2016 Sports Year in Review

The top sports storylines from 2016

By Dillon Tabish
Trevor Paro (3) hits a sign in the locker room before the game. Hot Springs defeated North Star 66-0 on Oct. 29, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Osweiler Earns Super Bowl Ring, Departs for Houston

Flathead graduate Brock Osweiler experienced quite a rollercoaster year in 2016. The Kalispell quarterback earned a Super Bowl ring after the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers in Santa Clara in February. A month later, the Broncos backup departed town for Houston, where he signed a four-year $72 million deal to become the franchise quarterback. Or at least that was the plan. In week 15, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien benched Osweiler after the starting QB threw his 16th interception. The coach said backup Tom Savage would start the team’s next game, leaving Osweiler’s future with the team uncertain.

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Glacier Caps Softball Season with Second-Place Trophy

Great Falls C.M. Russell managed just enough hits and just enough defense to unseat the defending champions 3-1 in the Class AA state finale at Kidsports Complex in May. In the last four years, the Wolfpack developed into a perennial state contender with a 71-27 overall record. All-state senior Ali Williams pitched every inning for the Pack from Thursday through Saturday, capping her remarkable career with 58 strikeouts in 42 innings, including 11 in the championship game. She finished her stellar senior season with 329 strikeouts in 182 innings.

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Perrin Rewrites Distance Records at State Track Meet

Six all-class records fell in a matter of two days at the state track meet in Missoula in May, including a pair of marks by the latest great Brave distance runner, senior Jake Perrin. Perrin set new records in the 1600-meter race and the 3200-meter race. The Glacier girls finished second as a team. Glacier’s Aaron Robinson won the state championship in the 300 hurdles, clocking 38.44, and the Wolfpack finished in fifth place as a team with 53 points. Robinson also ran a leg on the championship short relay team, along with Drew Turner, Ethan Larson and Scout Willcut.

Columbia Falls brought home several individual medals as well as two team trophies from the Class A meet in Bozeman.

Sage Wanner won the 3200. The Wildcats’ short relay team — Braxton Reiten, Logan Kolodejchuk, Stephen Lindsey and Tanner Dana — won gold with a time of 43.25. The long relay team took second. The Wildcats tallied 66 points for second.

Whitefish’s Luke May won his third state title in the javelin. On the girls side, the Columbia Falls Wildkats earned a second-place team trophy.

Logan Morley finished his stellar prep career with three more titles. The Bigfork senior swept the distance races, winning the 800 (1:57.14), 1600 (4:18) and 3200 (9:40.84) in dominating fashion. The victories propelled Bigfork to third place as a team with 47 points at the Class B state meet. On the girls side, Haile Norred ran on Bigfork’s championship long relay team with Jordan Nelson, Mattison McAnally and Alicia Kalenak.

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Flathead Valley Rugby Team Wins State Title

The Flathead Valley Black and Blue rugby team claimed the state championship in Missoula in June. The team, made up of local high school players, defeated the Missoula Mud Dogs 19-12 in the title match of the Montana Youth Rugby Association State Tournament.

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308 Holes: Jess Roper Completes 24 Hours of Golf

At midnight, under the glow of the full moon, Jess Roper teed off on the No. 1 hole at Village Greens Golf Course in Kalispell. Twenty-four hours later, at 11:59 p.m., Roper sank a putt that concluded a golf marathon of epic proportions. The Kalispell native and Village Greens club manager completed 308 holes of golf on June 21. Roper tallied 1,256 shots over more than 101,000 yards, playing from the white tees at Village Greens. Through nearly 18 rounds, which were delayed for 45 minutes amid pouring rain, he finished 57 over par, which equates to an average score of 73.35 per round, or roughly 3-over par. He hit two eagles and 42 birdies and had four rounds under 70. His best 18-hole score was 67, which he shot twice.

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Whitefish’s Heavirland Travels to Olympics as Rugby Reserve

Nicole Heavirland, a 21-year-old from Whitefish, was named a traveling reserve for Team USA at the Summer Olympics in Rio. Leading up to the Summer Games, Heavirland, a former Glacier High School standout multi-sport athlete, worked tirelessly while living in Chula Vista, California, along with 19 other women rugby players hoping to earn a spot on the Olympic Sevens team. Heavirland was the second-youngest women’s rugby player on Team USA. Playing the hooker position, along with scrum-half and fly-half, Heavirland earned praise as one of the nation’s rising stars for her dynamic abilities and power. She is also a top prospect for the Fifteens national team, which will be competing in the World Cup in coming years. She made her debut for the USA National Rugby Sevens squad in late March.

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State Cross Country Comes to Kalispell

There was plenty to be happy about on Oct. 22 as the skies cleared and the rain halted, ushering in a fine day for the first Montana cross country championship meet in Kalispell’s history.

