One after the other, Cody runners broke the clock.
The surprising thing was that personal records spread like a contagious disease and it was only the first meet of the season.
As the Fillies opened the season with a fourth-place finish behind three Montana teams in the Billings Invitational and the Broncs took ninth, several Cody individuals ran 5 kilometers faster than they ever have before.
Senior Owen Preston placed fifth among 153 finishers with a time of 16 minutes, 17.93 seconds, a personal record by 13 seconds. Junior Wyatt Becker clipped about 20 seconds off his personal best. Freshman David Juergens made a strong debut in 17:21.
Junior Riley Smith took second overall for the girls in 18:26, with senior Baylee Stafford ninth in 19:34. But it was Emmy Bower’s strong 18th among the 128 finishers that was eye-catching.
“Emmy ran amazing,” coach Maggie Kirkham said. “Emmy’s been training hard and she’s been working hard.”
Bower’s time of 20:09 was her fastest.
“And she looked good doing it,” Kirkham said.
Just about all the Fillies and Broncs looked good doing it.
“It was an excellent first meet,” Kirkham said.
The Fillies returned three All-State runners in Smith, Stafford and Ashton Powell and now Bower has injected herself into the mix at a better-than-ever level.
“It felt good,” Bower said. “I did go out a little faster. I got off the line well. I definitely feel stronger. I’m excited. I think the girls can win state.”
Bower said she was five minutes quicker on the Billings course than two years ago.
“I’m really hoping to go under 20,” she said.
Smith, the team’s top runner all three of her seasons, said she eased back on summer training this year and may be fresher since she was within four seconds of her PR.
She spoke of being “a little bit more intense” in her racing while perhaps being a little less so in training.
Smith said she was pleased to see Bower do well. Smith said she always gives her pep talks “that she can run with the other girls.”
Stafford, who ran 19:34, was close to a personal fastest time.
“I went out pretty hard,” she said.
She and others have trained especially hard since August and Stafford thinks this early success is a result of that.
“I definitely do,” she said.
Preston, like Smith, took a little step back in training this summer and after careful pacing moved up steadily in the boys race.
Kirkham worried briefly when she counted him in 36th, but said she trusts his racing instincts and Preston soon began picking off runners singly and in groups, employing a sustained kick.
“I went out a little conservative,” Preston said while surprising himself with how fast he finished. “I just felt good. It was a big race. After the first mile I just kept moving. It’s definitely promising. I was really happy with myself.”
Even before official practice began, Becker declared a goal of establishing a new personal best in the opener and his 17:48 even exceeded expectations.
“That’s what I was going for – 17:50,” he said.
Becker has diabetes and had to adjust in mid-race after a solid first mile. He felt his blood sugar was off, but after drinking some Coca-Cola, he revived and ran strong.
“I could feel it at the end,” he said. “I didn’t faint, so that was good. I can go faster.”
The other boys scorers were Braydon Bond and Kyle Graham. Powell and Rachel Sanchez were the other girls scorers.
“Shaf (assistant coach Scott Shaffer) and I were really as pleased as we can be,” Kirkham said of the first meet.
Teams: 1) Helena, 44; 2) Hardin, 102; 3) Billings West, 114; 4) Cody, 127; 5) Helena Capital, 154; 6) Bozeman, 255; 7) Billings Skyview, 186; 8) (tie) Laurel and Billings Senior, 216; 10) Worland, 286; 11) Fergus, 300; 12) (tie) Red Lodge and Colstrip, 318; 14) Powell, 341; 15) Custer County, 380; 16, Belgrade, 394; 17) Lovell, 416. (10 other incomplete teams.
Individuals: 2) Riley Smith, 18:26; 9) Baylee Stafford, 19:34; 18) Emmy Bower, 20:09; 50) Ashton Powell, 21:37; 66) Rachel Sanchez, 22:08.
Teams: 1) Dickinson, 104; 2) Helena, 106; 3) Billings West, 110; 4) Fergus, 139; 5) Billings Senior, 154; 6) Bozeman, 203; 7) Billings Skyview, 232; 8) Hardin, 239; 9) Cody, 271; 10) Helena Capital, 276; 11) Powell, 283; 12) Laurel, 307; 13) Worland, 358; 14) Belgrade, 364; 15) Red Lodge, 382; 16) Glasgow, 384; 17) Custer County, 421; 18. St. Labre Catholic, 426; 19) Billings Central Catholic, 476; 20 Lodge Grass, 489; 21) Colstrip, 566. (8 other incomplete teams
Individuals: 5) Owen Preston, 16:17; 33) David Juergens, 17:21; 56) Wyatt Becker, 17:48; 82) Braydon Bond, 18:37; 12) Kyle Graham, 19:48.