High School Winter Sports Underway

By Beacon Staff

The winter high school sports season is underway and the Flathead Braves are picking up where they left off last year on the wrestling mat. The three-time defending Class AA champions, who shattered a number of state records last year and were nationally ranked, kicked off the 2008-2009 season with a victory over Butte and then a first-place finish at the Polson Invitational over the weekend.

It was a nice way for Flathead’s new coach Matt Owen to begin his tenure. Owen replaced Jeff Thompson, who retired last year.

Basketball and swimming seasons have also started. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the swimming programs for Flathead and Glacier high schools have a big turnout this year. In basketball, look for another competitive field for boys and girls in Northwestern A, the conference that includes Whitefish, Polson and Columbia Falls. In AA, the Glacier boys team returns two all-state players and should be fighting for a playoff spot.

Both the Flathead boys and girls basketball teams are in rebuilding years, having lost the bulk of their seniors and their biggest stars. For the boys, not only did eight seniors depart, but their all-state standout Brock Osweiler is graduating early and isn’t playing this winter. For the girls, all-conference players Meghan O’Connell and Kendalyn Habel both graduated, along with a handful of other seniors.

Meanwhile, at Glacier High School, neither the boys or girls teams, of course, lost any seniors. The school didn’t have seniors last year. The girls return seniors Emilee Hashley and Lindsea Vaudt, among others, while the boys have two all-state players in their lineup: Ben Cutler, a senior guard, and Shay Smithwick-Hann, a junior forward. Look for both of the teams to be competitive. They could each be fighting for a playoff spot.

In Class A, I look forward to watching Whitefish’s Colt Idol play. Idol, a senior, led the conference in scoring last year at 22.1 points per game and has one of the best verticals in Montana high school basketball. He proved that by winning the high jump title at the Class A track championships last spring with a jump of 6 feet 8 ¼ inches. The next best jump was 6 feet 2.

Idol, a lefty, has a pretty jump shot, from both mid-range and beyond the arc. But he’s at his best when he mixes those jumpers in with hard drives to the basket. He’s nearly impossible to stop near the rim.

Glacier and Flathead already kicked off their seasons, but this upcoming weekend is when Montana high school basketball really gets going, especially for Class A. On Dec. 12 and 13 the annual Tip-off Basketball Tournament is held in Hamilton and Corvallis. Both the girls and boys teams from Bigfork, Polson, Columbia Falls, Libby and Whitefish are among those invited.