Best of Preps — Fall 2016

Top high school athletes from Flathead County

By Greg Lindstrom & Dillon Tabish
Columbia Falls' Logan Stephens. Best of Preps on Nov. 30, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Logan Stephens

SCHOOL: Columbia Falls

CLASS: Senior


For someone who only started playing soccer two years ago, Logan sure made a quick and powerful impact. He joined the Wildcat soccer team as a junior, and the squad finished 5-8 overall. Not satisfied, Logan and his teammates worked feverishly in the offseason, including all summer. This fall, they accomplished an amazing turnaround, going 11-2-1 overall and capturing the Northern A conference title for the first time in 11 years. Columbia Falls outscored opponents 45-19, led by Logan, who netted 17 goals en route to an all-state selection. Though the season ended in the state semifinals, the boys can hold their heads high after rebuilding a program with a bright future. “That was our very last game and we lost, but I was so proud of my team that we even made it to that position,” he says. “A lot of people didn’t even think we’d make the playoffs.”

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Haley Nicholson

SCHOOL: Whitefish

CLASS: Senior


There’s a drawback to being one of the best scorers in the state. Defenders, often two at a time, shadowed Haley everywhere she went on the soccer field this fall, making it extra difficult for Whitefish’s scoring sensation to do what she does best. But that didn’t stop her from enjoying another exceptional season.  Haley netted 29 goals, second most in Montana. The all-state forward capped her career total at a whopping 99 goals. This fall, Haley, who also had seven assists, helped lead Whitefish to its first conference championship since 2013. “The fact that it was my last season really motivated me to put it all out there and lay it all on the line,” she says. Haley’s soccer talents are now sending her north of the border. She committed to play at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

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Bryn Morley

SCHOOL: Bigfork

CLASS: Junior

The reigning state champ in Class B could not run a single mile only a few months ago. Bryn suffered a stress fracture in spring that abruptly ended her track season and sidelined the all-state runner for nearly two months. It was a painful blow and the greatest challenge of her young career. “It was really hard building back up,” she says. To regain her championship-caliber speed and endurance, she trained with her father, Steve, who wrote up workouts. For motivation, she remembered the feeling of standing atop the podium as a state champ. This fall, she returned to run only three races but excelled when it mattered most. At the state cross country meet at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell, she clocked 17:53 and won the title by more than one minute. “I’ve learned how to stay strong through things that are hard,” she says. “My mental strength has gotten a lot stronger through running.” Last weekend, she placed 48th at the Foot Locker Western Regional against many of the top high school runners in the West.

Best of Preps

Sage Wanner

SCHOOL: Columbia Falls

CLASS: Senior

When Sage moved to Columbia Falls three days before his junior year, he didn’t know anybody. But he enjoyed long-distance running, so he joined the cross country program. Immediately, he gained connections with fellow runners who welcomed him into the team, and pretty soon, there was a tight-knit bond among the determined group. “My team motivated me. My friends and I made goals for what we wanted in the season and we went for it,” he says. Sage captured the Western A Classic title in Fairmont Hot Springs and helped the boys team finish third. His personal record for the season was 15:44 for three miles. At the state cross country meet in Kalispell, Sage clocked 16:14 and placed 10th, earning all-state. Along the way, he also learned a lot about himself through distance running. His goal is to keep running in college due to his passion for the sport. “Running is really relaxing and just calming,” he says.

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Kate Doorn

SCHOOL: Whitefish

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Outside Hitter

Anybody wondering about Kate’s motivation and competitiveness only needs to look at the large cast covering her arm this winter. Playing in her fourth and final year of varsity, she helped Whitefish advance to the Class A state tournament for the second year in a row. In a loser-out match against Billings Central, the Lady Bulldogs faced elimination when Kate dove for a ball and collided with another player. Her extra effort saved the point but broke her arm. She was rushed to the hospital, where she underwent surgery to have seven screws and a metal plate inserted into her arm. From the hospital, she texted friends and family to follow the volleyball match, and when it was over, she delivered a heartfelt message to her teammates on speakerphone. “I just told them all I loved them,” she says. “Being my last year, I played for coach (Jackie) Fuller and my teammates. It was a tough ending, but it was an exciting season.”

