It took 13 seasons to get there, but the feeling Tuesday night was worth the wait.
The Glacier Wolfpack (9-3-1) beat defending league champion Missoula Big Sky 3-1 on senior night at Glacier High School, completing a worst-to-first turnaround and locking up the first Western AA conference title in school history.
The Wolfpack had to wait for around for two hours after their game finished to hear the result from Missoula Hellgate’s Tuesday night match against Helena High. When that game went final as a 0-0 tie, Glacier’s four-point cushion with one match to go in the season made them un-catchable and a conference champion for the first time. Eighth-year coach Brenden Byrd sent his players the news in a group text, punctuating it with “conference champs, baby!”
“The girls lost their minds,” he said. “It’s one of those things, that you’re hanging on (to the top spot in the standings) and now no one can catch us.”
Glacier had never finished higher than third in the conference before this season, and the Wolfpack were coming off a dismal 2-9-1 campaign and last-place finish in 2018. This year’s team has virtually the same roster as the one from a year ago, and Byrd credited his players with the turnaround.
“It’s the girls, 100 percent,” Byrd said. “The camaraderie, their cohesiveness together; the girls are just playing for one another. That’s our goal is team first and every single game they put it on the line for each other.”
The Woflpack started hot out of the gate this season, completing the first half of the Western AA schedule without a loss (7-0-1), then held off a surging Big Sky and fading Hellgate down the stretch. The Eagles (6-3-4) came into Tuesday’s contest 4-0-1 in their last five games and in third place in the conference. They helped Glacier on Oct. 10, beating then-league leading Hellgate 1-0, but were stymied for the second time this year by the Wolfpack after falling 2-1 on Sept. 19 in Missoula.
In Tuesday’s match, senior Alma Patrick put Glacier on the board in the 4th minute, sending home an Emily Cleveland pass for her fifth goal of the year. After Big Sky tied things up in the 15th minute, Madison Becker delivered the game winner just before halftime, and Becker added an insurance goal in the second half.
Becker, a junior, is Glacier’s leading scorer this year with 13 goals and five assists, and her 31 points are third most in the Western AA this year. Much of the credit for Glacier’s resurgence, though, can be placed on the back line. The Wolfpack have allowed only 12 goals in 13 matches.
“I think our offense answers to our defense,” Byrd said. “If they don’t allow goals, you let our offense hang around and they put goals away. I think they answer to each other and it’s fun to watch.”
The Wolfpack have one remaining regular season match, Thursday, Oct. 17 at Missoula Sentinel, before beginning the postseason.
Glacier will host Butte (0-12-1) in a divisional play-in match on Oct. 22 at 3:30 p.m., at a to-be-determined location in Kalispell. If they win that contest, the Wolfpack will have the top seed and home field advantage throughout the eight-team Class AA state tournament, which will begin on Saturday, Oct. 26. They will play all of their state playoff games at Legends Stadium.