Sunday, December 05, 2021

Vikings bring home Bigfork’s first boy’s cross country title in 46 years

For the Eagle | November 3, 2021 12:00 AM

The Vikings cross country team is proving that hard work and dedication really do pay off.

Less than six months after taking on the goal of running throughout the summer in the hopes of a top-five finish at the state meet, the team brought home Bigfork’s first boy’s cross country title in 46 years.

According to senior runner Elliot Sanford, the plan came together shortly after the state track meet in May.

“All of us that ran track together sat down and talked about what our goal was going to be for the cross country season. As seniors, Ryder (Nollan) and I said we should go all out and commit everything to winning a state championship,” Sanford said. “We had nothing to lose.”

While Sanford and Nollan were onboard with the plan immediately, some of the other runners took some convincing, including Ryder’s younger brother, North.

“I didn’t really want to do it at first, but they talked me into it,” North Nollan admitted.

“Mostly, we had to convince either Jack (Jensen) or North to commit,” Ryder Nollan said. “We knew that if we got one of them, the other one would follow.”

And so the determined team of Sanford, Jensen, Ryder and North Nollan, Colton Wroble, Elijah Albert and Bo Modderman took to the streets, trails and hills around Bigfork each day throughout the summer, putting hundreds of miles beneath the soles of the sneakers in pursuit of their ultimate goal.

“Sure, there were times when it sucked, but we all woke up every morning and went running together. It was all worth it, though,” Ryder Nollan said. “July was tough. We either had to run in the morning or at night because running during the day just wasn’t an option.”

“We tried running during the day once in July, but it didn’t work out so well. At least for me it didn’t,” North Nollan admitted. “I had cramps and was having to walk most of the way.”

When the season finally got underway at Libby Aug. 27, Jensen said his only real moment of doubt came immediately after finishing that first course.

“At the end of the first meet, I was just laying there in agony and my mom came up to tell me good job. I was like, nope, this is terrible. What was I thinking,” Jensen said.

The pain quickly faded when the team results from the meet were announced.

“When the team results came in and we saw that we had beaten Eureka, we got pretty fired up, I have to admit.” Ryder Nollan said. “We had just beaten the defending state champs. That’s when we really realized we had a real shot at this thing.”

The goal of a top-five finish at state slowly morphed into a goal of winning it all.

As the season continued, the runners worked hard on their endurance and pacing, lessons best learned as the team finished 29th among a large field of runners at the Mountain West Classic in Missoula Sept. 18.

“It was a tough race with a lot of kids, but it was good for us because it taught us how to get out near the front early to make sure we didn’t get boxed in,” Ryder Nollan said.

“We learned from years of doing what everyone else was doing - starting off fast and then dying in the third mile,” Sanford added. “Our coaches drummed into us to be consistent in our splits and we finally learned to do that.”

After coming away with a Western B Divisional title at Thompson Falls Oct. 13, the team was ready to see how far they had come as they prepared for the state meet in Missoula Oct. 23.

“We knew we were in good shape and were trusting our bodies, knowing we were going to do whatever we had to do.” Jensen said about the state meet. “I think I was more nervous after the race than I was before, though, as we waited for those results to come in.”

When the results were announced, Bigfork’s runners heard the words they had been waiting to hear all year, the Vikings were the Class B state champions.

Bound together by determination and common goal, the Viking’s squad developed an unique camaraderie born from the hundreds of miles run together throughout the summer and the cross country season.

Along the way, a number of interesting rituals evolved.

“Last season, we had come up with the crazy idea of attempting to eat a habanero pepper on the way home from the meet in Cut Bank,” Modderman said. “We decided to keep that tradition alive this year, but it maybe didn’t go so well.”

“A freshman threw up. Colton threw up and Bo barely survived,” Ryder Nollan laughed.

“It’s running, so throwing up is always an option,” North Nollan quickly added.

When not chasing PRs and consuming hot peppers, the team was literally chasing another goal put forth but head coach Ryan Nollan - touching a deer.

“They’re like bird dogs. They’ll chase anything that moves.” Ryan Nollan said. “It all started when we saw a deer while we were warming up for the Mountain West Classic in Missoula. I told them that if anyone could touch it, then they didn’t have to race that day. They took off like a pack of wild dogs.”

No one touched a deer that day, but the challenge remained with the new prize of getting out of a day of running, a prize that Jensen eventually earned.

“We were almost back to the school when we came across four does standing in a yard. We split and ran to both sides of them and I was able to dive out and touch one that had just froze in place. We were pretty excited,” Jensen said.

“I think we were only marginally less excited than when we won state,” Ryder Nollan added.

With all of their goals for the season achieved, the team is proud of what their hard work was able to accomplish.

“There is just something pure about running. You don’t need the best equipment to win. As long as you have the will to go out and run and put in the work, then you can get it done,” Sanford said.

With all but two runners set to return next season, the Vikings are looking to make winning a tradition.

“I told them, I don’t want to have to berate you guys all summer if you are not into it, but they said they wanted to put in the work and go for it. That’s exactly what they did,” coach Ryan Nollan said. “Hopefully, we have now started a culture of winning here and we hope to keep that going as we move forward.”


The Vikings cross country team of Elliot Sanford, North Nollan, Ryder Nollan, Colten Wroble, Colton Ballard, Elijah Albert and Jack Jensen take to the streets around Bigfork for some of their hundreds of miles of practice before winning a state title this season. (photo provided)