Idaho Falls, ID - With the absence of the defending 4A state champion, Idaho Falls' Zac Bright, at the 2020 Tiger/Grizz Invite, the field in the Varsity A Boy's race appeared to be completely wide open.
Bright's teammate Mitchell Athay and Pocatello's Shane Gard were next in line to be the favorites heading into the race and were ready to put on a great showdown.
Or so we thought.
In a huge statement victory in Freeman Park on Saturday, September 12, Madison's Will Dixon won his second race of the season in a come-from-behind fashion running a 5k time of 16:18.
Idaho Falls' Athay took full control of the race from the start and hung onto the lead for two-miles. Trailing the front runner was Pocatello's Gard, and then Dixon, who came into the race mentally relaxed and just ran how the race went.
"I wanted to see what the field was like after about mile one," said Dixon. "Going into mile two, I knew that it was going to be pretty bad with all the uphill's."
It wasn't out of the question as to whether or not Dixon could come away with a victory, but without Idaho Falls' Bright racing, the opportunity opened itself for the Bobcats top runner.
Going past mile two, Dixon was well in sight of Athay and felt this was the perfect opportunity to make his move and get past the Tigers top runner for good, even if it meant hurting a ton on the uphill's.
"Once I heard Zac (Bright) wasn't running, I knew I had a pretty good chance to win," said Dixon. "I just kept grinding up the hills and I figured I'd go for it, and once I was gaining on Mitchell (Athay), I just decided to leave it all out there."
Dixon feels this was probably his biggest win of his high school career given he has only won two of them, all of which have occurred in the last three weeks.
He also managed to lead the Bobcats to an impressive second-place team finish scoring 72 points and only losing to top-ranked Idaho Falls by five points, and defeating Pocatello by three points.
"We have been training hard this offseason," said Dixon on his teams performance. "All summer we have been putting in good miles and the results are starting to show up."
Pocatello's Gard finished in second running 16:27.3 leading the Indians to a third place team finish. Other top runners from the Indians were Brevin Vaughan (6th, 16:54.2) and Sunny Gunn (15th, 17:16.1).
Athay led first place Idaho Falls with a third place finish running 16:36.2. Joseph Ereaux was fifth running 16:48.3 and Richard Stewart and Porter Elison were 16th and 17th running 17:17.3 and 17:21.7 for the Tigers as well.
Highland of Pocatello's Jared Harden was fourth running 16:47.3.
Defending 2A state cross country champion Johnathon Simmons of Salmon used all of his efforts to come away with the win in the Varsity B Boy's race running a time of 16:34.5 getting his second win of the season.
Without any other big schools to race against, Simmons felt this was going to be mentally tough to push through since there wasn't a ton of competition to race up front with him.
"All I could think about was not having those 4A and 5A schools in our race," said Simmons on his pre-race thinking. "It was a really hard race for me mentally because without those top athletes, I didn't know if that were going to affect my racing ability at all."
Simmons and his younger brother Danny, who's only a freshman, were neck and neck with each other for about two-thirds of the race and appeared to have the first and second place spots taken care of.
"Every corner, I could hear my little brother getting closer to me and would worry he would beat me," said Simmons with a big grin on his face. "He may be a freshman right now, but he is going to be way faster than me when he's my age."
At one point Danny managed to the take the lead for a while, and then Johnathon was passed up by Nampa Christian's Grady Mylander. Sitting in third place, Johnathon needed to make a surge to catch right up to them both.
Mylander took the lead with around 1k to go coming up the final hill and with Johnathon not trailing far behind, he knew he could get himself back into this race and come away with the win in the last stretch.
"When I got the hint that both my brother and Grady (Mylander) were dying faster than I was, it put me back in the race mentally." said Simmons. "I made my move with around a 1k to go because I felt strong enough to kick it in. This was easily the hardest race I have been a part for sure."
Nampa Christian's Grady Mylander was the runner-up finishing in a time of 16:40.6.
