By Bruce Sayler
Butte Central senior Rileigh McGree was all smiles on Friday as she came down from the podium and commented on the event she just completed at the Montana State Class A track meet.
“It was a lot of fun,” she said, fiddling with her runners-up medal which earned the Maroons eight points for the day and ninth place in the team standings. (Results)
The event was the long jump. And, she was the defending champion and event favorite, and was jumping on her home track. The McGree sisters had won the State A girls’ long jump every year since 2015. She cleared 17-foot-16 ¾-inches on her last jump in a fiercely competitive event.
However, moments earlier Dillon senior Ainsley Shipman had surged 17-10 ¾ on his final attempt and that meant victory. It also matched, oddly enough, what had been McGree’s career-best distance, achieved in the 2021 Western A Division tie.
“Yeah,” McGree said, a little wistfully but with a broad smile, of his personal best being the same length as the one that won this year’s state championship.
McGree’s effort and a similar performance from Kyle Hoilter in the boys’ long jump highlighted the Maroons’ performance for the day. Junior Ryan Gelling placed sixth in the boys shot put while Butte Central was seventh with nine points.
The Hardin girls and Hamilton boys held the lead from day one. Hardin scored 34 points on Friday, four more than second-placed Corvallis, while Whitefish sat in third with 24.
Hamilton had 59 points in the boys’ encounter to lead Dillon by 18. Whitefish finished third with 18.
The McGree-Shipman long jump duel was one of the most watched competitions of the day which was filled with mixed weather and drew more than 5,000 spectators to the Charile Merrifield track at Bulldog Memorial Stadium in the Gene Complex. Fogarty on the school’s East Middle Campus.
McGree jumped 16-5 ¾ and 17-1 on his first two jumps, the latter bringing him the lead. Then Erin Wilde took the lead scoring 17-2 ¾ with an exceptional leap. Wilde appeared to have suffered a slight injury on the jump and seemed noticeably hampered by it on both of her jumps in the final.
In the final, McGree stole 17-1 ¼ on his second down to edge Wilde.
Suddenly, Shipman, who had jumped well into the high 16s, announced his affirmation out loud with a launch that sounded like it was coming out of a cannon. She cleared sand to the middle of the pit and the performance of 17-10 ¾ was verified.
McGree, who missed the divisional meet last weekend while battling the flu, lined up, mustered her will and talent and made a serious run for the lead and the win, but ran contented with second place at 176 ¾.
She and the McGrees working in the pit and hanging over the fence railing dragging and cheering Rileigh, all congratulated Shipman as she trotted out to greet her fans as well.
“My best two-inch jump (ever),” Shipman said. “I had to be more consistent (on his track 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 well.
It’ll probably work out well for the University of Montana women’s track team as well. Shipman, McGree and Wilde, who placed third in the event, all signed with the Grizzlies. Rivals since college, Shipman and McGree will actually be roommates at UM. The three signatories posed for a photo on Friday after stepping down from the podium. Ella Moodry, a sophomore from Butte Central, took it on and is set to play the lead role for the Maroons at next year’s event.
Just because they’re future roommates doesn’t mean Shipman and McGree’s rivalry is over, either. They are among the favorites for the 100m and 100m hurdles finals scheduled 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, just behind the 22-7 posted by Livingston’s Payton Kokot. Dillon’s Holter Santos finished third at 21-4.
“That was my best six-inch jump,” Kyle Holter said. “The conditions we had in the long jump, there was a tailwind, which was pretty good at times.
“I was just happy to be able to place.”
He said he was 6-6 in the high jump on Saturday after going 6-4 last weekend in the Western A meet.
Gelling has seen some progress this spring and capped the season with a 136-10 discus throw, a spot he enjoyed after failing to reach state in his sophomore year last year.
Hamilton’s Andrew Burrows won the event with a 106-9 spin while Dillon’s Callalhan Hoffman pitched 158-9, Whitefish’s Talon Holmquist hit 147-10, Lewistown’s Sean Zimmer 145-6 and Sidney’s Chase Waters 143-5.
Gelling’s personal best is 141-3, but he was happy with his mark on Friday.
“It was enough to get into position, to score a point,” he said. “Today was my first, first state meet. So to go from failing to place this year, I think there’s been an improvement.”
A football lineman, who has already started for three seasons, he also pointed to the 20-pound gain last year as an aid to building disc strength.
Other winners on 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 in the Girls 800, Brinson Wyche of Corvallis in the Boys 3200 , Mariah Aragon of Hardin in the girls’ 3200, 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 vault at the pole of the girls.
McGree, on the track, posted a season-best 15.73 in the 100-meter hurdles and a career-best 12.8 in the 100 meters.
“It was about qualifying today and doing my best (Saturday),” she said. “Every chance to be here is a great opportunity.”
The Class A State meet is being held in conjunction with State AA for the first time in Montana since 1997. Field events will begin Saturday’s competition with the Class AA boys’ javelin throw and the boys’ shot put. Class A boys at 9 o’clock. The first race will be the 400 meter relay final at 10:30 am.
Click here to follow the results of the match live.