Every time Janie Reid hurt on Friday, she looked down at her wrist.
The junior from Carroll held pace with superstar teammate Leah Esposito for as long as she could at the Frontier Conference cross country championship at Bill Roberts Golf Course, but eventually Esposito kicked and ran to her third consecutive league title on Friday. The two runners led the pack the entire race, and powered the Saints to a team title and an automatic berth in the NAIA National Championship, edging out Lewis-Clark State College.
The Saints will travel to Elsah, Illinois, for the NAIA National Championship on Nov. 19.
“I didn’t really care if Leah or I got first, it was just if we did 1-2 and that was our job,” Reid said. “We were able to do that.”
Reid and the Saints runners wrapped purple ribbons around their wrists, a reminder that each runner is fighting for their teammates. Each time Reid took another challenging hill on a portion of the front-9 of Bill Roberts, she glanced at the ribbon.
“It’s a good tradition and really helps during a race to look down when you’re really hurting and see that you have a ribbon around your wrist,” she said.
Esposito won in a time of 17:58.03, the Frontier Conference championship record for a 5K race at Bill Roberts. The previous record was 18:37. Reid followed Esposito with a time of 18:05.15.
Coach Davis Morris instructed the two to go out together with Esposito pacing until she kicked in the final kilometer.
“Would have been nice if somebody would have been there to push them,” Morris said. “It was kind of just a time trial for them. It was a really good day for them. Nice day to run fast.”
The race served as an emotional conference finale for Esposito, as she won her last race on her “home” course. Esposito has been racing on Bill Roberts for eight years, ever since her freshman year at Helena High.
“I really wanted a win to close out my senior year of cross country,” said Esposito, pausing to hug friends and family and thank them for their support. “And to close out running on this course for the last time ever ... I’ve run this course for eight years in a row. It’s pretty emotional, but it’s a great way to end it.”
The Saints also had an impressive finish from sophomore Samantha Mundel, who took fourth in a time of 19:02.98, a time Morris believed to be her personal record. Mundel has suffered two stress fractures in her feet while at Carroll, and is finally rounding into a shape Morris said is reminiscent of her high school form.
“Sam came through for us big,” Morris said. “To finish in front of all of LC’s ... I was hoping she would be in front of their third of fourth. For her to beat all of them was a big difference right there.”
Round out Carroll’s top five finishers were Macala Fifield’s 13th place (19:34.69) and Amelia Gardner’s 16th-place finish (19:50.18). That gave the Saints a 36 point total, 16 better than second place Lewis-Clark (52).
Through the adversity of the season, the Saints felt this win punctuated their fight through injuries and illness.
“That’s the best part,” Esposito said of the team winning a championship. “That was our whole goal going into this. We had a tough year. I think this is what we needed to come out on top.”