Simmons' younger brother Danny was third in his big-meet high school debut running a personal best time of 16:45.
Snake River's Lincoln High placed fourth running 17:29.5 and West Jefferson's Hyrum Spencer was fifth running 17:31.7.
The Savages also won the team title by a landside scoring 36 points defeating Surgar-Salem by 46 points with all seven of their runners finishing in the top 20. Keller Bothers was the third Salmon runner in the top 10 placing eighth running 17:40.3.
Riley Sommers (11th, 17:45.2), Nathan Deschaine (13th, 17:48.9), Treygan Boggs (14th, 17:53.5), and Micah Tolman (20th, 18:05.3) were Salmon's other runners finishing in the top 20.
Second place Sugar-Salem's top runner was Brigham Dalling placing 12th running 17:45.8. Soda Springs was third with 115 points led by the sixth place finish from Carter McCullough running 17:35.5.
On the girl's side, Bonneville's Alivia Johnson won her third race of the season and redeemed a second place finish from last year's Tiger/Grizz Invite in the Varsity A race running time of 19:22.3 for a solo winning effort.
For many athletes, it was a tough day of racing due to the heat and haze that were rolling in from the fires that have occurred along the west coast. Not to mention the fact these kids were also running at 4,800 feet above sea level. But that didn't seem to bother last year's runner-up at the 4A state championships.
"I drank lots of water so I wouldn't over heat, but I like running in the heat so it didn't affect me as much," said Johnson.
Johnson managed to run around 20 minutes last season as a freshman at the Tiger/Grizz Invite and was willing to go above and beyond that mark this season, even without any competition in sight of her.
Going into the meet knowing the course was going to be tough with all the rolling hills, Johnson remembered the preparation she would put into the meet would help her out.
"We run those hills all the time in practice," said Johnson. "Honestly it was just like running in practice rather than a race. Go up the hills, and then stride out down them."
Nelah Roberts of Skyline was second overall running 20:05.4 and led the Grizzlies to the team title scoring 54 points. Raegan Hart and Sarah Harrison placed fourth and fifth running 20:18.8 and 20:39.5 to also help the Grizzlies in team scoring.
Pocatello's Bailey Bird finished in third running 20:05.9, as well as her team scoring 99 points.
Preston was second with 98 points as Angelie Scott rounded up the top 10 for the Indians running a time of 21:11.1.
After her sister won last week's race at the Valley School Invite, Raft River's Karlee Christensen took first in the Varsity Girl's B race running a time of 19:47.6 to get her first win of the season.
Typically it has been the other way around for the last few seasons for the Christensen sisters as Kaybree, who was third running 20:05.6, would finish ahead of her sister Karlee.
"I was just trying to stay with Kaybree because I usually don't beat her," said Karlee Christensen smiling. "Once me and her started going, I knew the other girls were coming up faster and I tried to get Kaybree to go with me, but she wasn't quite there with me, so I decided to pass her since I was feeling pretty good."
Through all of quarantine and the uncertainty of cross country happening, the Christensen sisters have been training non-stop and kept motivating each other with one goal in mind: to run in college.
"Instead of thinking about the season whether it will happen or not, we might as well stay in shape," said Karlee Christensen. "We both want to run in college and we are going to be running eventually again whether it's in cross country or track."
Westside's Aubrie Barzee suffered her first defeat of her young high school career finishing second running a personal best time of 20:02.3.
Soda-Springs won the team title scoring 80 points as Tayah Gaines (7th, 21:25.2), Brynlee Simmons (10th, 21:41.2), and Jenna Gaines (13th, 21:49) were the Cardinals top finishers in their team win.
Jaresa Jackson was fourth running a time of 20:27.5 and the Sugar-Salem Diggers were second as a team scoring 107 points. Raft River was third, also with 107 points, but the tie went to Sugar-Salem.
For more results from the 2020 Tiger/Grizz Invite, click here.
For more photos from the 2020 Tiger/Grizz Invite, click here.