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Nikki Krueger

SCHOOL: Glacier

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Outside Hitter

Over the last four years, Nikki developed a well-known reputation as one of the most powerful hitters in Montana. With the arm of a state champion discus thrower, she racked up consistent kills as a dominating presence at the net this fall. Her skills helped Glacier finish second in the highly competitive Western AA conference and earn an automatic bid at the state tournament, the program’s seventh postseason appearance in 10 years. After falling to Billings Senior in the second round, Glacier faced elimination, but Nikki and her teammates fought to the finish, rallying back to win two matches the following day and earn a third-place trophy. “At the state tournament, we knew what was on the line, so we found our fight,” Nikki says. Her all-state volleyball days are now behind her as Nikki moves to basketball and track, two other sports she dominates and will play at Carroll College in Helena after graduating.

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Morgan Stenger

SCHOOL: Columbia Falls

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Middle Hitter

The defending state champs from Columbia Falls arrived at each and every match with a towering presence. “We definitely knew teams were gunning for us. We used that to our advantage,” Morgan says. “We all wanted to win another state title and that definitely pushed us every day to work really hard.” The hard work paid off — Columbia Falls capped a milestone season with a perfect 20-0 record and a second Class A championship. Morgan, one of the team’s all-state hitters at 6-foot-2, logged 19 kills and five blocks in the title match against Billings Central. She proved throughout the season that her abilities extend beyond her height and she became a steady leader for the Wildkats, which were tested by every team’s best effort on a regular basis. “As a leader, you have to always pick people up and tell them to get out of their heads,” she says. Morgan has committed to play volleyball at the University of Montana-Western next year.

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Cydney Finberg

SCHOOL: Columbia Falls

CLASS: Senior


As the Wildkats’ setter, Cydney was closely involved in nearly every play this season, and her expertise shined bright. The multi-sport standout led Columbia Falls to an undefeated 20-0 season that ended with a second straight state title. Cydney was named Class A’s MVP along with all-state honors. When times grew tough, the team could count on Cydney to stand firm as a source of leadership. This was never more evident than during the state championship match when Billings Central won the first game, 25-22. It was a rare moment when Columbia Falls tasted defeat, but it ended there as the Kats cruised to victory. Cydney had two of the team’s five aces and 48 assists in the finale. “We accomplished what we set out to do throughout every game, not just when it mattered most,” she says. Cydney has committed to play volleyball at the University of Great Falls.

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Bridger Johnson

SCHOOL: Flathead

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Quarterback

HT/WT: 6’3’’, 210 LBS

Quarterbacks receive most of the attention and accolades but the true test arrives when adversity arises. The Flathead Braves experienced a difficult year in many regards, going 3-7 in a competitive Class AA field. Through the season’s ups and downs, the team’s second-year starting quarterback held his composure and kept the team united on and off the field. He passed for 1,555 yards, including a season high 277 against Helena Capital. In a thrilling four-overtime victory over Great Falls, Bridger was 11 for 18 for 194 yards with two rushing touchdowns, including the game winner. “Being a leader, you have to bring it every day, during practice and during games,” he says. “You can’t show weakness. You got to make sure everyone is on the same page.” That leadership is what attracted the interest of Montana Tech, and Bridger has committed to play quarterback in Butte next year.

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Matt Farrier

SCHOOL: Bigfork

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Running back / Punter / Kick Returner

HT/WT: 5’9’’, 170 LBS

Growing up in a family of nine kids, including many standout athletes, Matt learned the importance of hard work and being a positive role model. He specifically looked up to his older brothers, John and Damian, who both went to Flathead. “They worked harder than anybody else. They came from the bottom and hard work got them everything,” he says. That same recipe worked out well for Matt. This fall, after a relentless offseason workout regimen, he was one of the best running backs in Montana, piling up 964 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground along with 239 yards and three touchdowns receiving and two kick return touchdowns. Against Malta, he racked up 172 yards and five touchdowns, as well as a 31-yard passing TD. He guided Bigfork to a 7-2 record and the Class B playoffs once again en route to an all-state selection.

