatelli said of this year's juniors. “They’ve been a big part of (the success). We’ve had lots of strong classes. It’s a good sign.”
Bright said he has been inspired by the previous graduating classes.
“My freshman year, I wasn’t really much of a runner at all,” said Bright, who won the boys individual title at last week’s 4A District 6 championships to lead the Tigers to a perfect score. “Seeing runners like (2019 graduate) Zach Erikson, seeing the work ethic he had and how much love he had for the sport, it really inspired me to work hard.”
The girls are similar to where the boys were exactly two years ago with a mix of youth and experience. Seniors and four-time state qualifiers Madi Mary and Emma Clarke have been running varsity races this season alongside freshmen teammates like Elanor Eddington and Allison Lemons who are consistently among I.F.’s top five finishers.
"For me as a senior, I know it was definitely a little intimidating wondering how I was going to keep up with these freshmen," Mary said. "They are super energetic."
"I'm hoping we just keep it up," added Jennalee Lewis, a junior.
Entering this season, I.F.’s boys anticipated Pocatello and Preston to be their closest competition. That has proven true, as those two District 5 teams have finished behind Idaho Falls in three meets. The Tigers said Kuna and Sandpoint have now entered the trophy conversation based on the times they have produced thus far.
They added that they have learned to handle the pressure of entering state as defending champs.
“This will be our third state meet where we will be one of the top teams,” Athay said. “We’ve all had the experience of being who other teams try to beat. We embrace that and use it to our strength.”
The Tigers anticipate Bishop Kelly and Twin Falls to again be in the girls trophy race, but their closest competition this season has come from within 4A District 6. The district has done well at state, claiming four state trophies combined between Skyline, Idaho Falls and Shelley the previous two years. Skyline has hung the closest to Idaho Falls thus far this season, finishing behind them in three meets by nine points or fewer.
The Tigers said they don’t see the same fierce District 91 rivalry with the Grizzlies that exists in other sports, however. After districts, Skyline and Idaho Falls girls were exchanging hugs in the finish area and helping each other untie the chip timers from their shoes.
"We're all hurting and we're out there giving it our all," Lewis said. "After the race, we're asking them how they did."
“It’s cool we’re both representing this town,” Mary added. “They're all really amazing people."
Members of both I.F.'s varsity teams expressed gratitude and amazement at witnessing the rise of their program in recent seasons.
Ereaux said the boys have become closer in their finishing times and as friends these last three seasons.
“We race for each other and with each other,” Ereaux said. “I’m racing with my friends, my brothers.”
The progress over the last year in particular has motivated the girls, who said they are where they hoped they would be at this point in the season.
"Toward the end of last season, we saw we were finishing closer to Skyline," sophomore Hannah Kohler said. "It's nice to see how far we've come."
"We know we have a big opportunity (this weekend), but we do have to want it," Mary added. "We'll just give it our best and make the most of it."
THUNDER RIDGE SIBLINGS ENTER STATE WITH DISTRICT TITLE SWEEP
Oct. 24 was a particularly memorable day for the Moss family at the 5A District 5-6 championships at Portneuf Wellness Complex.
After winning the girls race in 19:21.5 to claim her first individual district cross-country title, Thunder Ridge's Jessica Moss watched older brother Stetson win the boys race in 15:40.6 to claim his second consecutive individual district cross-country title. It was his first race since being the overall varsity boys winner at the Tiger-Grizz Invitational on Sept. 13.
"It was actually pretty nerve-wracking to see him run because he hasn’t run in so long," said Jessica, a sophomore. "We didn’t know how he’d do, but he always surprises us."
Stetson, a senior, said he has been dealing with inflammation around his Achilles tendon. He aqua jogged, swam and rode a stationary bike during his five weeks of not racing. A recent ultrasound revealed that the tendon itself is fine but the area around it is inflamed and causes him pain every time he runs. He ran at districts to help his team, but he said he will run at state as well as Nike Cross Northwest Regionals on Nov. 16.
"I went out and essentially did my part for the team," Stetson said. "I kinda just thought whatever happens is gonna happen."
Neither Moss sibling spoke before the race about potentially sweeping individual district titles. After they finished, people congratulated them as they shared a cool down together.
"I think my dad mentioned it to me beforehand," Stetson said of the sweep. "That doesn’t really happen every day, but it'd be cool if it did happen. It was pretty awesome."
"Me and him are super tight," Jessica added. "It was nice we both won."
Here are some miscellaneous storylines, some of local interest and others of statewide interest, to keep an eye on Saturday:
-District 6 has cleaned up at state cross-country as of late and is in position for another haul Saturday. Since the 2015 season, District 6 has won 41 trophies, including 11 each in the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Of those 41, 13 were state championship trophies.
-Sugar-Salem is gunning for its third consecutive sweep of the 3A boys and girls team titles to continue an impressive local streak. A District 6 team has won the last 11 3A boys cross-country state titles and the last seven 3A girls titles. According to IHSAA records, no 3A team has ever won five consecutive boys team titles. The Diggers could be the first to do so Saturday.
-Salmon is aiming to repeat as 2A boys champions. Last year's title was a program first, snapping Soda Springs' five-year streak in the process.
-A District 6 team, boys or girls, has not won a 5A state title since the Idaho Falls boys won in 2002. Madison, whose boys placed third last year, are in title contention this weekend. The Bobcats have not won a boys cross-country state title since 1983.
-A District 6 boy has never won a 4A individual state title. That accomplishment has been within reach in recent seasons as Skyline's Ryan Barna placed second in 2016 and Idaho Falls' Zach Erikson placed second in 2017 and 2018.
-The Soda Springs girls own Idaho's longest active state title streak for any classification and for any sport. The Cardinals enter Saturday having won 13 in a row. Their biggest competition all season has come from their own district in Bear Lake. The Bears, led by sisters Josi, Elli and Elise Kelsey, placed five points behind the Cardinals at districts and beat Soda Springs by four points at the Bob Conley Invitational, which took place on the state course.
-Mountain View's Lexy Halladay and Twin Falls' Mattalyn Geddes are on the brink of history. Halladay could become the first Idaho girl to win four consecutive 5A individual state titles. She is undefeated through four meets this season and is No. 14 in Dyestat.com's latest girls individual national rankings released Thursday. Geddes, ranked No. 27, could become the first Idaho girl to win three consecutive 4A titles. Bishop Kelly's Emily Nist won three in her career, but no Idaho girl has won three in a row in 4A.