Autumn is ushering in a new school year and with it, a new prep sports season. Last week the Beacon highlighted Flathead County’s high school football teams. Here’s a guide to the other sports returning to action this fall, including volleyball, soccer, cross country and golf.
Several exciting plotlines are resuming for our local athletes, and new storylines are sure to emerge as well. Good luck to all.
Morley’s Reinvigorated Pursuit
When we last left Makena Morley, her spring had ended with three runner-up finishes at the state track meet. The overall experience “totally lit my fire,” she said afterward. In other words, Bigfork’s stalwart runner should be even more awe-inspiring this fall. The state’s two-time reigning Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year is back for her junior season with renewed pursuit. Morley has yet to lose a cross country race in Montana, owns the Class B state record (17:44) and has already qualified twice for Foot Locker nationals. Her top opponent from a year ago, Chiara Warner of Townsend, has graduated, which means Morley’s top competition will likely be herself. Against a fast field last fall at the Mountain West Classic in Missoula she ran 17:07, nearly breaking the elusive 17:00 barrier and approaching Zoe Nelson’s 2002 all-class state record, 16:50.
Whitefish Soccer Eyes Three-Peat
Four all-state starters have graduated, but head coach O’Brien Byrd has a talented group of replacements eager to extend the Bulldogs’ reign as the kings of Montana soccer. Whitefish kicks off the season at Hamilton on Sept. 5. All-state senior striker Nathan Boone is back alongside three all-conference players: seniors Jon Dittman, Tommy Murphy and junior Jared Johnson. The Bulldogs steamrolled through the 2012 campaign, capping an undefeated 15-0 season by winning a second straight state title, and fourth since 2006. The 2013 team enters the season riding a 27-game win streak dating back to 2011.
“It’s a very, very impressive streak, but we’re about putting ourselves in the best possible position to try to make a three-peat happen,” said Byrd, who was named the national soccer coach of the year in January. “I’m very excited for the challenge. The guys are excited. This is their team. This is their season. They want to make their mark on our program’s history in their own special way.”
New Concussion Policy Now In Place
Gov. Steve Bullock signed into law a new law designed to protect young athletes from the dangers of concussions. The Dylan Steigers Protections of Youth Athletes Act was named in honor of a 21-year-old Missoula football player who died after sustaining consecutive concussions while playing in college. Under the new law, an athletic trainer, coach or official can now remove an athlete from participation in any organized activity if signs, symptoms or behaviors of a concussion exist. The athlete cannot resume participation until a licensed health care professional clears them to play. The law covers any athletic activity sponsored by a school or school district, and includes practices, tryouts, training exercises and sports camps. “We owe it to our young athletes to do everything in our power to prevent repeat brain injuries,” said state Rep. Anders Blewett, who crafted the bill.
Momentum on the Pitch for Columbia Falls Girls
Greg Trenerry, entering his 17th season as head coach of girls soccer at Columbia Falls, has one all-state defender back, junior Meagan Seliger, and three all-conference players: senior Alexi Corbett, junior Lindsay Strouse and sophomore Tavia Bechtel. Trenerry is hoping to follow last season’s path, when the Wildkats quickly reloaded and rolled into the Class A state championship, where they faced a familiar nemesis, powerhouse Billings Central. The Lady Rams, who bounced Columbia Falls from the second round of the 2011 playoffs, defeated Columbia Falls 6-0 to win their fifth consecutive title. The Wildkats still finished the season with an impressive 12-2-1 record. The two-time reigning Northern A champs officially renew their title pursuit Sept. 6 at home against Livingston.
Whitefish Girls Return Solid Core of Soccer Talent
Don’t forget about Whitefish’s girls soccer team. In the last decade, the Lady Bulldogs have advanced to the state semifinals nine times and played in five championship matches, winning in 2006. This fall, head coach Wendy Farrens has six standouts returning, including all-state senior Caroline Carbo and Madison Grady. There’s also all-conference senior Ella Kobelt and sophomores Cassidy Grady and Anna Peterson. The girls’ sights are firmly set on reclaiming the conference crown and unseating the five-time state champs in Billings. Whitefish opens the season on the road against Hamilton on Sept. 5. A year ago, Farrens’ squad earned second in Northern A and ran into a familiar opponent in the semifinals. Billings Central edged Whitefish 2-1 and went on to claim another championship.
