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Runners Prevail Through Elements, Lost Shoes at Bob Conley Invitational
Runners battled the weather and each other
Published: 10/8/2021 8:55:22 AM
Marlowe Hereford
Contributing Writer



Thursday's Varsity 'B' race begins (from broadcast)


Thursday's annual Bob Conley Invitational at Pocatello's Portneuf Wellness Complex had it all.

A cloudburst, gusty winds, sunshine, a lost (and found) shoe for an eventual individual champion, personal best times and commanding and close finishes.

Three of Thursday's four individual titles went to sophomores and all four winning times were either personal or season bests. 

Skyline sophomore Nelah Roberts' winning time of 18:10.8 in the varsity A girls race is all the more impressive considering she won wearing one shoe.

Roberts, who ran an all-time eastern Idaho best girls 5k time of 17:52.06 on this same course last season to win the individual 4A girls individual title, ran in new spikes at Thursday's meet. One of her shoes came untied one mile into the race. She kicked it off at the last hill of the course, where it was soon after found by a spectator who made the connection that it was the lead runner's shoe. The spectator returned it to Roberts, who opted to carry it in her hand rather than stopping to put it back on and tie it.

"I knew stopping would have added a lot of time to the finish," Roberts said Thursday evening by phone. "These were new spikes. I'm not quite used to them."

When she was running sans one shoe, Roberts had to think about where she landed and having nothing but a sock separating one of her feet from the course.

"It definitely threw off my focus," Roberts said. "You're thinking about stepping on things."

Before Thursday, she had never lost a shoe in a race before. Along with last year's sub-18 time, the Bob Conley one-shoe win added yet another vivid Portneuf Wellness Complex memory for Roberts. She also began Thursday's race in a downpour and ended it in sunshine.

"I definitely think this is a gonna be (a course) that nothing normal ever happens," she said with a laugh.

Roberts led a fast finish to the varsity A girls race, as the top five finishers all broke 19 minutes. Preston claimed the varsity A girls team title, edging fellow eastern Idaho program Skyline 68-75. The difference came down to middle runners, as Preston's top five finishers went 5-7-13-14-29 to Skyline's 1-11-16-20-27. McKinley Scott led the way for Preston, placing fifth in 18:58.1.

Skyline is defending 4A girls state champion and Preston is defending 4A state runner-up, and Roberts said the two programs have had tight battles thus far this season. So far Preston has gotten the better of Skyline in their three meetings, and Thursday's single-digit margin separating first from second was motivating to the Grizzlies. 

"That's been in our minds pretty much this whole season," Roberts said. "They've been our biggest competition."

The varsity A boys race provided a showdown of two of eastern Idaho's best. Idaho Falls sophomore Luke Athay came away with a massive personal best, winning in 15:05 to remain undefeated on the season on 5k courses.

The second place finisher was a runner Athay has only raced head to head once before in high school cross country: Salmon sophomore Danny Simmons. 

While Salmon is a 2A school and falls into the enrollment suitable for varsity B, Simmons opted to compete as an individual in Thursday's A race. On Sept. 10 at the annual Tiger-Grizz Invitational at Freeman Park in Idaho Falls, Athay won the varsity A boys race while Simmons won the varsity B boys race.

"He actually texted me yesterday and he was like, 'You're running Bob Conley, right?' He said, 'I think I'm gonna individually run in your guys' race,'" Athay said Thursday evening by phone. "In the beginning, Danny was right there with me. I'm honestly not sure when I gapped him. It was fast."

So fast, that their times were not only personal bests, but are the first and second fastest times among Idaho boys for any classification thus far this season according to

Their only previous head-to-head meeting in high school cross country was over Labor Day weekend at the annual Cardinal Classic in Soda Springs, which came down to a sprint finish. Athay was first in 16:12.41 while Simmons was second in 16:15.64 in a field that included District 3 programs Boise, Centennial and Mountain View and Wyoming powerhouse Star Valley.

"That was a very fast, fun race too," Athay said.

While Athay did not have to run in the rain that began falling at the end of the varsity B girls race and progressed into a downpour for the varsity A girls race, he said the course was soaked by the time his race took place. One section had a large puddle stretching across the width of the course, which he opted to go around rather than through, and he said he had to be mindful of certain other areas.

"There were a few spots coming down on the downhill where it was pretty slick and I had to watch my footing," Athay said.

Athay led the Tigers to the varsity A boys team title, 46-67 over Preston. Idaho Falls went 1-9-11-14-15 with its top five finishers and had all seven varsity boys finish in the top 22.

With the final weeks of the season ahead, Athay said he is personally where he would like to be at this point. He added that the Tigers are looking forward to the state meet and pursuing a fifth consecutive state banner, and said they are running for each other.

"Last year, we kinda had a bit of a luxury of being able to race against each other," Athay said. "This year more than anything we kind of have this general acceptance that it doesn't matter on the team who is in front of who because our end goal is state. We're running for each other and helping our teammates get better."

Both varsity B individual winners came away with personal best times Thursday. Defending 1A girls state champion Raft River kept the varsity B girls individual title as sophomore Allie Black won in 19:23.9. At last year's meet, Black's teammate Karlee Christensen claimed the title. Thursday was Black's third victory this season. 

The varsity B boys individual title was up for grabs between two seniors in the second half of the race. West Jefferson senior Hyrum Spencer was the leader through the halfway point and gave chase to new leader, defending 3A District 5 boys individual champion Snake River senior Keegan McCraw, down the finishing stretch. McCraw held off three-time 2A individual state medalist Spencer, 16:16.4 to 16:18.1, to achieve a personal best time and claim his first win this season. 

Defending 3A boys and girls state champion Sugar-Salem showed its depth Thursday upon sweeping the varsity B team titles. The Diggers edged Malad 103-107 to win the girls title and went 8-9-30-31-36 for their top five finishers led by Jaresa Jackson and Ryley Klingler placing eighth and ninth, respectively, in 19:58.1 and 20:05.1.

Sugar-Salem took the boys title 63-82 over Snake River, going 6-10-14-17-21 for its top five finishers. Brigham Dalling led the effort, finishing sixth in 16:37.7.

Complete results can be found here.

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