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Travis Catina

SCHOOL: Whitefish

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Fullback / Middle linebacker

HT/WT: 6’0’’, 210 LBS

Toughness and grit — two words that definitely describe Travis. Also all-state. Whitefish’s dogged senior leader was a force to be reckoned with on the field this fall. The powerful linebacker and fullback battled through several injuries to shine for the Bulldogs, leading with four interceptions, including a 95-yard pick-six in his final game. “I can’t believe it’s over. I’ve been playing with my best friends since we were in middle school,” he says of his high school career. His loyalty to his teammates and internal motivation inspired him to work hard in the offseason and push himself to the max. This work ethic and devotion translated to the classroom, and he has been accepted into both the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy.

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Patrick O’Connell

SCHOOL: Glacier

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Linebacker / Tight End / Fullback

HT/WT: 6’2’’, 210 LBS

As a freshman, Patrick traveled to Bozeman with the Glacier football team for the state championship game. He and his classmates decided they wanted an opportunity to lead the program to that level of success. That’s exactly what they did — this fall, Glacier advanced to the state semifinals for the sixth straight year and appeared in its third state championship game in four years. Patrick developed into one of the best all-around players in Montana and hardly ever left the field. He was named first-team all-state in Class AA both as a linebacker and a fullback. He was named the Western AA’s defensive MVP. He led Glacier in receiving yards with 696 and scored seven touchdowns. On defense, he led with 133 total tackles. He also had two sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. “This season, all of our guys came together as a brotherhood. It was one of the best moments of my life,” he says. He remains undecided on college but hopes to play football or baseball.

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Dakota Bridwell

SCHOOL: Columbia Falls

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Quarterback

HT/WT: 6’1’’, 210 LBS

When Dakota and his classmates were in middle school, they had high hopes for their high school football days. They had no idea they would make history. The Wildcats, led by Dakota and 21 other seniors, advanced to the state championship game for only the second time in school history and the first since 1970. Although the boys came up just short of their ultimate goal, it was still an unforgettable achievement. As the team’s consummate leader, Dakota rewrote the record books for passing. He finished his senior season with 3,901 passing yards and 49 touchdown passes, both Class A records, according to the Montana High School Association. He had eight TDs against Corvallis, most on record for a single game. Dakota’s favorite target, Braxon Reiten, set Class A records for receiving yards with 1,303, receptions in a season with 74 and receiving touchdowns in a season with 22. Dakota remains undecided on college.

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Mckenna Tinseth

SCHOOL: Glacier

CLASS: Senior

Watching Mckenna’s natural swing, any spectator would think she has played golf her entire life. Rather, the standout senior is only in her fourth year of playing competitively, a surprising fact punctuated this fall by her tournament performances. At the competitive Capital City Invitational in Helena, she finished third, carding 89-92 — 181. At the Class AA state tournament in Billings, Mckenna rebounded on the second day of action to shoot 81, one of the top scores in the entire tournament. She finished tied for 12th place, 90-81— 171. It marked her second consecutive year of earning all-state honors. Not bad for someone who didn’t touch a club until she was 14. And for someone who is relatively new to the sport, she’s already developed perhaps the most important part. “You have good days and you have bad days. One of the things that golf helps me with is the mental side,” she says. “The mental side has really helped me outside of golf.”

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Brendan Buls

SCHOOL: Whitefish

CLASS: Sophomore

Growing up in the Flathead Valley, Brendan developed a love for golf after his father introduced him to the sport. They often played together at Buffalo Hill Golf Club and Whitefish Lake Golf Club, and pretty soon young Brendan was driving the ball close to 300 yards and showing the skills required to excel in the game. By this fall, the Whitefish sophomore was one of the top golfers in the Class A ranks. He shot a 79 at the Missoula Country Club during an invitational in August and became a leader in the tee box for the Bulldogs. At the state tournament in Hamilton, Brendan shot 82-80 and finished tied for 11th place. “It’s cool to be able to walk into something and have people not think much of you but you become an outstanding performer,” he says.