Glacier Golfers Re-Grip for Title Defense
Glacier’s defending Class AA state champion boys golf team enters the fall season under the guidance of a new head coach and three talented returnees. The top two seniors from last year have graduated, but sophomore Tommy Mann and junior Cody Sherill are back for the Wolfpack, which won its first outright team title last year, edging Billings Skyview. Mann tied for fourth individually at the 2012 state golf tournament in Great Falls, showing impressive poise for a freshman. Sherill earned ninth and Kevin Talcott tied for 17th. Head coach Jim Schaibley, who replaced Rob Logdson, will likely see other young talent emerge in a program that produces perennial contenders and has finished in the top three as a team at state every year since 2007. Flathead’s Ryan Keenan is poised for a strong season as well. The AA state tournament is Oct. 1-2 in Missoula at the Country Club and Canyon River.
Avery Back in the Tee Box for Glacier Girls
Before she even reached high school, Teigan Avery was highly touted on the golf course. Now in her sophomore season at Glacier, she’s one of the best prep competitors in Montana. The Kalispell golfer is the lone returning member from last fall’s second-place Wolfpack team. Avery placed second individually at the 2012 state tournament in Great Falls and Glacier earned runner-up, its best finish in the program’s history. Avery teed off in the first prep tournament of the season last week in Missoula against one of her top competitors, Coral Schulz of Helena Capital, who placed third at state last year. The best girls golfer in Montana remains in Billings. Kortney McNeil, a junior at Billings Senior, has won the last two state championships. A year ago, McNeil rallied in the final round to edge Avery atop the leaderboard. McNeil finished with a two-round score of 154, two strokes ahead of Avery.
Doorn, Tabish Tee Off for Whitefish
Two talented seniors are back on Whitefish’s boys and girls golf teams. Senior Art Doorn is the top returning leader for the Bulldogs. He tied for second last year at the Class A state tournament in Anaconda, finishing one stroke back. Sophomore Cooper Donahue placed 23rd at state. The Whitefish boys earned second as a team, 11 strokes behind Belgrade. Erin Tabish is entering the final season of an impressive career on the Whitefish girls team. Tabish placed second at state last fall, barely losing the second hole of a championship playoff to Christal Tokash of Livingston. Tabish placed third at state as a sophomore and 15th as a freshman. Whitefish earned third place as a team in 2012. Polson won its second straight girls title.
New Stable of distance Runners Line Up
Two of the best long distance runners ever to emerge from the Flathead Valley, Flathead’s Zach Perrin and Glacier’s Troy Fraley, have graduated on to college competition. Now it’s time to find out who will follow in their footsteps. One of the best opportunities to get a glimpse of this year’s local running talent arrives Sept. 15 at the Flathead Invitational Cross Country Meet. The longtime local meet is at a new course this year at Rebecca Farm west of Kalispell. Only a few all-state runners from the valley are back this fall: Bigfork siblings Makena and Logan Morley, Columbia Falls junior Samantha Mundel and Polson senior Claudia Hewston. Whitefish, which won the Class A boys title last fall, returns its No. 3 and No. 4 runners: senior Caleb Knox, who earned 20th at the state meet in Helena; and junior Keaton Grove, who placed 23rd. The 50th annual state cross country meet is Oct. 26 in Missoula.
Kalispell’s Hard-Hitting Spikers
Kalispell’s two AA volleyball teams could battle for bragging rights and state trophies on the courts again this season. Both Flathead and Glacier have two all-state spikers returning. A few big names are gone, like Kwyn Johnson, but the Bravettes bring back talented seniors Emma Andrews and Iris Matulevich from last season’s second-place team. Flathead fell in the Class AA state title match last year, losing in three sets to top-ranked Billings Senior. The Bravettes were perfect in conference matches for the first time ever. They won the Western AA title for only the third time and advanced to state for the 10th straight year. The second-place state trophy was the program’s best finish since 2006, when the team also earned second. Glacier returns senior Cassi Hashley and junior Hannah Liss. The Wolfpack qualified for state for the third straight season a year ago, but fell to Flathead in the semifinals. The first matches of the season for both Flathead and Glacier are Aug. 31-Sept. 1 on the road against Great Falls’ teams.
Glacier, Flathead Soccer Teams
The Glacier girls soccer team enjoyed a turnaround season in 2012 under new head coach Brendan Byrd. The Wolfpack won their first game in nearly two years and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Kendall Halliburton, an all-state senior, is back leading the Wolfpack’s growth this fall. The Glacier boys have a new head coach, Cody Fierro, who replaced Ryan O’Rourke. The Wolfpack finished 6-4-2 in 2012. Glacier’s first matches are Sept. 3 at home against Missoula Sentinel. Cory Wilson is Flathead’s new girls soccer coach and Dan Ferguson is the Braves’ new coach. The Bravettes finished 6-5-1 last season and the Braves were 0-11-1. Flathead’s squads open the season against cross-town rival Glacier, Sept. 5, at Kidsports Complex.
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