The fall sports season has arrived with plenty of interesting storylines. Here’s a breakdown of some local plots worth following:
Annie Hill, Wolfpack Runners Hit Stride
Annie Hill, a freshman at Glacier, is poised to turn heads when she competes in her first high school races this fall.
“I’ve watched (Annie and Bryn Morley) run against each other for years. I didn’t realize they’d be that good,” said Paul Jorgensen, Flathead’s longtime distance coach.
The comparisons are inevitable – both Morley and Hill are entering the high school ranks with the same rare abilities as Zoe Nelson, the former Flathead national champion and one of the all-time great distance runners from Montana.
“I hate to make comparisons. Zoe was definitely an elite runner back in those days and these two are definitely very good,” Jorgensen said. “We’ll see how they do.”
Hill will face Bryn and Makena Morley in a few local races, but when it comes to the state meet she will be competing against the best of the Class AA ranks. Sophomore Christina Aragon of Billings Senior won the state championship a year ago with a time of 17:31.83.
The Glacier boys are in shape for a big year. Nearly the entire pack of runners is back from last year’s second-place state team, including fourth-place finisher Kade McCutcheon, Logan Harmon, Tevyn Stetson and Noah Hill. The Glacier boys will try to unseat Bozeman, which has won six straight Class AA state titles. The Flathead Invitational Meet is at Rebecca Farm at noon on Sept. 13 and the Glacier Invitational is at Kidsports Complex at 3 p.m., Oct. 15. The state meet is in Helena on Oct. 25.
Talent, Experience Back on the Court for Volleyball Squads
The reigning Western AA champs welcome back three all-state players who hope to lead the Wolfpack toward another standout season. Glacier will be one of the top teams in the state yet again this fall, thanks to a solid core of experienced and talented players, including all-state senior hitters Katie Wiley and Tessa Krueger and setter Hannah Liss. Kayla Russell, also a senior, was honorable mention as libero a year ago. Last season’s squad went 23-5 overall, and 12-0 in conference, capping the best regular season in program history. The girls finished fourth at the Class AA state meet.
Flathead, which finished 18-12 and second place in the West during the regular season, graduated three all-state players but return senior Jessica Simmons, who earned second-team honors as a setter last year.
Billings Senior remains the team to beat in Montana as the two-time defending state champs.
In Class A, Columbia Falls is the reigning Northwestern A conference champions. Haley Belgarde, the team’s all-state leader, has graduated, but Winter Kemppainen, now herself a senior, will take over as one of the Wildkats’ go-to players. Jaiden Toth, a senior at Polson, is a returning all-state player who will try to lead the Lady Pirates back to the state tournament. Corvallis defeated Lewistown in four sets to claim the title last year.
In Class B, Bigfork claimed the District 7B title a year ago.
The Class AA, A and B state tournaments are in Bozeman, Nov. 13-15.
Morley Sisters Square Off
Bigfork’s Makena Morley is entering the final chapter of her storied high school running career, and there appears to be only one person standing in the way of her fourth consecutive Class B cross country championship: her little sister Bryn.
Bryn is striding into the high school ranks as Makena is preparing to exit as one of Montana all-time greats. At the USA Track and Field Junior Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon, last summer, Bryn placed third in the 1,500, running 4:26.34 among many of the best distance runners in the nation.
Meanwhile, Makena enters the fall as the three-time defending Class B champion and state record holder. A year ago, she completed one of the most remarkable cross country seasons in Montana history, capturing race after race by wide margins and finishing with a milestone at the state meet. Makena broke Zoe Nelson’s 2002 all-class state record, clocking 16:50 at the championship meet in Missoula and shattering the old mark by 15 seconds.
Bryn has already clocked faster times than Makena at that age. In other words, little sister could give big sister quite the competition. Also, the girls’ brother, Logan Morley, returns as one of the top Class B boys runners in the state after placing second a year ago.
All-State Golfers Back for Flathead, Glacier
The Glacier boys golf team, which placed sixth at the Class AA state meet a year ago, brings back three talented players who will vie for top honors once again. Tom Mann, fifth at state last season, is back along with Cody Sherrill (tied for 10th at state) and Scott Larson (tied for 15th at state).
The trio all placed in the top 13 at the recent Great Falls meet, led by Sherrill, who shot 73-70—143 to earn third. Flathead’s Ryan Keenan, who tied for 10th at state, is back for the Braves, who placed ninth as a team a year ago. Keenan shot 74-71—145 to start his season off strong last week, earning sixth.
Billings West is the defending team champion in Class AA.
