Sports

Running Wild

Two Flathead Valley track teams won state titles for the first time in 15 years, part of a historic final weekend of the prep season

Making history on the track in the Flathead Valley is no easy thing to do.

For decades, led by a cadre of legendary coaches and a bounty of gifted athletes, the track and field programs at a number of local high schools, the venerated Highlander Track Club and — once upon a time — even Flathead Valley Community College have been winning trophies, rewriting the record books and making an impact across the state and even nationally.

But there is little doubt that this track and field season, one that saw Glacier High School win its first-ever state championship and Bigfork High School secure back-to-back crowns behind one of the most dominant teams ever assembled, is one that will live on for years to come.

The 2018 season is the first since 2003 in which more than one Flathead Valley team won a state championship, and the storylines go well beyond just the Wolfpack and Valkyries. The state meets over Memorial Day weekend closed sensational careers, previewed the dawning of others and served as another reminder that Northwest Montana’s track and field stars take a back seat to no one.

 

COMPLETE STATE TRACK & FIELD MEET RESULTS

Class AA

Class A/B

Glacier Boys Soar to School’s First Championship

The Wolfpack boys track team had come close to state titles before.

There were the back-to-back second place finishes in 2012 and 2013, and thirds in 2011 and 2015. There were teams with expectations before, too, succumbing to either bad luck, disappointing performances or both, that came away from the Class AA state meet with something short of first place.

And after one day at the 2018 state meet in Great Falls it looked like a team with the highest expectations yet, and one coming off a Western AA divisional title, might again miss out on the elusive top prize.

“Friday we came up a couple points shy of what we were hoping for,” Arron Deck, Glacier’s head boys coach, said. “But there wasn’t any panic at all and on Saturday our javelin throwers got it started for us.”

In the very first event of day two, with the entire rest of the Glacier team sitting and watching, the Wolfpack’s top two javelin throwers sat in second and sixth pLace, respectively, entering the final round of throws. Bennett McChesney, in sixth, came up first and unleashed a throw of more than 178 feet to vault into third place. Evan Todd, sitting second behind Missoula Sentinel’s Rylan Ortt, followed and won a state championship on the last throw of his career, covering more than 184 feet.

“Bennett catapulted (up the standings) and we just fed off that,” Deck said. “We got that momentum and our crowd was pretty ecstatic … it was a great competition, everybody was jacked.”

From that point on, the day belonged to Glacier. Mark Estes won a state title in the triple jump (46 feet, 4.75 inches), the Wolfpack’s 400-meter relay team narrowly missed a state record en route to a championship, Drew Turner won the 400-meters (48.8 seconds) and the rout was on. Glacier’s total of 107 points was more than 30 clear of the field.

“It felt like a long time coming,” Deck said. “We’ve been close for four or five years and have never been able to punch through with the big one.”

“The kids had extreme focus, laser-like, all year,” he continued. “Last year we finished out of the trophies and we thought we had a good shot, and I know they had a sour taste in their mouth … they’ve had their sights on (a state title) all year.”

While the title for the Glacier boys was a coronation of sorts for a team many expected to do well, the runner-up was a surprise to most, including their own coach.

“At the start of the season I thought we might be a fourth- or a fifth-place team,” longtime Flathead coach Dan Hodge said. “The kids had a championship weekend.”

Hodge’s Braves finished with 76 points as a team, well ahead of third-place Bozeman (45), to put a bow on a state championship weekend that saw Kalispell’s two high schools rise above the rest of the state.

Flathead’s Chad Hemsley (300 hurdles) and Ben Perrin (3,200) both won state titles and the Braves had 13 top-six performances. Hemsley was part of five of those by himself, finishing fourth in the 200, second in the 110 hurdles and running with both relay teams. Flathead’s 400 relay was fifth and the 1,600 relay came in second.

Dawson Rinehard was also on that 1,600 relay team and picked up three individual placements of his own, crossing second behind Hemsley in the 300 hurdles, third in the 110 hurdles and third in the 400. Perrin added a fourth in the 1,600.

