By Bruce Sayler
Butte Central senior Rileigh McGree was all smiles Friday when she stepped off the awards stand and commented about the event she just completed at the Montana State Class A High School Track Meet.
“It was a lot of fun,” she said, twiddling her runner-up medal that gained the Maroons eight points for the day and a ninth-place standing in team scores. (Results)
The event was the long jump. And, she was the defending champion and event favorite, and jumping on her home track. McGree sisters had been winning the state A girls’ long jump annually since 2015. She landed a jump of 17 feet, 6 ¾ inches on her last jump in an extremely competitive event.
However, moments earlier, Dillon senior Ainsley Shipman marked a 17-10 ¾ leap on her last attempt and, it stood for the victory. It also matched, oddly, what had been McGree’s career-best distance, achieved in the 2021 Western A Divisional meet.
“Yeah,” McGree said, a little wistfully but grinning broadly, about her personal record being the same length as what won this year’s state championship.
McGree’s efforts and a similar runner-up performance by Kyle Holter in the boys’ long jump highlighted the Maroons’ showing for the day. Junior Ryan Gelling placed sixth in the boys’ shot put as Butte Central sat in seventh place with nine points.
The Hardin girls and the Hamilton boys held the first-day leads. Hardin scored 34 points Friday, four more than second-place Corvallis while Whitefish sat in third place with 24.
Hamilton had 59 points in the boys’ meet to lead Dillon by 18. Whitefish was third with 18.
The McGree-Shipman duel in the long jump was one of the most-watched competitions of the day that was filled with mixed weather and drew more than 5,000 spectators to the Charlie Merrifield Track at Bulldog Memorial Stadium in the Gene Fogarty Complex on the East Middle School campus.
McGree popped jumps of 16-5 ¾ and 17-1 on her first two jumps with the latter bringing her the lead. Then, Erin Wilde soared ahead by marking 17-2 ¾ with an outstanding leap. Wilde seemed to have suffered a slight injury making the jump and seemed noticeably hampered by it in her two finals jumps.
In the finals, McGree flew 17-1 ¼ on her second try to edge closer to Wilde.
Suddenly, Shipman, who had been jumping well in the high 16s, announced her contention loudly with a launch that seemed out of a cannon. She cleared sand to the middle of the pit and the 17-10 ¾ performance was verified.
McGree, who missed the divisional meet last weekend while battling the flu, lined up, gathered up her will and talent, and made a serious run at the lead and victory, but settled for second place at 17-6 ¾.
She and the McGree working the pit and hanging over the fence railing coaching and cheering Rileigh, all congratulated Shipman as she trotted over to acknowledge her fans, too.
“My best jump (ever) by two inches,” Shipman said. “I had to be more consistent (on her runway approach) to win, and I was finally able to do that. I knew it was my last jump and there were a lot of nerves.
“I knew it was going to be my very last jump of my senior year, and I really wanted it and I went out there and did it. It worked out well.”
It is probably going to work out well for the University of Montana women’s track team, too. Shipman, McGree and Wilde, who placed third in the event, have all signed with the Grizzlies. Rivals since middle school, Shipman and McGree will actually be roommates at UM. The three signees posed for a photo Friday after descending from the awards stand. Ella Moodry a Butte Central sophomore snapped it and figures to step into the leading role for the Maroons in the event next year.
Just because they’re future roommates doesn’t mean the rivalry between Shipman and McGree is over yet, either. They are among the favorites in both the 100-meter dash and 100-meter hurdles finals set for Saturday.
Holter, a junior, had never broken 21 feet in the long jump until Friday. Then, he hit 21-5 twice, clinching second place. The official distance was 21-5 ¾, second only to the 22-7 posted by Payton Kokot of Livingston. Holter Santos of Dillon was third at 21-4.
“It was my best jump by six inches,” Kyle Holter said. “The conditions we had in the long jump, there was a tail wind, which was pretty good on-and-off.
“I was just glad to be able to place.”
He said he has a goal of 6-6 in the high jump on Saturday after clearing 6-4 last weekend at the Western A meet.
Gelling has enjoyed progress this spring and capped the season with a throw of 136-10 in the discus, a spot he valued after not reaching the state meet his sophomore year last year.
Andrew Burrows of Hamilton won the event with a 166-9 spin while Callalhan Hoffman of Dillon threw 158-9, Talon Holmquist of Whitefish hit 147-10, Sean Zimmer of Lewistown 145-6 and Chase Waters of Sidney 143-5.
Gelling’s personal-best is a 141-3, but he was happy with his mark on Friday.
“It was enough to place, to score a point,” he said. “Today was my first one, first state meet. “So, to go from not making it to placing in it this year, I think showed improvement.”
A football lineman, who has been a starter three seasons already, he pointed to the gain of 20 pounds the past year as a help in bulking up for discus strength, too.
The other winners Friday were Olivia Lewis of Corvallis in the girls’ 400, Treyton Anderson of Dillon in the boys’ 400, Colter Kirkland of Hamilton in the boys’ 800, Carly Cook of Laurel I the girls’ 800, Brinson Wyche of Corvallis in the boys’ 3,200, Mariah Aragon of Hardin in the girls’ 3,200, Kayla Botkin of Frenchtown in the girls’ discus, Jerome Entz of Sidney in the boys’ javelin, Taylor Searle of Hamilton in the boys’ pole vault and Charlie Ham of Frenchtown in the girls’ pole vault.
McGree, on the track, posted a season-best of 15.73 in the 100-meter hurdles and a career-best 12.81 in the 100-meter dash.
“It was a all about qualifying today and trying my best (Saturday),” she said. “Every chance to be out here is a great opportunity.”
The state Class A meet is being held in conjunction with the State AA for the first time in Montana since 1997. Field events will start Saturday’s competition with the Class AA boys’ javelin and Class A boys’ shot put both at 9 a.m. The first race will be the 400-meter relay finals at 10:30.
Click here to follow the meet results live.
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