POCATELLO — Sandpoint cross country has become a juggernaut in north Idaho and across the state.
Regional championships and state appearances have become customary for the Bulldogs but one thing that has eluded the program is a state title on the boys side.
The team will have a chance to add that trophy to its resume Saturday at the 4A state championships in Pocatello.
This season, the boys team has shattered the school record books and showed signs that the state trophy is within reach.
“I never like predictions,” boys cross country head coach Matt Brass said. “I’d say that they’ve prepared well to be a trophy team at state. They’ve done everything that we kind of laid out 12 months ago after state and think they’ve put themselves in a position to be one of those top teams.”
Currently, the Bulldogs are projected to finish third at state behind Kuna and Preston, according to a hypothetical meet on Athletic.net. Sandpoint will also have to deal with two time defending state champion Idaho Falls if they want to reach the top.
Junior Nikolai Braedt has led the Bulldogs all season and broke the boys 5K school record by over 13 seconds. He said claiming the title would hopefully lead to people paying more attention to the sport of cross country in Sandpoint.
“We have the potential to get a state championship this year,” he said. “I think by winning a state championship, especially with this kind of competition, it would be really good for publicity.”
Senior Gabe Christman can’t even imagine what it would feel like to hold the state trophy in his hands.
“Its hard to even think about, but when it happens that will definitely be the absolute highlight of my high school career,” he said.
In order for a state title to come to fruition, Matt said almost everything needs to line up perfectly for his team Saturday.
Christman said he and the rest of Sandpoint’s top runners have to move up through the pack significantly if they want to capture first at state. But, he believes its totally possible.
On the girls side, head coach Angie Brass is looking for her team to place at state after the Bulldogs over exceeded her expectations coming into the season.
Teams have to finish within the top four to place at state and individuals must place in the top 20 to medal.
Angie said Bishop Kelly and Idaho Falls are the favorites to claim the top two spots at state while a group of six teams including Sandpoint have a shot at capturing the other two placing positions.
“I think they have the tools to make a go at one of those last two trophy spots, which is exciting,” Angie said.
Senior Bionce Vincent knows it will be tough to place at state given the amount of competition they will see.
“I think the team this year is capable and we’ve worked so hard that I think it should happen,” she said.
The Bulldogs will face an obstacle that they haven’t really encountered while competing this season — elevation.
The race will be held at Portneuf Sports Complex which is 4,448 feet above sea level.
Luckily, Sandpoint has found a way to combat this challenge. The Bulldogs have been training up at Schweitzer pretty regularly over the past three weeks and throughout the season to get accumulated to the conditions they will face in Pocatello.
There were able to do this thanks to Braedt who lives at that elevation and the parents of some former athletes Matt and Angie used to coach who own a condo up at Schweitzer.
But both Matt and Angie said they are confident their teams can compete at a high level in any conditions.
“We love the rain, we love the snow, we love the sun,” Angie said.
This will be the final time a handful of Sandpoint’s seniors including Vincent, Christman and Paige Davidson will compete for the Bulldogs.
Christman can’t wait to get on the course and start running after not qualifying for state as a freshman and battling injuries his sophomore and junior years.
“I don’t have any excuse to hold back and not give everything I have,” he said. “I never thought that what I’ve done, I could ever do. Its amazing what putting in work does for you.”
Davidson said she is ready to close this chapter of her life.
“Its my last race so I’m going to give it all I have for my team,” she said.
Vincent said her high school cross country career has flown by but once it’s done, she’ll be satisfied with what she was able to accomplish.
“I’m going to run a race that I’m proud of,” she said, “and one that I don’t have any regrets on because I’m in control of everything I do in the race and I want to make it count.”
The girls 4A race will start at 2 p.m. MT Saturday while the boys will take the course at 3 p.m. MT.