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FEATURED PROGRAM: Helena High School, Helena, MT

Updated: Oct 9, 2022

Ready to learn about high school Cross Country programs around the USA? Well, ready or not, the 2022 Featured Programs on Coaching Distance are back.

Check out this feature on the Helena High School (MT) team coached by Jesse Zentz.





  • Girls Head Cross Country Coach

  • Boys & Girls Distance Coach in Track & Field


Coach Zentz has been with the Helena High distance squad for seven years. Proir to that, he's been active in the local running scene with the Novas youth club.

"I also coach with Helena Novas XC & TF, a youth club I founded with help from the local adult running club in 2015 to provide Helena youth the opportunity to experience and participate in cross country and track and field, ages 7-18.

The club participates in the USATF calendar of events, but also provides a platform for additional, cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field opportunities beyond USATF events. This is largely a developmental program that is designed to add experiences for youth, and it’s seasons are designed not to interfere with high school and middle school scholastic seasons."

When asked about what he enjoys most about coaching, Zentz replied, "I enjoy developing relationships with the kids I coach, while fueling their curiosity in their own abilities. Helping young men or women I coach unlock that mystery inside themselves that leads to growth, a sense of deeper self belief, confidence or empowerment is what I strive for."



Helena competes in Montana's Class AA.

Girls Cross Country

  • Fourth at state in 2018

  • Third in 2019 and 2020

  • Fourth in 2021.

Zentz wrote:

"Those teams helped create a foundation for us to build on, and we now have a young core that has very little experience competing at the varsity level, but has shown great promise.

It's exciting, because it offers a unique challenge to the coaching staff and the student-athletes we currently have in the program, to build on a strong environment/culture in place, while adding a new twist with new faces, experiences and opportunities."

Track and Field

State Meet

  • Montana Runner-Up in 2021

  • Earned the school's second team title in 2022.

" The championship team featured a balanced squad that qualified an athlete in every event at state and earned points in all but two events.

Recent School Records:

  • 400m (56.02)

  • 1600m (4:56.99)

  • 3200m (10:54.2),

  • Posted the second-fastest and third-fastest times in school history in the 800 (2:12.55 and 2:15.50).

Six girls from the class of 2022 signed to compete in college:

  • Kylie Hartnett (Utah - XC, 800, 1600, 3200)

  • Annie Menden (Bates - XC, 1600, 3200)

  • Carly Ryan (Montana State - XC, 400, 800, 1600)

  • Rylie Schoenfeld (Rocky Mountain College - XC, 800, 1600, 3200)

  • Naomi Sweeney (Pacific, Ore. - XC, 1600, 3200)

  • Odessa Zentz (Northern Arizona - XC, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600).



Placed fourth at state AA meet (largest classification)

  • Kylie Hartnett 2nd place

  • Odessa Zentz 8th place for all-state recognition.

  • Zentz noted: "Carly Ryan started the season with an 18:57 5K, but suffered an unfortunate injury and was unable to finish the state meet. Her time moved her into second all-time in school history at the 5K distance."



Track & Field Team champions with state record (tied previous mark) of 144 points.

Zentz commented on the distance runner highlights from the state meet:

  • Odessa Zentz (31.5 points) 400 and 800 state champion, second in 200. Odessa's winning time in the 400 was a school record of 56.02. She also ran the third leg of the 2nd-place 4x100 team and the anchor for the 3rd-place 4x400 team.

  • Kylie Hartnett (25.5 points) placed second in the 1600 and 3200, was third in the 800, and also ran the second leg of the 3rd-place 4x400.

  • We also got contributions from sisters Logan (36.5 points) and Madi Todorovich (27.5 points) in the sprints, hurdles and jumps, Sydney Mattfeldt (18 points) in the throws, and from Rachel Plaster in the hurdles (3 points), and Nevaeh Wetzel (.5 points).

  • Hartnett established school record in the 1600 and 3200 earlier in the season, and we had five girls run faster than 2:30 in the 800, which was a new record for our team.




If we had Saturday meets each week, we would generally have a long run on Monday, a Wednesday hard workout, recovery runs on Tuesday and Thursday, and a premeet session on Friday.

However, that's not what our schedule looks like, so some weeks we sacrifice the hard workout or the long run if the meet falls during a week-day.

We attempt to have a long run at least every two weeks, and we sometimes include a progression in the long run.

I like to give the runners 48 hours between a harder session and a race. We spend very little time on the track, but indulge the kids that love the oval from time to time. We do most of our hard workouts on grass or packed dirt, and we try to do our long and recovery runs on trails or dirt roads.

Our hard workouts vary, with some including varied paces/efforts, tempo, progression, race pace, faster than race pace, so nothing groundbreaking on that front.

We do pre- and post-run work that focused on range of motion and general strength, and we try to get in the weight room once per week.


The weekly rhythm in track and field is similar to cross country, but the hard workouts shift more toward the races they run on the oval.

We always are touching on a variety of paces to build their aerobic strength, while also getting them comfortable with the faster paces they race at. We have separate groups, one for those focused on the 1600-3200 and one for those focused on the 800-1600.

Like cross country, we focus on pre- and post-run work to help them grow into robust endurance athletes.


I am a big fan of broken tempo/threshold workouts with faster short repeats mixed in afterward, but these are some core workouts we've done that the kids historically respond well to and like.


Segments (1-2-3, 1-2-3, 3-2-1 all on grass)

1 min on, 1 min off, 2 min on, 2 min off, 3 min on, 3 min off, 1 min on, 1 min off, 2 min on, 2 min off, 3 min on, 3 min off, 3 min on, 3 min off, 2 min on, 2 min off, 1 min on.

These are all run at race effort. We encourage them to groove 5K effort/rhythm on the first two sets, and as they come back down on the final set, we encourage them to attempt to increase the intensity with the final two segments. We keep them moving between the 2 min and 3 min reps with a 50/50 mix of walking and easy running.


800-600-400-300 + 4x200

This is one our 800 through 3200 runners get excited about and gain confidence they can run fast late.

We monitor them closely and ensure they can run the 300, 200s and 100 with good form and adjust where needed.

We do this twice per season, but late in the season, we run just one 200. 800 breakdown (1 x 800 @ 3200 w/400 easy, 1 x 600 @ 1600 w/400 easy, 1 x 400 @ 800 w/2-3 min easy, 1 x 300 fast w/400 easy, 4 x 200 faster w/200 walk (more if needed), 1 x 100 fastest.

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