Team posts highest state finish ever on punishing course
The cross-country state championship course in Star Valley is tough. It sits at 6,240 feet above sea level, and it’s complicated, with hills rolling into one another in patterns that are almost impossible to imitate on Buffalo High School’s training grounds.
So, last week, with just a few days remaining before the championship meet, head coach Sandy Moon took her athletes to the track. It takes about six two-lap 800s to simulate the five-kilometer course the team would face later in the week. One by one, Moon described each 800 to the team. One by one, they ran them, and as their shoes slapped the cold track under low gray clouds in Buffalo, they imagined the hills in Star Valley.
“We can’t control this course,” Moon told the team. “The only thing we can control is how we respond to every single part of it.”
Star Valley’s first 800 meters is a gradual downhill, still close enough to the start, Moon said, that the runners should visualize the cheers of spectators. The second 800 climbs slightly, pitching up a big hill.
“Set a measurable goal for this one,” Moon said. “Like, I’m gonna pass three people on that hill, or I’m gonna not let anyone pass me.”
By the fourth 800, the runners enter the toughest part of the course. There, a series of rolling hills leads directly into a major climb. The fifth 800 is straight down, then straight up: “Think about gravity going down,” Moon yelled. “Use that momentum. Attack the hill.”
The final section of the race is downhill into a corner. After the runners turn, they can see the finish line, 600 meters away.
“When you turn that corner, you’re speeding up,” Moon said. “Think about your goal and break it into sections. It’s tough to wait until the end to see if you’ve accomplished your goal.”
When the team got off the bus in Star Valley, four days later, the weather was similar, about 25 degrees, according to Moon. It warmed up and was “perfect, gorgeous,” she said, with “zero wind.”
The team entered the meet with momentum. The girls were coming off a conference championship win. Although the boys team was awarded third place at conference, a corrected scoring error later lifted them to the runner-up position.
The team’s focused preparation, plus a full season’s worth of hard work, paid off as the girls team came within just three points of Buffalo’s first cross-country state championship, falling just short of toppling defending champions Cody. The team finished 13 points ahead of home team Star Valley, which took third.
“I told the kids before we got off the bus, we’re not gonna ‘What if?’ and we’re not gonna ‘If only,’” and we’re not gonna ‘I could have,’” Moon said. “At the end of the day, we just have to let it be, as hard as that is. We are proud of the second-place finish. That’s the best we’ve ever done in Buffalo High School cross-country history.”
Competing with one of its top runners injured, the boys team had a strong showing as well. Moon said she was “very proud” of how every runner performed.
Two Bison earned all-state honors on the girls side, with a sixth-place finish from Kendall Teitjen and a 10th-place finish from Lexi Rule. Elizabeth and Briley Farris finished just outside of the top-10 all-state cutoff in 12th and 13th place, respectively.
“Gabrielle (Grabin), Kenley (Jones) and Sophie (Berglund) were right at the high 40s, low 50s,” Moon said. “That course is tough, and we were just gonna run the best we could run. If that got us a championship, it did, if it didn’t, we were just going to do our best. I’m really proud of them.”
“The great part is we have every single runner who ran that course back next year, plus a competition just to make the varsity team on the girls side,” she added. “We’ve got a very bright future.”
On the boys side, 3A East conference champion Alex Cahhal was the top Bison finisher in 14th place, helping lead the team to a 12th-place finish. Senior Massimo Haas was second for Buffalo with a time of 19 minutes, 24 seconds, and freshman Brodyn Lambert finished just five seconds later.
Senior Kollen Milmine, reliably one of Buffalo’s top finishers, hurt his hamstring just days before the race, Moon said. Nonetheless, he made the decision to lace up with his Bison teammates one last time and completed the course, finishing 88th.
The calculus behind deciding to race injured is different at a championship meet than it might be earlier in the season. While Milmine plans to compete in basketball this winter, Moon said, he still has four weeks to heal up before that season begins.
“He’s a senior,” Moon said. “He wants to run. So you make it their call. For him, just to finish the race was an accomplishment.”
Max Kessler, Kael Benton and Hamlin Wing rounded out the finishes for the boys team in 78th, 80th, and 90th, respectively.
“It’s always kind of sad when it’s over,” Moon said, reflecting on the season. “You just never know. We had a great season with great kids and fun kids. I mean, if the girls didn’t know they were in contention this year, they will next year. That can really create a drive to put in the miles over the summer, to put in the work up to the race, and we’ll see where we come out.”