On Saturday, Oct. 13, Class B cross country programs on this side of the state gathered at Medicine Run Golf Course in Killdeer to compete at the West Region Championships.
For the runners and coaches alike, the precursor to the biggest meet of the year was one day they'd rather forget as frigid temperatures and occasional wind gusts made for a long morning.
"I'm not going to lie, it was a fairly long hangover from that day in Killdeer. It was a cold, ugly day and it took some time for our kids to recover," Bowman County head coach Jonathan Jahner said. "We continued to practice, but it was a lot of recovery to get back into that mood and it's a good thing that we had two weeks between regional time and state time; we needed it."
Despite the miserable conditions, the Bulldogs had a confidence-boosting showing, with boys and girls team each claiming second in the team competition behind New Town.
Both Bulldog teams also had a pair of runners collect spots in the top-10. Junior Camden Wokal earned fifth place while sophomore Brian Miller crossed the finish line in ninth. On the girls side, junior Alexius Miller finished while Paysha Rex eighth-grader took 10th.
Rex and Miller are two underclassmen that have topped the leaderboard for a Bowman County squad that Jahner describes as "young."
The person that carries the mantle for the upperclassmen is senior Abigail Bartholomay. At regionals, Bartholomay was just six spots shy of earning an All-Region spot, taking 26th, but was selected as one of the senior athletes of the year.
"She's not our No. 1 runner but she's our leader," Jahner said of Bartholomay. "She keeps everybody in line. On Sundays when they are going out on recovery runs, she's the one calling kids up. She's just an excellent leader for our team, not just the girls, but the boys and the girls. ... It's been really nice having her to mentor the younger kids."
Following the strong effort at Killdeer, the Bulldogs will join the rest of the North Dakota high school cross country community in Jamestown on Saturday, Oct. 27 for the State Championships. Bowman County, a program with a championship pedigree, is looking for similar results compared to two weeks ago, even as the level of competition increases.
"The goal is to bring home two trophies and get in the top five. That's our goal, to be there," Jahner said. "It's not going to be an easy goal to accomplish on either side. There's a lot of depth out east. ... It's going to take a complete race and take all of our kids to do their part, but that's the beauty of it."
As for the team that hosted the Class B West Region, the Cowboys saw mixed results on their home course.
Behind a 13th-place finish from freshman Jace Anderson, the Killdeer boys claimed fourth. The girls, who were led by eighth-grader and 11th-place finisher Danielle Dobitz, ended their meet in the middle of the pack in seventh.
However, Cowboys head coach Nathan Horgeshimer hopes to see his girls have a repeat performance of last season.
"We had a rough region meet. We were ninth at the region meet in 2017, but they were able to come up and make their way up to tenth at the state meet," Horgeshimer said. "They improved as much as anybody the last two weeks of the season. So I think this year, they'd be pretty happy with that."
As for boys side, in addition to Anderson, freshman Owen Dutenhefner earned All-Region honors with a 16th-place finish at regionals. While the front of the Killdeer boys squad is solid, the back end of the team may be prove to be just as important.
Senior Stephen Westarp and sophomore Nathan Sadowsky provide valuable depth in a year that Horgeshimer believes is wide-open aside from the few elite teams in the state.
"Everybody has got a weakness somewhere, some teams are really strong up front but don't have a strong fifth runner and there's other teams that don't have a stud up front but they are deep," Horgeshimer said. "The opportunities are there for some team to make a jump and surprise people, I think we are one of seven or eight teams that can sneak up there."
Can Yoder seize the moment?
Over the last 10 seasons at the Class A Cross Country State meet, the runner that's captured the top prize carried a pace below 16 minutes nine times. The lone exception is Bismarck High's Jake Leingang in 2010, who began his legendary three-peat with a time of 16 minutes, 3.26 seconds.
The average winning time over those 10 years was 15:33.6.
For sophomore Dickinson runner Brady Yoder knows that when Class A teams venture to the Parkhurst Recreation Area this Saturday, he'll have to perform at his best.
"Everybody is going to be bringing their all for this last meet of the year," Yoder said. "Everybody is going to come out and give it everything they got. I'm definitely looking to PR and get in the 15:30-range. I'd like to lower my personal record a little bit and run the best I can."
Up to this point, Yoder's best has been more than good enough, winning all six events that he has entered. Since the midway point of the season, he has been the No. 1-ranked runner in Class A.
Before the season, Yoder said one of his expectations was to run times under the 16-minute mark. He has done so twice. First, at the WDA meet on Oct. 13 and next at the Becki Wells Invite on Sept. 21.
"I definitely surpassed (my expectations) in a way with how strong I feel," Yoder said. "I feel like I'm right where I want to be and where I want to get to reach my goals. ... I'm really excited and I think the nerves I have are good nerves. I think I'm just really excited to go on Saturday."
Another Midgets runner eager for Saturday to arrive is Aleigha Villars.
Clocking in with a time of 20:44.92, the junior is coming off of her best time of the season at the West regionals and hopes to continue her momentum.
"At WDA, everytime that I saw someone, it just helped me move forward and I felt like I could reach the next person. I just got to them one-by-one," Villars said. "At state, I hope I can P.R., but if I don't, obviously that's fine. My personal record is 20:20 so I hope I can get to around that time or even improve it."
The WDA meet was originally scheduled at Parkhurst, but was moved to Bismarck due to inclimate weather. However, the Dickinson cross country teams did not lose out on the initial advantage of seeing the course abundant with hills before state, making a stop at the golf course prior to competing at the Roy Griak Invite in Minnesota during late September for a test run.
In order to take advantage of their test run, the Midgets will need to improve on an average performance at WDA, where each team finished seventh.
"Realistic goals, we want to be in the top-10. We're not knocking on the door of a state championship with where our program is at team-wise, but I think top-10 is a realistic goal," Dickinson head coach Greg Jung said. "Our kids need to improve from two weeks ago. If our kids don't improve, we might not meet that goal. We've really been preaching that over the last two weeks. ... I think if we run our best, a lot of the placing will take care of itself."