After running countless miles, either alone in the Swan or alongside her brother, sister and father; after four years of constant, rigorous training; after achieving her long list of towering goals, including the fastest times in state history, Makena Morley arrived at the final stretch of her brilliant high school cross country career.
As she charged over the hill in Helena last Saturday, all alone, she could see the finish line.
Hundreds of spectators roared to life.
Those who had watched her along the way, from a wide-eyed freshman four years ago to Montana’s greatest female distance runner, had seen extraordinary feats of speed and endurance.
But they had never seen anything like this.
The Bigfork senior crossed the finish line in 16:33.20, breaking the all-class state record and winning her fourth Class B championship. The victory was two seconds faster than her winning time last year in Missoula, which had set a new all-class mark by 15 seconds.
When it was over, she let out a gasp. Relieved. Surprised. Flooded with emotion, she embraced her mother, Jill, and father, Steve.
Bryn, Makena’s younger sister and the heir apparent in Class B, joined them shortly after in an emotional family
In storybook fashion, Makena saved her best for last.
She had struggled earlier in the season, losing her first-ever race in Montana to Glacier’s Annie Hill.
When it came to the final in-state cross country race in her storied career, she left nothing to chance. Her pace was ambitious and ferocious - 5:31/mile. Even her speedy sister couldn’t keep up. No other female distance runner in Montana history could have.
“I was really relaxed today,” she said. “I just wanted to run as fast as I could. I didn’t put any time goals out there; just went out there and ran as fast as I could.”
Crossing the finish one last time, reality set it.
“I started crying as I saw (the time at the finish line),” she said. “I didn’t really know on this course if I would get the state record … The state record was in the back of my mind but I didn’t really think about it too much.”
Morley became only the fourth high school girl to win four state championships, alongside Flathead’s Zoe Nelson (2001-04), Ruby Yellowtail of Lodge Grass (1989-92) and Kathy Jarvis of Havre (1982-85).
“I’m so happy Makena got to go out in a blaze of glory,” longtime Bigfork cross country coach Sue Loeffler said. “I wanted to see her go out in glory because I know she’s an amazing runner. Everybody knows that, but she struggled a little bit this year. She’s an amazing person. She’s just incredible.”
Morley isn’t done yet. She’s now headed to Nike Regionals in Boise in three weeks before competing at the Western Regional Foot Locker Cross Country Championship, where she hopes to win for the second year in a row and make a run at winning a national championship.
Regardless of how she does at those elite out-of-state meets, the future University of Montana runner has ensured her legacy in her home state will be a memorable one.
The state hasn’t seen the last of the Morleys either. Bryn finished second in the Class B state race, clocking 16:59, one of the fastest times in state history. She became only the third girl to break 17 minutes at the state meet, alongside her sister and Nelson.
“I was really happy I got to run with Makena,” Bryn said. “I was just trying to stay with her for as long as I could.”
The Morley sisters led Bigfork to a third-place team trophy, with 134 points. Xiaoxiao Strong placed 22nd (21:12.20), Gabby Eaton was 54th (22:52.31) and Katherine Mischke was 55th (22:53.14.
The Morleys’ brother, Logan, captured his own trophy.
The Bigfork junior won the Class B boys state championship in 15:29. He won by 30 seconds a year after placing second.
“It feels really good to win. That’s what I came out here to do,” he said. “I felt really relaxed and really strong out there today.”
Is there added pressure having two speedy sisters?
“It makes me really inspired when I see them do well,” he said. “It really helps me go faster.”
Bill Roberts Golf Course, Helena
1, Red Lodge, 74; 2, Manhattan, 86; 3, Townsend, 133; 4, Thompson Falls, 192; 5, Colstrip, 237; 6, Lincoln County, 248; 7, Shelby, 250; 8, Harlem, 287; 9, Glasgow, 289; 10, Ronan, 301; 11, St. Labre, 301; 12, Loyola Sacred Heart, 307; 13, Joliet, 369; 14, Bigfork, 408; 15, Lodge Grass, 428.
Individuals Results – All State
1, Logan Morley, Bigfork, 15:29.18; 2, Tyus Mendoza, Colstrip, 15:59.92; 3, Logan Beck, Red Lodge, 16:32.01; 4, Paul Bielawski, Shelby, 16:35.21; 5, A.J. Eckmann, Jefferson, 16:41.41; 6, Kryn Dykema, Red Lodge, 16:41.44; 7, Russell Kujala, Plains, 16:49.69; 8, David Sachman, Manhattan, 16:60.65; 9, Liam Gildehaus, Red Lodge, 16:54.69; 10, Tanner Laws, Thompson Falls, 17:00.06; 11, Hunter Flynn, Whitehall, 17:00.66; 12, Vance Thuesen, Red Lodge, 17:00.69; 13, Tommy Frost, Townsend, 17:12.39; 14, Tristen Gone, Harlem, 17:13.00; 15, Antonio Krogstad, Manhattan, 17:15.21;
1, Manhattan, 91; 2, Red Lodge, 131; 3, Bigfork, 134; 4, Glasgow, 182; 5, Roundup, 214; 6, Colstrip, 271; 7, Lincoln County, 272; 8, Plains, 296; 9, Malta, 299; 10, St. Labre, 301; 11, Loyola Sacred Heart, 318; 12, Ronan, 364; 13, Huntley Project, 411; 14, Rocky Boy, 450; 15, Cut Bank, 485.
Individual Results – All State
1, Makena Morley, Bigfork, 16:33.20 (All-Class record); 2, Bryn Morley, Bigfork, 16:59.28; 3, Tamia Two Moons, Lame Deer, 18:59.04; 4, Kimberly Earhart, Plains, 19:10.68; 5, Alexandra Bartmess, Lincoln County, 19:11.03; 6, Grace Wyse, Townsend, 19:27.81; 7, Baylee Green, Roundup, 19:50.61; 8, Josie Braaten, Glasgow, 19:52.09; 9, Addie Poore, Red Lodge, 19:55.41; 10, Sierra Summers, Wolf Point, 20:04.44; 11, Anna Losasso, Manhattan, 20:05.00; 12, Hannah Madsen, Manhattan, 20:13.31; 13, Amanda Wolff, Glasgow, 20:24.37; 14, Sophia Stiles, Malta, 20:30.61; 15, Kim Parsell, Shelby, 20:30.75
For complete results, visit competitivetiming.com.