Pocatello hasn’t exactly been in the tropics these past two weeks.
I drove two hours to the Portneuf Wellness Complex, losing 2,000 feet of elevation and found snow piled outboard of the six to eight foot wide course cut for the State Cross Country Championship.
How cold was it Nov. 2? Adults who might have modeled better judgement, strode out on the glassy ice of the park’s unnamed lake. They hauled boulders from the banks toward the lake’s center in order to slam them on the ice. To what purpose?
Luckily, the ice was thick; no boulder found its mark. No one broke through. Nobody won the Darwin award but not for lack of trying. So much for my Teton Valley sense of ownership of cold weather.
The air was cold steel blue and ... Calm, dead calm. The brown grass was rooted in frozen soil. Fast surface. This would be the fastest this course has ever been.
The women’s 3A race started fiercely.
Sara Bagley grabbed hold of the lead peloton of about eight. She was closely followed by Jenna Letham. Though the time between them was only a few seconds there was a chaos of human thoroughbreds galloping.
Nigh on Jenna, Brooklyn Godfrey and Mackenzie Lee shared a shoulder. Some way back, the familiar three-pack: Amelia Wilson with sister Eliza and Olivia Schnell focused forward, together. This approximate configuration would mark Teton’s relative position throughout the race but for a significant exception.
Somewhere after three-quarters of a mile and before 1800 meters, a great drama unfolded which marks the nature of cross.
“I had a pretty intense side stitch.” Jenna narrated. It knocked her back … Way back. She lost maybe 25 seconds in a quarter mile.
Brooklyn and Mackenzie came up behind her. When Brooklyn passed, Jenna felt the pain still but when Mackenzie rode up beside her, Jenna recalled the promise the women had made to each other: to race for their team, to do their best for the team.
Jenna recounted her moment of truth, “It was mainly when Mackenzie passed me that I had to do it for the team.” From that point forward, this determined gang of three leaned, pressed, pushed and urged each other onward. Cue the triumphal music.
When I next caught the action at 1.9 miles, Sara was in fourth and looking ahead for an opportunity. After a minute and a slug of racers passed, the excitable freshman, Brooklyn Godfrey leans into the downhill just ahead of Jenna and Mackenzie.
Brooklyn explained the concept of pack running this way: “It’s much easier to run with teammates, always, always. Very good to run with them. … It just helps a lot.”
In the final mile, the course presents its most sober test: To reach the long, downhill serpentine toward the finish line, harriers first must survive a Sysiphean uphill, broken into two punishing halves by a teaser downhill. All that ascent is preceded by difficult rollers which are in turn preceded by a long fast downhill that is out of control enough to wreck any sense of rhythm.
Jenna ferociously attempting to reclaim lost ground, drove up the hill. Coach Kaufman reported that Brooklyn was a monster on the uphill picking off one opponent after another. Mackenzie was still right there.
All athletes may zone out on some sections of some courses but all our athletes remembered their own odyssey on the ‘big hill.’
“That hurt, it really hurt. But teammates and coaches helped me push stronger and harder.” That from Sara Bagley who would finish 5th overall, going under twenty minutes.
Jenna recalled the recharge and unity she shared on the climb, “We did the hills together and I called to them for the rest of the kick.”
Mackenzie punctuated the idea of racing up hills with one’s teammates, “It was nice to have friends there to push you harder than you think you can push yourself. I love this course. Yeah, I like the hills.”
Teton’s other threesome, racing further back, carried the key to our team scoring. Seniors, Olivia Schnell and Amelia Wilson have an impressive resume of big races. Sophomore Eliza Wilson is a newbie by comparison but she held onto their shirt tales and landed her best race ever by eight seconds.
As a result of the team packing, Teton’s seven women harriers captured three season records and four personal records (PRs). Brooklyn’s 1:41 PR translates to better than a 30 second per mile improvement over her previous best performance. Mackenzie had a 52” PR and Jenna, who lost so much in the first mile came back for a 36” PR.
Sara scored a 39 second, season best when it counted. This put her on the podium for her 5th place finish. Olivia took 94” off her best from 2019 and missed her PR by a mere second while Amelia slashed 49” off her season best.
The women ended up fifth as a team, just three points from Kimberly. They felt proud to have beaten Snake River for the 1st time this season after being outscored by them in four prior meetings this season.
Teton Men Return to the Days of Team Trophies
When the men raced, it was early afternoon but the surface was still firm. 2013 the last time the Teton men were awarded a trophy at the state meet. The seniors were especially anxious to cash in on the years of hard work.
Jack Dobbs jumped out quickly as he has been wont to do this year. It would work for him in the end. James Allen was behind but near Jack at a thousand meter mark and Lance Safiran was back a bit more than usual watching his opponents for weakness.
If every man raced his best, Teton could steal some dreams from Gooding, Snake River and Timberlake. Like at District, Sugar Salem had their runners bunched at the front and seemed intent on controlling the race from the gun.
Sophomore Noah Machen was closely followed by CG Woiwode. Finnegan Adams employed hockey skills to skate around other jerseys in search of the maroon and orange. Off the back was John Woiwode caught in a deep spiral of suffering.
James closed on Jack in short order and the pair were able to feed off each other as were CG and Noah. Nonetheless, our men would finish in the same sequence they had established at 1k.
As it played out in real time, I wondered, Could Jack hold his ferocious pace? Would James glide past him in the last mile as he is inclined to do? Would Noah and CG join Lance to find new horsepower? Would Finn bridge up? And would John find his mojo?
With the exception of Jack and James at the front, Teton did not benefit from tight pack-running that had been their trademark this season. When the scoring was complete Teton claimed the fourth place trophy from Timberlake by three points but Gooding and Snake River were able to hold us off largely on the strength of their 3rd and fourth men keeping contact.
Jack Dobbs and James Allen both received medals, Jack in 15th and James in 18th. Jack had an impressive 48 second PR, equivalent to a 15” per mile improvement. James also cut his PR by 36”.
Lance Safiran shaved two seconds off his best while seeing a bright future for this young team, “The team is looking very very well this year. I’m excited for future years.”
Noah’s 30 second PR and CG’s 49” improvement played a big role in winning the trophy. Finn had a 32 second, season best to finish his scholastic cross career on a high note.
“I could not be happier. I’m so proud of this team; this group of boys. They gave it everything they had the whole season and look what happened: We got two people on the podium, got a trophy, and … taking home the Academic State Championship Trophy.
“I could not be happier with my last race.” said Adams, walking from the awards ceremony.
Teton Harriers at State (bold indicates individual medal)
Women’s team 5th overall
5 Sara Bagley soph 19:57
29 Jenna Letham fr 21:27
32 Brooklyn Godfrey fr 21:37
36 Mackenzie Lee jr 21:53
45 Olivia Schnell sr 22:41
47 Amelia Wilson sr 22:46
50 Eliza Wilson soph 23:00
Men’s team 4th overall
15 Jack Dobbs sr 17:10
18 James Allen jr 17:15
33 Lance Safiran jr 17:59
36 Noah Machen soph 18:16
38 CG Woiwode soph 18:21
47 Finn Adams sr 18:32
66 John Woiwode jr 19:39