Sports

Early Returns

The first three weeks of the prep sports season have produced pleasant surprises, dominating performances and plenty of storylines

With the chainsaws humming on an October night in 2016, the Libby Loggers snapped a two-year losing streak with a win over a program now playing 8-man football.

Three years later, the Loggers, then in Class B and now in Class A, are 3-0, the runaway leaders of the Northwest A conference and maybe, just maybe, contenders for the school’s first state title since 1967.

There is still a long way to go in the football season, but there’s little not to like about this year’s Loggers, who have the same longtime coach, Neil Fuller, at the helm as when they ended their brutal slide against Troy three seasons ago. The Loggers shut out Whitefish 31-0 on the road to open 2019, throttled Browning 35-12 on Sept. 6 and kicked off their home season, to the whir of chainsaws punctuating every score, with a 55-6 rout of Ronan one week later.

Libby just missed the Class A playoffs last season despite going 4-1 in conference play and is not a lock for the postseason this year either, but the Loggers would secure a berth with wins over rebuilding Columbia Falls on Sept. 20 and at fellow upstart Polson the following Friday. The Pirates and first-year coach Kaden Glinsmann pulled the stunner of the season in week one when they beat Northwest A bully Columbia Falls 20-6, a year after going winless in all of 2018, but fell to Whitefish in their next game. The Wildcats, who did not lose a conference game in 2017 or 2018, are just 1-2 in league play this season after a 17-14 loss to rival Whitefish in week three.

The topsy-turvy Northwest A is matched only by the Western AA, where defending state runner-up Flathead is 0-3 and a trio of teams who finished seventh or worse in the state — Butte, Helena Capital and Missoula Sentinel — are 3-0. The Braves lost their quarterback, record-setting running back and top wide receiver from 2018, and in the early going the offense has struggled, scoring just seven total points. Scoring has not been a problem for crosstown rival Glacier, but the Wolfpack have won just once in three tries despite averaging 38.3 points per game.

SOCCER

Some parts of the early soccer season have been predictable. Whitefish’s boys are undefeated, again. Columbia Falls superstar Josie Windauer is scoring goals at an astonishing pace, again. But the Glacier girls undefeated and the Bigfork boys with a pair of early wins? That’s hardly up to expectations.

The Wolfpack are 4-0-1, atop the Western AA, and have doubled their win total from last year. Glacier’s seasoned roster is coming off a weekend sweep of the two Helena schools, including a 1-0 shutout of Helena High on Sept. 14. The lone blemish on Glacier’s record is a season-opening tie with Missoula Hellgate, the conference’s only other unbeaten team.

The Vikings boys, meanwhile, won twice in their first three matches and are in contention for a playoff berth just three years after having to forfeit an entire season due to low turnout. Bigfork has scored just three fewer goals through four matches (17) than all of last year and looks to battle rebuilding Polson for the Northern A conference’s third and final playoff spot.

CROSS COUNTRY

All five of the Flathead Valley’s cross country teams were at Rebecca Farm on Sept. 14 for the Flathead Invitational, and the defending state champion Columbia Falls boys proved once again they are the team to beat in Class A.

The Wildcats came in second behind Class AA Missoula Sentinel in the overall standings but put four runners in the top 15, led by resurgent junior Aidan Jarvis in third. In the same race, Glacier sophomore Sam Ells crossed in seventh and freshman teammate Jeff Lillard was 17th for the young Wolfpack, who finished third as a team despite competing without standout senior Simon Hill.

Flathead’s girls, meanwhile, narrowly missed out on the team title at the same event, falling three points short of Sentinel. The Bravettes were also led by a pair of youngsters, with freshmen Madelaine Jellison and Neila Lyngholm in sixth and seventh, respectively.

VOLLEYBALL

It takes a little while for the fall’s lone indoor season to kick into gear, but Columbia Falls made its mark on opening weekend and has not looked back since.

The Wildkats won the Western A Tip-Off Tournament in Butte to open the season, taking down Corvallis in the championship match, and have rattled off four regular season wins in the weeks since, including three conference victories. In Class AA, Glacier had an impressive tournament showing of its own last weekend, reaching the championship bracket at the Great Falls Invitational.

GOLF

Cooler temperatures mean the season on the links is just three weeks from wrapping up, and the valley’s two most experienced title contenders — Flathead’s Marcella Mercer and Whitefish’s Cameron Kahle — are rounding into form.

Mercer came from behind to win the Butte Invitational on Sept. 12, while Kahle shot a 70 at Cabinet View Golf Club in Libby one day later two win by six strokes. Both the Class A and AA state tournaments are scheduled for Oct. 3-4.

andy@flatheadbeacon.com

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