More Stars

All-State Selections

Football  –  Class AA

Jaxen Hashley, Glacier, Senior, Offensive Lineman / Defensive Lineman, 1st Team / 1st Team

Tadan Gilman, Glacier, Senior, Quarterback / Punter, 1st Team / 2nd Team

Jackson Pepe, Glacier, Junior, Punt Returner / Safety / Kick Returner, 1st Team / Honorable Mention

Jarrett Kessler, Glacier, Senior, Offensive Lineman / Defensive Lineman, Honorable Mention

Kellen Bemis, Glacier, Senior, Offensive Lineman / Defensive Lineman, 1st Team / Honorable Mention

Drew Turner, Glacier, Junior, Running Back, 1st Team

Sam Barber, Glacier, Senior, Safety, 1st Team

Scout Willcut, Glacier, Senior, Wide Receiver, 2nd Team

James Flannigan, Flathead, Senior, Wide Receiver, 2nd Team

Cameron Anderson, Glacier, Senior, Kicker, 2nd Team

Trae Vasquez, Flathead, Junior, Cornerback, 2nd Team

Lance Dannic, Glacier, Junior, Cornerback, Honorable Mention

Daniel Long, Flathead, Junior, Defensive Lineman, Honorable Mention

Tucker Nadau, Flathead, Junior, Linebacker, Honorable Mention

Jacques Eve, Flathead, Junior, Linebacker, Honorable Mention

Seth Adolph, Flathead, Senior, Running Back, Honorable Mention

Hunter Waters, Flathead, Junior, Offensive Lineman, Honorable Mention

Football  –  Class A

Zakary Karlin, Columbia Falls, Senior, Offensive Lineman

Braxton Reiten, Columbia Falls, Senior, Wide Receiver

Colton Bonny, Columbia Falls, Senior, Defensive Lineman

Trevor Hoerner, Columbia Falls, Senior, Linebacker

Sean Miller, Columbia Falls, Senior, Cornerback

Tyler Cote, Whitefish, Senior, Running Back

Cross Country

Ben Perrin, Flathead, Sophomore, Class AA 12th place

Elijah Boyd, Glacier, Junior, Class AA 13th place

Tevyn Stetson, Glacier, Senior, Class AA 14th place

Annie Hill, Glacier, Junior, Class AA 7th place

Kaitlin Wride, Flathead, Junior, Class AA 13th place

Kimberly Peacock, Columbia Falls, Freshman, Class A 2nd place

Ella Greenberg, Whitefish, Sophomore, Class A 12th place

Braya Hobson, Whitefish, Sophomore, Class A 13th place

Anya Young, Bigfork, Sophomore, Class B 2nd place

Alicia Kalenak, Bigfork, Sophomore, Class B 11th place

Volleyball  –  Class A

Kiara Burlage, Columbia Falls, Senior, Middle Hitter

Kaitlyn Casazza, Columbia Falls, Senior, Outside Hitter

Serena Hemmingson, Whitefish, Junior, Defensive Specialist

Volleyball  –  Class B

Abbie Fraley, Bigfork, Senior, Outside Hitter

Abby Ellison, Bigfork, Junior, Outside Hitter

Soccer  –  Class AA

Jordan Buxton, Flathead, Senior, Defender

Micah Bucy, Flathead, Senior, Goalkeeper

Rohit Tappeta, Glacier, Junior, Midfielder

Clara Vandenbosch, Flathead, Junior, Defender/Midfielder

Cadie Williams, Glacier, Junior, Midfielder

Soccer  –  Class A

Brandon Karberg, Columbia Falls, Senior, Goalkeeper

Paxton Fisher, Columbia Falls, Senior, Midfielder

Avery Hirsch, Whitefish, Junior, Midfielder

Julia Houston, Whitefish, Senior, Defender

Melissa Pollard, Whitefish, Senior, Defender

Hannah Gedlaman, Columbia Falls, Junior, Forward

Celeste Rehbein, Bigfork, Senior, Goalkeeper


Gracie Young, Whitefish, Sophomore, Class A 8th place

Holly Hileman, Whitefish, Senior, Class A 9th place

Hayley Hileman, Whitefish, Senior, Class A 11th place


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