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Several New Winners, Impressive Times at Tiger-Grizz
Six varsity races at Idaho Falls' Freeman Park provided plenty of compelling drama
Published: 9/11/2023 2:25:52 PM
Marlowe Hereford
Contributing Writer

Idaho Falls’ Freeman Park was the place to be Friday afternoon, with six varsity races and the introduction of a seeded division at the Tiger-Grizz Invitational.

The new seeded races made their debut at the annual meet in Idaho Falls, and they ended with the fastest times the winners had ever run on Freeman Park's 5k cross country course.

Skyline senior Nelah Roberts, winner of the varsity A girls race the previous two seasons, won the girls seeded race in 18:37.2, stretching out her lead throughout and ultimately winning by a 48 second margin.

That time is the second fastest ever recorded on the course by a girl behind 2020 Mountain View graduate Lexy Halladay's 18:19.3 from her 2016 Tiger-Grizz win. It also beat Roberts' all-time District 6 best girls time at Freeman Park: 18:44.2 from her win at the 2021 4A District 6 championships.

Friday was her first race of the season and her last Tiger-Grizz.

"I really upped my miles this summer," Roberts said. "I want to be running the best I can at these meets because I'll be racing these courses for the last time."

Idaho's three-time defending 4A girls individual cross country state champion, Roberts came close to an injury from overtraining last season. Actively avoiding that situation this season is top priority.

"If I stay healthy and all goes according to plan, I'll be four-time state champion and go to (Nike Cross) Nationals again," Roberts said.

Rocky Mountain won the girls seeded team title with a score of 58 while fellow District 3 school Timberline was second with 63. 

Rocky Mountain claimed both the individual title and team title in the boys seeded race. Cody Lucas, a junior, won the seeded boys race in 16:15.3, his first victory of the season, and the Grizzlies won the team title with 37 points.

This was his third Tiger-Grizz, and his best finish and best time on the course.

"I'm really happy (with the win)," Lucas said. "My plan was to run the first half relaxed. I didn't want the lead."

A member of the two-time defending 5A state champion Grizzlies, Lucas expressed gratitude for the experience of running for Rocky Mountain and eagerness to set and accomplish goals together.

"It's amazing to have the opportunity to be encouraged by these guys," Lucas said of his team. "Last year was the first time we really worked on being united and building a brotherhood within the team. This year we're continuing that as our mission. We definitely couldn't do what we do without such amazing coaches."

Last year's varsity B boys winner, North Fremont junior Corbin Johnston, entered the seeded boys race and moved up later in the race to ultimately place second in 16:36.4. The seeded race featured mostly 5A and 4A runners, especially from District 3, and he was the only 2A runner entered. 

Running in the seeded race resulted in Johnston getting his fastest time ever at Freeman.

"I knew there was gonna be really good competition," Johnston said. "My freshman year I got 17:33, then last year got 17:01."

Idaho's defending 2A boys individual cross country state champion, Johnston has set big goals for his junior season. 

"I definitely want to get state champion again," Johnston said. "I also want to get a good place at NXR (Nike Cross Northwest Regionals). I really want to get low 15s and beat my PR of 15:21."

After winning three Tiger-Grizz middle school titles, West Jefferson freshman Bella Spencer added a fourth Tiger-Grizz gold medal to her collection with her victory in Friday's varsity B girls race in 20:17. 

"It's really pretty and the grass is good for fast times," Spencer said of the Freeman Park course.

Spencer was introduced to running at a young age thanks to growing up in a running family. Older siblings Elizabeth and Hyrum, who graduated from West Jefferson in 2021 and 2022, respectively, both ran cross country and track for the Panthers, and her brother Daniel is currently in his senior season for West Jefferson cross country.

"I was like five or six when I started fun runs," Spencer said. "My mom, she started running in high school and she's been running marathons."

Ririe, Idaho's defending 2A state runner-up, claimed the varsity B girls team title 55-64 over Soda Springs, Idaho's defending 2A state champion. 

A 1A boy built on an early lead to win the varsity B boys race. Rockland senior Ezra Hubbard won in 17:08.6 in his first time at Tiger-Grizz since his freshman season. Friday was his first win this season.

"It was a goal (to win)," he said. 

Hubbard said Rockland has the goal of winning the 1A state championship after placing second to Victory Charter the previous two seasons. Victory Charter has also claimed the previous two 1A boys individual state titles, both won by Ian Stockett. Ian Stockett graduated, but Luke Stockett is now Victory Charter's top returning runner and Idaho's top 1A boy currently.

"Luke, me and him are going to battle it out," Hubbard said.  

Teton edged fellow District 6 team Sugar-Salem 76-92 to win the varsity B boys team title. 

Twin Falls got 1-2 finishes in the varsity A girls and boys races. Russell Frampton won the boys race in 17:08.6 with teammate Preston Dopp taking second in 17:08.9. Saylor Erickson won the girls race in 20:36.6 and teammate Raelee Richardson was second in 20:39.8.  

Frampton said he was not focused so much on achieving a particular time on Friday, but he and Dopp, a junior, had discussed the possibility of finishing 1-2 when they saw who else was entered in varsity A.

"When I came in, my goal was to win this race," Frampton said. "I didn't even wear my watch."

The 4A boys state meet will be wide open this year as last year's top six individual finishers all graduated, including Frampton's teammate Stockton Stevens. As a senior, Frampton is already thinking about his final state meet next month.

"I have a lot of big goals this season," Frampton said. "I would really like to be a state champion."

Rocky Mountain won the varsity A boys team title with 93 points.

A senior sporting pink sunglasses, Erickson enjoyed a reunion with varsity A girls third place finisher Jaycee Jensen of Idaho Falls in the finish area. The two attended the same cross country camp at Utah State over the summer.

Like Jensen, Friday was Erickson's best finish at Tiger-Grizz. A year ago, Erickson placed 14th in varsity A.

"I think I was more mentally prepared for the course this year," Erickson said. "This week, I was really practicing for these hills."

The thought of a Twin Falls 1-2 finish had not been on Erickson's mind at the start of the race, but she was thrilled that Richardson, a freshman, finished second.

"Usually, she's our No. 3 runner so I'm really proud of her that she got second," Erickson said.

Twin Falls won the varsity A girls team title with 37 points.

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