In the girls competition, Glacier finished sixth as a team but not without one final championship performance from senior Annie Hill. The University of Colorado commit added to her incredible career with state title runs in the 800 and 1,600, giving her six career individual track titles. The 2017 Gatorade Montana Track and Field Athlete of the Year is also a two-time state cross country champion and was honored with the team’s Alpha Award at the end of the year banquet for her contributions to the program on and off the track.

“I’m sure it’s going to hit me tonight,” Glacier head girls coach Jerry Boschee said before the banquet. “It’s tough when you have those special kids … that dang kid, she’s matured so much over the four years that I’ve been with her.”

Hill added a third-place finish in the 400 to her haul this year and was part of the sixth-place 1,600 relay team. Her classmate Adrian Schnee was also on that relay in addition to top-five finishes in the 400, 300 hurdles and high jump.

Bigfork’s Bryn Morley streaks ahead of the field in the 800-meter run during the Class B state track and field championships in Laurel on May 25. Austin Steele | Billings Gazette

Valkyries Sprint to Second Straight Championship

It was over after day one.

Almost literally.

Bigfork took home a second consecutive Class B state championship in Laurel May 25-26 with an overwhelming performance at the state meet highlighted by title-winning efforts in seven of 10 races on the track. The Valkyries posted 44 points in day one and finished the competition with 106. Second-place Baker totaled 48.

“I’ve coached for 44 years and I’ve had some amazing kids but this group was just very, very, very special,” Hall of Fame Bigfork coach Sue Loeffler said. “They were self-motivated, they knew what they needed to do and they knew how to do it.”

With temperatures hovering just below 90 degrees most of the weekend, Bigfork seniors Bryn Morley and Haile Norred closed spectacular careers of their own with a drawer full of new medals. Morley won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200; Norred won the 200 and 400 and was on the winning 400 relay team; and both were part of the victorious 1,600 relay effort.

For Morley, it was a second straight year of four first-places at the state meet and gives her a whopping 11 state championships in her track and field career. She’s also a three-time Class B cross country titlist. Norred, meanwhile, graduates with eight state titles of her own. Bigfork’s Jordan Nelson and Anya Young also placed in individual track events, with Young second behind Morley in the 1,600 and 3,200.

“I think they do feed off each other, and if somebody gets down they work on that,” Loeffler said. “They support each other but each one of them has drive and I don’t think you can coach that; I just think it’s there.”

The team title is the third for the Valkyries track and field team and 10th for Loeffler, who is also Bigfork’s cross country coach.

“It’s so hard to put it all into one word; it’s just amazing,” Loeffler said of this year’s team. “They were that this year and it was even more emotional because they are seniors.”

Bigfork’s Haile Norred (right) leads the field during a race at the Class B state track and field meet in Laurel on May 25. Austin Steele | Billings Gazette

Schulz Snares First State Title, Street Sets Class A Record

Junior Lauren Schulz won the 400-meters and was part of a state title-winning 1,600 relay to claim the first two state championships of her three-year career at the Class A state track and field meet in Laurel May 25-26.

Schulz won the 400 by barely more than one-tenth of a second, edging Belgrade’s Bella Pacheco in front of a tightly bunched field that included two of her teammates — Lydia Kryshak and Mikenna Els — in fifth a sixth, respectively. In the 1,600, she ran the third leg of the winning race that helped the Bulldogs finish fifth as a team.

As a sophomore, Schulz had three top-four finishes at the state meet, including a second place in the 200.

Meanwhile, Columbia Falls sophomore Angellica Street gave the Flathead Valley one more state champion when she won the javelin after finishing third as s freshman. Street’s throw of 147 feet, seven inches was more than 20 feet better than any other competitor and broke the Class A all-time record. It is the eight-best throw in Montana history, regardless of class.

aviano@flatheadbeacon.com

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