The spirit of competition among more than 100 schools and 1,100 competitors from across Big Sky Country shined bright, as did a sports tradition with a rich history in this valley.

Flathead High School staff, including longtime coach Dan Hodge and activities director Bryce Wilson and others, spent hours putting together the course and preparing for the meet.

Bryn Morley accomplished a triumphant defense of her Class B cross country championship only five months after a stress fracture in her leg sidelined her from running for nearly two months.

In the Class AA boys field, Glacier had three runners in the top 16 and placed third with 101 points. Both teams ran with special inspiration this season. Flathead dedicated its season to Brad Treat, a former champion distance runner at Flathead in the 1990s who was killed by a grizzly bear while mountain biking this summer. Flathead made shirts that said, “Dedicated in Memory of Brad Treat.” Flathead head coach Paul Jorgensen shared stories with his team of Treat’s well-known graciousness and competitive spirit, and the team ran with him in mind all season.

In the Class A field, the Whitefish girls brought home a second-place team trophy. Kimberly Peacock, a freshman from Columbia Falls, held her own for three miles and placed second as an individual.

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Vasquez Completes Perfect Wrestling Season

Flathead sophomore Trae Vasquez completed an undefeated wrestling season in February in dominating fashion, pinning his opponent in under a minute in the 120-pound championship match at the state tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark in Billings. Vasquez capped a 41-0 season that will go down as one of the most dominant in recent history in Montana. The individual victory helped Flathead bring home a third-place team trophy, the program’s first top-three hardware since 2010.

The Eureka Lions capped their best season in 25 years with a second-place finish as a team in Class B/C.

A rejuvenated Polson Pirates squad placed second as a team in the Class A ranks, the program’s best finish in a decade.

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Northwest Montana’s Unprecedented Football Season

It was an unprecedented — and historic — moment for this corner of Big Sky Country. In the mammoth landscape of Montana, spanning 147,164 square miles, five football teams within 135 miles of each other all played for state championships in each of the respective classifications.

Glacier played in its third title game in four seasons and placed second, falling to Billings Senior and finishing an impressive 11-2 campaign.

Columbia Falls hosted its first title game since 1970. The Wildcats fell to Dillon 34-17. It was the best season for Columbia Falls in nearly 50 years as the team finished 10-2 and with a runner-up trophy. In a much-anticipated title game in a town yearning for its first football championship, more than 3,000 people persevered through snow flurries and a surprising turnabout as the best offense in Montana stalled in the cold mud of Satterthwaite Memorial Field.

An unforgettable football season in Eureka ended in an unforgettable way.

The Lions were trailing 28-25 with eight seconds remaining when quarterback Garrett Graves threw a 38-yard Hail Mary that ended up in the arms of teammate Austyn Sherwood, who scored the game-winning touchdown in the Class B championship in Missoula. The 31-28  victory over Loyola was Eureka’s first state championship.

In the Class C six-man title game, Hot Springs defeated Mon-Dak 54-20 last weekend in Plentywood. The victory completed an undefeated 13-0 season for the Savage Heat and marked the team’s second state title.

Senior Trevor Paro ended the last game of his remarkable prep career with 396 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns, along with seven tackles and a safety on defense. He finished his career with 135 touchdowns, the most in Montana history for any classification, according to the Montana High School Association.

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Columbia Falls Claims Second Volleyball Title

Back to back. The Columbia Falls Wildkats successfully defended their Class A volleyball title, defeating Billings Central 22-25, 25-20, 25-16, 25-17 in November at the state volleyball tournament in Bozeman. Columbia Falls rallied back after dropping the first set and capped another milestone season with an undefeated 20-0 record.

At the Class AA tournament, Glacier (20-10) placed third.

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First-Time Pass Holder Shatters Vertical Feet Record

Last winter, Ken Jones, 51, got back on skis for the first time in 24 years after moving to Whitefish from Nebraska. On a whim, Jones decided to see how many vertical feet he could pile up, riding a pair of used Dynastar skis he bought at a local swap meet. When the season ended on April 10 — his birthday, no less — he had tallied 8,058,144 vertical feet, or 1,526.16 miles. It crushed the previous record of 5.61 million feet, set by Tony Cooper in 2013. To accomplish the herculean task, Jones skied 122 of the 128 days the resort was open, averaging 30 runs per day from first to last chair.

Jones is pursuing an audacious goal again this winter: beating last year’s record.

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Bigfork Boys, Columbia Falls Girls Finish Second in Basketball

The Choteau Bulldogs defeated the Bigfork Vikings 67-59 in the Class B state basketball championship game in Butte in March. The Vikes ended another remarkable season with a 24-2 record.

The Columbia Falls girls ended just one win shy of the state title. Butte Central edged the Wildkats to win the Class A title. The Kats finished 21-3.

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