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Cody cross country runners wave to people as they are escorted through downtown Wednesday to celebrate a state title, including (from left) Lillie Kirkham, Ashton Powell, Kinley Bollinger, Kiera Jackson, Mackenzie Clark, and Manon Desquesses.

It’s hard to set expectations too high coming off back-back-back state 3A cross country championships.

But after an early season win at the Billings Invitational, the Cody Fillies runners knew something special was on the horizon.

“When we won our first meet in Billings against Montana teams, that was a really good confidence booster because Cody had never won that race before,” Fillies runner Keira Jackson said.

That race set the stage for an undefeated season for a new-look Fillies squad that placed four runners in the top 20 at the state meet, including Jackson who finished 13th.

Ava Stafford won the 3A girls state meet, the first Filly runner to ever do so.

Kinley Bollinger landed just out of all-state contention in 11th.

“This year was a completely different feel to the team with three new additions in Mekenzie Clark, Taylen Stinson and Kinley Bollinger,” coach Maggie Kirkham said. “Those three newcomers really changed the face of our team.”

Bollinger had never competed in a high school sport before, but had been training for half-marathons throughout the pandemic.

Clark moved to Cody from Colorado where she gained plenty of experience competing against top runners.

Stinson joined after swimming for the Fillies the previous three seasons, running through injuries at state to take 44th.

Former swimmer Zelma Rudd also decided to run cross country this year, finishing 29th and putting a stamp on the state title.

Those four entered into a program that didn’t lack in successful seasons.

Before winning the title three years ago, they were runner up to Jackson, who had just moved down to 3A from 4A.

The year before that the Fillies finished second by just one point.

In fact, in the last decade, the lowest finish at state has been third for the Fillies, and that was one time.

It’s a pattern of winning that emerged from a variety of factors.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” Kirkham said. “There are no shortcuts to being a long distance runner. You have to train with a purpose and know what you are trying to get out of each day.”

The chemistry between the group was evident in that first meet in Billings and grew throughout the season as well.

“We have an amazing group of girls with a great work ethic,” Stafford said. “Everyone competed well and worked together to win.”

And what cross country runners chalk up as work, others would see as punishment, as they pushed hard through hills, the weather, the mud and other top teams.

“You do bond through suffering,” Kirkham said. “There is a bonding through those workout days and those long runs. A lot of people just don’t get it. It’s hard to explain.”

The Fillies lose a pair of seniors in Bollinger and Clark, but still have plenty of youth returning on the varsity team, including sophomore Elisa Wachob who finished 54th at state.

The rest of the state may need to get used to the Fillies winning so many meets and titles.

“The 3A teams are used to seeing the Cody girls up front,” Kirkham said. “I think the boys will be there next year as well. We will keep doing what we are doing, consistency and training with a purpose.”

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