New Coach Looks to Boost Glacier Soccer Program
After serving as an assistant varsity coach at Whitefish High School for eight years and helping lead the Flathead Rapids organization, Ryan Billiet is bringing his talents to Glacier to rebuild the boys program. The Wolfpack were 0-11-1 last season after being outscored by opponents 40-8. Billiet is redeveloping the entire program around the philosophies he learned under his mentor and Whitefish’s National Coach of the Year, O’Brien Byrd.
“I’m really working to be half the coach he is,” Billiet said.
That means becoming a student of the game and maximizing every player’s potential, he said.
Billiet will have three talented returning players to build on: junior goalie Ryker McIntyre, junior Colton Becker and senior Kade Deleray. Those three will help develop a program made up largely of younger players.
“It’s nice to have leadership on the field,” Billiet said. “We want to do whatever we can to make this season special.”
Flathead went 1-9-2 last year. The Bozeman boys won the Class AA state title last year, beating Helena 2-0.
On the girls side, Flathead will look for new leaders to emerge following last season’s second-place finish in Western AA. Junior Stephanie Wilson is the lone all-conference player back from last year’s Bravetttes, which went 7-4-1 in the regular season. Flathead qualified for the Class AA state tournament but lost out in two matches. Junior Katie Thomas is back for Glacier, which went 5-7 in the regular season and narrowly missed out on qualifying for state.
Billings Senior edged Helena 1-0 to win the Class AA girls state title.
Whitefish, Columbia Falls Boast Skilled Soccer Squads
The Whitefish and Columbia Falls girls are poised to make a run at unseating the longtime champs, Billings Central, which has horded the Class A girls soccer title for six years. Columbia Falls welcomes back all-state midfielder Tavia Bechtel, now a junior, and all-state senior defender Meagan Seliger. There’s also Lindsay Strouse, a talented senior, and Sidney Grilley, a junior defender. Last season the Wildkats grabbed the No. 2 seed from Northern A with a record of 6-2-3 overall, 5-1-1 in conference. The girls fell 3-0 to Hamilton in the opening round of the playoffs.
Whitefish, the defending Northern A champs and state runner-up team, also has a talented crew returning despite losing a few key players, such as Caroline Carbo. Haley Nicholson is ready to make the leap as one of the top scorers in the state. As a freshman last season she scored 18 goals. Teammate Anna Peterson had 10 goals and 10 assists.
Last fall the Whitefish girls retook the conference title from two-time winner Columbia Falls, finishing the regular season 10-2, 7-1. They advanced to the state championship match for the sixth time in a decade, but fell to Billings Central, 4-1.
On the boys side, Whitefish graduated three all-state seniors but if anybody can reload quickly, it’s head coach O’Brien Byrd. Byrd has another roster full of talent and experience, including Jared Johnson, a senior midfielder who scored 18 goals last fall, second most in the state during the regular season. Last year the two-time defending state champions fell short of a three-peat, losing to Livingston in the opening round of the playoffs. Libby and Bigfork, the other two teams to qualify from Northern A, similarly bowed out early. Kyle Thomson is back for Bigfork as an all-state midfielder.
Teigan Tees Off After Second Championship
The Class AA state champ is back to defend her title. Teigan Avery, now a junior at Glacier, is poised for another outstanding season on the links. She’s coming off a strong summer of competition and claimed her second consecutive state junior golf championship in June, winning by eight strokes.
Last week she teed off at the first event of the high school season and narrowly placed second.
This year’s state championship tournament is at Bridger Creek Golf Course in Bozeman, Oct. 2-3.
The Glacier girls return a bulk of last year’s seventh place team, and the Wolfpack opened the season with a third-place finish in Great Falls. The team will be led by Avery, McKenna Hulslander, Kyersten Seibanler and McKenna Tinseth. Flathead senior Jenna Jensen, who placed 11th at state last year, and Morgan Knutson will lead the Bravettes. The Billings West girls are the defending Class AA team champs.
Whitefish Golfers Aim at State Trophies
The three-time defending Class A champs — the Polson girls — graduated a bulk of their title team, and the Class A boys champions from Sidney similarly lost their top golfers. That means both the Whitefish boys and girls will have trophies in their sights.
Both squads earned second-place team honors last season, but both teams will need to replace some sizeable voids. Erin Tabish, last year’s state champ, and Art Doorn have graduated and Cooper Donahue transferred out of state. But Coral Schulz, the third-place finisher at last year’s Class AA state meet, has transferred from Helena Capital to Whitefish and will lead a determined Bulldogs team. Katie Fyall earned sixth at state a year ago and Malia Morris was 13th. Mitch Young, Cody Olson and Joey Walp are the top returning boys who will vie for all-state honors.
The Class A state tournaments are at the Hamilton Golf Club, Oct. 3-4.
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