WALNUT, Calif. — Four Montana runners, including three from the Flathead Valley, qualified among the top 40 in the nation for the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships on Saturday.
Glacier senior Troy Fraley, Flathead senior Zach Perrin, Bigfork sophomore Makena Morley and Missoula Hellgate senior Paige Gilchrist all finished in the top 10 at the West Regional final, qualifying to race in next weekend’s finals in San Diego.
Fraley, who finished third at the state cross country meet in October, finished the 5-kilometer race second overall in a time of 15 minutes, 37 seconds. He led for a spell, pushing the pace late to hold off some of the racers with a stronger kick at the finish.
“There’s some pretty speedy runners (in the field),” Fraley said. “I didn’t really want to be around them on the last 100, so I got away.”
Salt Lake City’s Benjamin Saarel turned in the fastest time of the day, finishing in 15:27. Fraley’s time will be among the fastest in the nation heading into the finals. Of the 40 runners competing next week, only 13 came in faster than the Wolfpack senior.
“That was amazing,” Fraley said. “It’s a huge dream to go to nationals.”
The top 10 runners from each of the four regions qualify for the national meet. Other regional winners were Sean McGorty of Fairfax, Va., who won the South in 15:53; Edward Cheserek, of Newark, N.J., who won the Northeast in 15:21; and Jake Leingang, of Bismarck, N.D., who won the Midwest in 14:56.
Perrin finished in eighth (15:47) at the meet after leading for the first half of the race. The Class AA state champion decided to run out front after the lead pack started out slow.
“Going into the race I was planing on hanging in the back,” Perrin said. “The guys weren’t running that type of race, no one else was running out front so I figured I’d do it.
“I took it out fast, led the first two miles. Once they started pressing up the hill, I decided to hang in the back and settle for eighth. I wanted to keep my legs fresh for nationals.
Hellgate’s Adam Peterman finished in 22nd. Knights teammate Chris Herrick finished 99th.
On the girls side, Morley, in her typical fashion, stayed out front for most of the race, heading a secondary pack behind eventual winner Marissa Williams of Palisades, Calif. Williams would pull away from the three runner group, finishing the 5K in 17:46, nearly 30 seconds ahead of everyone else.
Morley was about 10 seconds back at the mile mark, but fell off the lead, finishing in 18:17. Julia Maxwell of Ross, Calif., finished second at 18:15 and Gilchrist, the Class AA champion, finished fourth in 18:19.
Anaconda’s Olivia Wood, seventh in Class A, finished in 84th.
Other regional winners were Sophie Chase, of Burke, Va., who won the South in 18:49; Catarina Rocha, of Peabody, Mass., who won the Northeast in 17:49; and Anna Rohrer, of Mishawaka, Ind., who won the Midwest in 16:54.
The Montana girls will be in the top half of times entering the race, with only 17 faster times entering the national finals.
There were a handful of other local runners to make the trip to California.
Bigfork freshman Logan Morley finished 41st in the All-West Frosh/Soph 5K, earning a medal with a finish in 18:02.
In the All-West Frosh/Soph 3-mile race, Flathead’s Sylas Schutt finished in 15th with a time of 16:53. Glacier’s Logan Harmon finished in 116th in 18:45.
Bigfork’s Bryn Morley finished 23rd overall in the girls in the boys and girls elementary/middle school race, and fourth among the girls in a time of 10:54.
The national finals for the 5k finishers are Saturday in San Diego.