Sports

Best of Preps — Fall 2019

Recognizing the top high school athletes from throughout Flathead County

Josie WINDAUER

SCHOOL: Columbia Falls

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Striker

Among the most prolific scorers in Montana history, Josie set the Columbia Falls single-season goal scoring record this season after just missing the mark as a junior. The University of Montana-bound striker tallied 33 goals for the 2019 Wildkats, three more than Danielle Delventhal did in 2011, and found the back of the net 82 times — fifth all-time in the state — in a varsity career that started with a single goal in her freshman season. Josie and the Wildkats lost to eventual state champion Laurel in the Class A state semifinals but were the only team to beat the Locomotives all year, winning 2-1 in September, and will still count 2019 as a resounding success. “Everyone was connected, everyone got along, and everyone knew each other so it was just really fun. Every practice we had fun and on every road trip we had fun. It was really special.”

Skyleigh THOMPSON

SCHOOL: Flathead

CLASS: Junior

POSITION: Striker

It wasn’t like a big season from the Flathead junior was a surprise, but running away with the state scoring title with 24 goals, 11 assists and 59 points (all best in Class AA) still qualifies as at least a small eyebrow-raiser. Skyleigh earned the Western AA Most Valuable Player award and her third straight all-state nod this year, and after the season she reached another career landmark by inking a scholarship offer to play at the University of Montana beginning in 2021. The Bravettes had a breakout 2018 before sputtering a bit this fall, but Skyleigh believes she and her teammates are on the verge of another major breakthrough in 2020 when Flathead returns every single goal scorer from the 2019 squad. “Team-wise, we’d like to take state, and I know that’s realistic with the team that we had this year and just building onto it.”

Sophia SMITH

SCHOOL: Glacier

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Goalkeeper

The Wolfpack enjoyed their best season ever on the pitch this fall, winning the Western AA conference title for the first time in school history, and it was Glacier’s ability to suppress scoring that made it happen. In 14 regular-season matches, Sophia posted five shutouts and the Wolfpack allowed just 13 total goals. Glacier’s run continued in the postseason with a pair of wins before eventual state champion Billings West edged the Wolfpack in the semifinals. Sophia and the Wolfpack won just two games in 2018, but the team around her this fall was a refreshing change regardless of the wins and losses. “I’m still very happy, just compared to how we did last year and our mind shift. I wish we could have gotten to the last game of the season, but ultimately I couldn’t be happier. The way we got there, I’m so proud of us.”

Casey SCHNEIDER, Sam MENICKE, Ian LACEY and Joseph HOUSTON

SCHOOL: Whitefish

CLASS: Seniors

The four Bulldogs co-captains were sophomores the last time they lost a match, and the two-year unbeaten streak probably does not go far enough in illustrating the two-time state champions’ dominance. Whitefish was on another level this year, outscoring their opponents 102-9 in 15 games, and all four captains were named all-state after the season. Casey was the finisher, leading the state in goals (18), assists (16) and points (52); Sam was the connector in the middle and a dangerous scorer himself (17 goals, 11 assists); Joseph was “a machine” on the back line; and Ian’s 15 goals included the team’s biggest one of the season just minutes into Whitefish’s title-match victory in Laurel. No soccer program has more state titles than the Bulldogs’ seven, and Casey and his teammates are confident the tradition won’t end with their class. “I was inspired (by other Whitefish teams), and we hope to inspire.”


FOOTBALL

Tanner RUSSELL

SCHOOL: Flathead

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Defensive End/Running Back

An all-state defensive end for the Flathead team that reached the Class AA state championship game in 2018, Tanner was prepared to reprise that role as a senior, but after a productive spring on the rugby pitch he asked his coaches to give him a chance to run the football, something they resisted before injuries forced their hand. Tanner ended up leading the Braves in rushing with 799 yards and still repeated as an all-state end on the defensive side. After the season, Tanner was nominated for the U.S. Naval Academy by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and plans on eventually following his father into the Marine Corps. Before that, the senior will turn his focus toward a state wrestling title, although he will miss his favorite part of life on the gridiron. “Hitting the quarterback’s really fun. It just gets your team going whenever you get a big hit. It creates energy.”

Hank NUCE

SCHOOL: Glacier

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Defensive Lineman

A transplant from a small town in Maine, Hank took a bit to get acclimated to life at a big high school with a thriving football program, but once he did he turned into one of the state’s most dominant linemen. Hank took home the 2019 Western AA Defensive Most Valuable Player Award after leading Glacier with 73 tackles, a whopping 16 1/2 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Hank and the Wolfpack won a state playoff game this season and the senior has no shortage of suitors at the next level, with a pair of Division I offers already on the table. It’s a long way for a shy kid from a small town to come, something he credits his coaches and teammates for helping make happen. “This team, everyone just loves each other. I’ve been a part of a lot of sports teams and I’ve never had a bond like this.”

Bradly NIEVES

SCHOOL: Columbia Falls

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Outside Linebacker/Wide Receiver

Bradly sometimes watches tape of the Wildcats running out the clock and winning the 2017 state championship, a happy memory no doubt used to help power through the 2019 season when rebuilding Columbia Falls won just two games. Bradly nonetheless earned all-state honors at linebacker for the second year in a row, and added a second team all-conference nod at wide receiver after leading the team in receptions (33), yards (437) and touchdowns (five). Unfortunately, the season also ended with a major knee injury that will cost him his senior seasons in basketball and track. But even with all the adversity this fall, he says he’ll look back on 2019 fondly. “Regardless of our record this year, I had a blast with those guys. We still had the time of our lives; you’re playing football with some of your best friends.”

