Missoula Hellgate Girls Break Up Bozeman's State Dominance

Missoula Hellgate's dream season continued on Saturday at the Montana High School Association Class AA Championships, and it was a performance for the record books. 

For the third time this season the Knights defeated No. 22 ranked Bozeman, only this time it gave the program its first state championship in school history and also knocked the Hawks off their decade-plus mantle. 

The Knight's win on Saturday at the University of Montana's Golf Course was the first time in 11 years a girls program outside of Bozeman won a state title in Class AA. 

"It felt like four years of work just finally coming together," Elise Stearns told the Missoulian newspaper afterward. 

The performance itself was nearly flawless. 

In securing 37 points and outscoring Bozeman by 20, the Knights were the better team on Saturday, but it was the overall championship effort that truly tipped the cap. The Knights' entire lineup was in before Bozeman's fourth runner. 

Beyond senior Ember Stratton's third-place finish in 18:09.78, three other girls broke 19 minutes and Hellgate's fifth, sixth and seventh, were all in through the finish within the top 20. The team put together an 18:37 average, one of its best overall efforts of the season.

The important part in all of this was that it was no fluke. Hellgate's girls had beaten Bozeman for the first time in school history at the Bozeman Invitational on Sept. 8, then were buried in a deep field at Bob Firman -- Bozeman was fourth, Hellgate was seventh -- and then returned with a great effort at Mountain West, claiming a 4-point win over the Hawks. 

In the interim, the Bozeman girls looked as if they were back on track at the Capital City 7 on 7, and returned to the national rankings with the postseason looming. 

Hellgate never lost focus. 

"This will definitely be an experience that I'll always remember, just running with the girls," Hellgate senior Ella Degrandpre told the Missoulian. "I think that I wouldn't have been able to run as fast without the thought of doing it for my team. It was a really fun experience, and I'll always remember it."

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