Bozean XC's unbelievable depth key to No. 8 regional ranking

Bozeman coach Clint May might call this the price of success.

ERIK PETERSEN/CHRONICLE Bozeman cross country runners practice on Monday afternoon.
Junior Abby Stusek approached May Saturday, during the bus ride home from Missoula. Stusek transferred to Bozeman from Billings West as a two-time all-state runner (13th place as a freshman, 18th as a sophomore).

But at Bozeman, she is a junior varsity runner. On Saturday, she wanted to know if she would make it to state this year.

The Hawks had just easily won the Mountain West Classic, 28 points head of defending Class AA state champion Billings Senior. Spokane's Lewis and Clark and Mead high schools hadn't come close to Bozeman.

Stusek knows she would be among the top five runners on any other team in the state. The Billings West team she had left is among the Northwest Region “bubble teams,” according to the national high school cross country web site,

The Hawks' standard was just that much higher.

“I knew their potential, but I didn't think they'd be this good,” Stusek said. “I definitely thought I'd be on the varsity.”

This year's infusion of talented underclassmen - freshmen Katie Keith and Heidi Turner (fourth at Mountain West), and sophomores Mariah Schmidt and Katie Gill - has made Bozeman's top seven a lot more selective. And the Hawks' depth is the envy of the state.

“There was an unwritten rule among coaches that if you had five girls under 20 minutes, you were a state title contender,” May said. “Not a lock for the title, but a contender. We should have 12 girls under 20 by state.”

That competitiveness has created the most overqualified junior varsity team in the state, one that regularly obliterates the competition.

May believes that his JV could easily place in the top 5 at Class AA state as its own entity. But there is no showcase for that talent.

The coach's job has become selling his runners on their contributions to a team that has begun to look beyond their likely state championship.

“All summer, I was thinking about how we make them feel, ‘I'm part of the team. My presence makes them better,'” May said.

The Bozeman coaching staff reiterates that message daily, but the motivational problems are inevitable.

“You look at these girls and they're so talented,” senior captain Elizabeth Spartas said. “You wish they could be up there and running with us. You wish that it wasn't 7 people. You wish it was the top 10.”

Juniors Gaby Krevat and Faith Steinbacher were both point-scorers for Bozeman at the state meet last year. Both are running faster than they did last year. Both now lead the junior varsity.

“It makes you work harder with all the competition in the team,” Krevat said, stoically. “It's a good thing. It makes me work harder.”

The team's veterans turn to the model set by the 2006 boys team, which came within several points of attending the Nike Team Nationals in Portland, Ore., last year. The junior varsity played an essential emotional and motivational role for that success, according to May.

“Our boys took pride in our JV team last year,” May said. “They would run first and just clobber the competition. The varsity would just get so pumped up after that. I had always appreciated the JV before, but I didn't realize what a difference JV can make.”

“There's probably a little bit of tension,” said Steinbacher: “It's actually really cool being able to lead runners “You get to show a lot of leadership because you know how to run. You get to lead the race.”