Girl Power

The strong tradition of sportswomen in the Flathead Valley is as remarkable as it is undeniable

By Dillon Tabish

Nationally ranked runners and swimmers.

A national champion rider and shooter.

An Olympic skier.

How many towns in America can lay claim to producing just one athlete of that unique ability and stature?

Well, our little corner of Montana is home to them all and then some.

Call it a golden age for girl power in the Flathead Valley.

In the sports world, it’s an age-old cliché that girls can’t keep up with their male counterparts. In the Flathead Valley, that fallacy has never been more evident.

Run like a girl? Good luck. Makena Morley once ran 1,600 meters in four minutes and 53 seconds. Her times at Bigfork High School were many of the fastest in Montana history in cross country and track. They translated to the national ranks and even led to an international championship. Her younger sister, Bryn, ran 4:26 in the 1,500 as an eighth grader two years ago and has won multiple titles in high school. Glacier sophomore Annie Hill was the fifth-ranked prep runner in the nation last month.

Ski like a girl? You wish. Whitefish native Maggie Voisin will twirl backwards and upside down over 75-foot jumps and hit lengthy rails in the slopestyle competition at the upcoming X Games in Aspen.

Play football like a girl? Minnesota Vikings fans could only wish. Haley Nicholson, an all-conference kicker for the Whitefish Bulldogs, hit a pivotal 22-yard field goal that helped win the state championship atop a frozen field in cold temperatures.

Bike like a girl? Only seven weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Rose Grant pedaled nearly 70 miles at the national championships. Last year the Kalispell mountain biker qualified for the world championships, and in December she was named one of eight Americans who could be chosen for the 2016 Olympic team.

Shoot like a girl? Holding a pistol with one hand, Alana Townsend can pierce the bull’s eye of a 17×17 cm target from 10 meters. The 2012 Glacier graduate is one of the top air pistol shooters in the world and has won two national championships in a row.

Play hockey like a girl? Try getting the puck past McKenna Hulslander, a junior at Glacier High School who is one of the top young goalies in the nation.

Throw like a girl? Ali Williams, a senior ace on Glacier High School’s defending state champion softball team, can fire a 65 mph fastball. In terms of reaction times, that’s equivalent to almost 90 mph in the big leagues.

Fight like a girl? Kalispell’s Leah Taylor is the only woman in Montana with a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Grapple like a girl? Tilynne Vasquez, an eighth grader in Kalispell, is one of the top-ranked female wrestlers in the nation for any weight class.

Swim like a girl? AJ Popp, a 13-year-old freshman at Glacier, is ranked high in the region in six different races. Her best 100-backstroke time — 1:00.21 — ranks second in Montana.

Lift like a girl? Carla Nicosia, a 2015 graduate of Columbia Falls High School, bench pressed 205 pounds and squatted 280 last spring at the high school power lifting state championships.

Golf like a girl? Glacier senior Teigan Avery and Whitefish senior Coral Schulz are state champions who regularly land on the leaderboard in national tournaments.

Past and present, the list goes on — Zoe Nelson. Alice Ritzman. Lexie Miller.

The strong tradition of sportswomen in the Flathead Valley is as remarkable as it is undeniable.

Correction: AJ Popp is ranked high in several races in the region, not nation.

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