These Kids Can Play

Glacier's senior-less softball team is talented and deep, and at the season's halfway point the Wolfpack believe they can compete with anyone in the state

By Andy Viano
Glacier's Sammie Labrum connects with a pitch during the crosstown softball game on April 16, 2019. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

There were plenty of reasons to believe the Glacier High School softball team would be improved this spring.

This is year three of the rebuilding project that began after the best two-year run in school history when the Wolfpack won a state title (2015) and finished runner-up the following year. Glacier missed the state tournament in 2017 for just the third time in the school’s 11-year history, then hired a new head coach after the season.

Abby Connolly, a 2010 Glacier grad and the first alum to serve as the head coach of any Wolfpack sports team, guided her squad to a 13-9 record and state tournament trip in 2018, and while that team did include a couple of valuable seniors including all-state third baseman Alivia Atlee, the core was a quartet of freshmen and sophomores that landed on either the all-conference or all-state teams.

All signs, though, pointed to 2020 as the year of the Wolfpack. The 2019 team does not have a single senior and while the lineup is deep and the pitching is experienced, it would have surprised no one if Glacier’s underclassmen needed another spring of seasoning.

Halfway through the season, however, it appears this gang of wolf pups may have arrived ahead of schedule. Glacier is 7-3 and bashing opposing pitchers at cartoonish rates, averaging a double take inducing 14.6 runs per game, and according to their coach has not even hit their stride yet.

“I expect us to figure it out pretty much any game now,” Connolly said. “I think it’s about time, and this is usually when it happens for teams to really have a breakout game.”

The nature of spring sports in Montana means most teams are forced to figure it out as they go, with the typical preseason spent indoors and most of the first half of the year spent dodging raindrops and snowflakes. That bond-on-the-fly requirement might be one of the Wolfpack’s advantages, however, since the bulk of the young roster spent years playing together on the successful Montana Lady Renegades club team and can bank on those experiences even as players from different fall and winter sports teams get reacquainted through the spring’s first month.

“We’ve been together since we were really little,” junior pitcher Sage Vanterpool said. “We’ve been playing together since we were like 12, all of us … we’re super close.”

Vanterpool is in her second year as Glacier’s primary option in the circle and is seeking a better ending to her season than a year ago, when a fluke injury warming up for the state tournament knocked her out of action before the games even began. Forced to rely on a trio of freshman pitchers, the Wolfpack were quickly bounced out of the tourney.

Vanterpool was named to the All-Western AA conference second team as a sophomore and she’s picked up right where she left off this year, going 5-2 in nine starts with a 4.69 ERA. She has allowed only 41 hits in 40.1 innings, and her 48 strikeouts are the most in the state.

“I never want to give up anything,” she said. “I always went to compete at my best, just throw hard all the time.”

On the occasions when Vanterpool does get touched for a run or two she can take out her frustrations with the bat as a key piece of the state’s best offense. Glacier is batting .368 as a team this year with 30 extra-base hits in just 10 games, and Vanterpool has been just as good at the plate as in the circle, batting .429 with two doubles and three home runs. The returning all-state trio of Kynzie Mohl, Addie Labrum and Sophie Smith have played mostly to form as well, but the team’s two most jaw-dropping stat lines belong to sophomore Emma Anderson, who is batting .462 and has packed two doubles, two home runs and five walks into just 19 plate appearances, and freshman Sammie Labrum, who has played in all 10 games and is hitting .432 with three doubles and a pair of triples.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to call pitches against our lineup,” Connolly said. “They’re pretty strong.”

Nevertheless, Glacier’s young coach still sees room for growth. She made a handful of lineup tweaks last week, just before the Wolfpack clobbered crosstown rival Flathead in both halves of a doubleheader, and would like to see more consistency from her team defensively, where Glacier has committed 18 errors. The coach’s high standard is something her players appreciate, and something different, they say, from Connolly’s first year in the head job.

“She makes us work a lot harder than we did last year, which is good,” Mohl said. “She’s become a lot more competitive, which we really like.”

Connolly, for her part, says she’s more confident going through a season for the second time, and she also has the benefit of working with a group of kids she has been coaching since they first arrived in high school.

“It certainly helps,” Connolly said of her relationship with her players. “From a sports psychology standpoint, knowing what has made them tick but also having the opportunity to see them grow and really get to appreciate the growth a lot of them have made as players and as students … that’s been really a neat experience.”

Glacier went 4-2 through the first half of its Western AA schedule, dropping only a 5-4 game at Helena High and a five-error 8-6 decision at home against Missoula Sentinel. The back half of the Wolfpack’s schedule begins in Missoula on April 25 with games against Sentinel and Big Sky.

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