Three valley high schools had success at the state cross country meet in Great Falls on Saturday. The Corvallis High School boys and girls teams won the Class A state tournament, while Hamilton High School and Darby High School had individual state champions.

In Corvallis, the girls team’s state championship was their fifth in a row, and for the boys it is their first one since 2011. The boys won in 2010, 2011, finished seventh in 2012 and then received second in both 2013 and 2014.

Corvallis High School coach Joanne Cleveland was pleased about the performances but said the season was challenging due to poor air conditions during fire season.

“It’s been a long year because of the smoke and injuries,” Cleveland said. “Our boys took until divisionals to come together. We knew they had the talent and the ability, but it took them longer. Finally at divisionals they ran like we knew they could, and they ran that well at state.”

Senior Ronald Venema took second place and set a school record of completing the three-mile course in 15 minutes 37 seconds. The old Corvallis record was set in 2011 by Chase Stoker at 15 minutes, 39 seconds.

“We knew the boys had won right when they got done because I knew Hardin was in there and knew we were in front of them,” Cleveland said. “With the girls, we never knew what would happen. They ran well, but at the end of the race I had a lot of girls ask if we won and I didn’t know. I had no idea. It was a real team effort. And we had injuries and illnesses but we pulled it together and got it done.”

Cleveland said the hardest part of the state meet was the waiting for the races to begin.

“We were the fifth and seventh races, so those took place near the end of the day,” Cleveland said. “Waiting was hard, but once they got going it was like ‘OK, they’re doing it.’ And then the officials were actually very quick with the results, so we didn’t have to wait long after the girls finished running.”

Corvallis placers at the state tournament were: Ronald Venema, senior, second place:, Albany Jessop, fifth place; Josh Jessop, senior, ninth place, Carson Jessop, 12th place; and Lynn Reynoso, senior, 15th place.

Other Corvallis runners were: Joel Haas, Andrew Jessop, Spencer Jessop, Ashley Fredde, Julia Hickey, Grace Kurfman, Darci Lewis, Heidi Nisly, Mary Royce and Rachel Wissenbach. Other team members are Ben Carrasco, LeRoy Deyerle, Colter Hartless, Brian Healy, Jake Jessop, Gavin Nuttall, Bruce Thomas, Abbey Dunn, Olivia Fehr, Sydnee McClendon, Krysten Perkins and Steffani Stoker.

Cleveland said four of the team members will graduate this spring.

“Josh, Ronald, Lynn and Rachel will graduate, but we have lots of juniors,” Cleveland said. “So who knows for next year? We’re just enjoying this year. It was a stressful year but it ended up good.”

Hamilton High School athletes Cameron Meikle and Jaycie Schmalz each won individual Class A state championship awards.

Hamilton High School coach Mark Albert said they prepared well.

“We had a specific plan for them,” Albert said. “It was neat for them to execute the plan and have it come out the way they wanted because they put so much time and effort in. It is difficult being the favorites because there are just so many variables that can go wrong, but everything went right.”

Meikle said planning made it possible for him to take first place by out-running Corvallis’ Ronald Venema.

“Ronald is a good competitor to run against, and I actually trained against him,” Meikle said. “We had a game plan because we knew it would be close.”

Albert said during the season Venema beat Meikle the first two meets of the year.

“Ronald is a great competitor, but Cameron just kept getting stronger and stronger,” Albert said.

Only 11 seconds separated the two athletes during the last half mile of the race.

“Cameron’s final time was 15 minutes 26 seconds,” said Albert. “It was a fast course with great conditions that day. We had 10 of our 14 runners set their personal records, and two that didn’t are state champions. They ran nice times too, but at state it’s about winning the place, not about the time. Both Cameron and Jaycie had set the school record the previous week.”

Jaycie Schmalz is the first girl to win a cross country state title for Hamilton in about 30 years. She won by almost a minute.

“The race went well and I was about 50 seconds in front of the other girls,” Schmalz said. “It’s hard because I don’t have anyone to pace off of except for everyone yelling.”

Albert said Schmalz, a junior, continues to get stronger.

“We’re excited about what she can do in the future,” said Albert. “She is following in her brother’s footsteps. Anthony won a state championship in cross country. So did her mom when she was in high school. And there’s a younger brother, a freshman.

“Also, Cameron has had quite a career. He’s won two team state championships, took a second and won an individual. He’s had a really nice high school career.”

Darby High School had a Class C state champion.

Junior Evan Duggan took first place, and Lilly Lang took fifth place. The Darby boys team took sixth-place overall.

Darby High School coach Steve Gideon said the secret to Duggan’s success was the preview of the state course.

“Evan had an up-and-down season this year,” Gideon said. “When he previewed the state course, it wasn’t a good day – he didn’t’ run well. We adjusted our training and had a good end to our season.”

Gideon said they went to state not knowing who the competition would be.

“We knew in the western part of the state he was the best C runner,” said Gideon. “He was in the top four or five at the start of the race. We worked strategy and tactics. He and Cameron Meikle (Hamilton) ran a similar race in that they both passed the kid they were with at the top of a hill.

“Duggan’s finish was really strong – we’ve been working on that all year. He started to put the hammer down the last three-quarters of a mile and there were two hills near the end. He did great. He got up the last hill and won it at the end.”

Gideon said every Darby runner set a personal record at the state meet.

“Evan had a time of 16 minutes, 9 seconds and at state you’re running for a place, not a time,” Gideon said. “Our boys took sixth as a team – we had four run at state. We had just two girls running – so not a whole team, but Lilly Lang took fifth place.”

The top 15 placers at state qualify as All-State runners.

Hamilton coach Mark Albert summed up the state cross country meet by saying it was a beautiful day.

“It had beautiful conditions,” Albert said. “I always worry about the weather in Great Falls, but it couldn’t have been better.”

Reach reporter Michelle McConnaha at 363-3300 or michelle.mcconnaha@ravallirepublic.com.