Rob KAISER

SCHOOL: Bigfork

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Offensive Lineman/Defensive End

There were a lot of changes for Rob’s senior season in Bigfork, with a new coaching staff in place and an almost entirely new roster on the field. The Vikings went from nine senior starters in 2018 to just three this season, with as many as eight sophomores joining the regular lineup. The turnover knocked Bigfork out of the top spot in the conference but didn’t keep the Vikings from the playoffs, where they nearly sprung an upset of Red Lodge in the first round. Still, it was not a season without highlights for Rob, who racked up eight tackles for loss on defense and realized a big man’s dream when he blocked a punt and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown against Anaconda this season. “There wasn’t a single person not cheering. I had the coaches jumping up and down, and the whole crowd went wild.”

Logan DROWN

SCHOOL: Whitefish

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Offensive Lineman/Inside Linebacker

One of only two Flathead Valley football players to earn all-state honors at two different positions this year (Glacier’s Drew Deck is the other), Logan was an integral part of a Whitefish team that qualified for the state playoffs for the second consecutive season. That’s a long way from where the Bulldogs were when Logan first broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore in 2017, when Whitefish won just one game. The team’s upward trajectory will likely continue next season with a solid young core in place, and credit for any future success should fall at the feet of Logan and his classmates, who persevered through one trying season and now leave a strong foundation behind. “Being a senior’s way different than a junior. Everyone looks up to you to see how you react when it’s late in the season. I’m excited to see how those younger kids step up.”


CROSS COUNTRY

Josephine VARDELL

SCHOOL: Whitefish

CLASS: Senior

STATE MEET (5K): 6th place, 20:03.32

The Whitefish girls have put together one of the more consistent four-year stretches in the state during Josephine’s career, finishing second as a team in 2016 and 2018, and third this season (the Bulldogs were fourth in 2017). As a senior, Josephine added an individual award for the first time in her career, finishing sixth at a frigid and snowy state meet in Great Falls, narrowly missing the personal best time of 20:01.20 she ran earlier this year in Cut Bank despite the less-than-ideal conditions. Josephine also topped the Bulldogs lineup at state, finishing ahead of teammate and classmate Jessica Henson, who just missed out on an all-state placement and consistently ran stride-for-stride with her teammate throughout their years together. “I definitely appreciated running with Jessica. We kind of helped each other compete all four years (in high school) and in middle school, too.”

Tori NOLAND-GILLESPIE

SCHOOL: Flathead

CLASS: Junior

STATE MEET (5K): 15th place, 19:16.80

Tori has been among the state’s fastest distance runners since her freshman year, but at the start of the 2019 campaign she found herself looking up at a couple of hotshot young teammates who challenged her place at the top of the Bravettes lineup. By the end of the year, though, Tori was back in the lead spot and claimed her second straight all-state finish with her fastest 5K of the season at state. The intra-squad competition will get even tougher next year, with at least one more speedy freshman joining the fray, but it also means Flathead might be in position to bring home a state trophy for the first time in Tori’s four-year career. “I usually don’t get too focused on running in the summer, but my senior year I want to come out strong and help carry our young team with a lot of potential.”

Simon HILL

SCHOOL: Glacier

CLASS: Senior

STATE MEET (5K): 1st place, 15:50.69

One year after finishing as the state runner-up, Simon completed his climb to the top of Class AA and became the first boy from Glacier High to win a state title. The perpetually positive senior finished 26th in the state as a freshman and 10th as a sophomore, steadily climbing the ranks before reaching his ultimate goal this year by overtaking Missoula Hellgate’s Ian Curtis in the final 50 meters in Great Falls. After the race, Simon quickly put the win in perspective. “Winning is awesome, but then six weeks after you win you always come back to, ‘It happened, but now you’ve got to stay with it.’ You’ve always got to be looking down the road, chasing what you want next.” Next up for Simon is the quest for a state title or two during the spring track season, then a promising collegiate career at the University of Montana.


VOLLEYBALL

Kiera BROWN

SCHOOL: Columbia Falls

CLASS: Senior

POSITION: Middle Blocker

As an eighth-grader at tiny Deer Park School, the school decided to start a volleyball team and Kiera was among the first recruits. Five years later, she is bound for a college career at the University of Northwestern (St. Paul, Minnesota) after leading Columbia Falls to back-to-back state tournaments. Kiera earned all-state laurels this season after leading the Wildkats with 44 blocks and putting down 150 kills, surpassing the century mark for the second year in a row. Kiera began her volleyball career at Deer Park the same year the Wildkats won the first of back-to-back state championships, and those title-winning teams helped ignite Kiera’s now-blossoming love of the sport. “It was really cool because I was like, ‘Wow, I’m part of that same program.’ I looked up to those girls in eighth grade, just hearing about them, so it was cool to be part of that same thing.”


GOLF

Cameron KAHLE

SCHOOL: Whitefish

CLASS: Junior

STATE TOURNAMENT: 1st place (79-77—156)

It would be hard to write a script more dramatic than the one that actually played out for Cameron at the Class A state tournament in Laurel. The 2018 runner up was out of contention at the turn but steadied enough to pull within three shots of the leader with two to play. He birdied the 17th to edge closer and went to the par-5 18th with the faintest glimmer of hope before reaching the green in two and calmly draining a 20-foot eagle putt to complete the comeback. “After I walked off the green (at 18), I looked at my parents and all my teammates were cheering for me. That was a cool moment.” Cameron won the state title on the third playoff hole and now has his sights set on the dual goals of winning a second state title and earning a scholarship to play major college golf.


More Stars

Cross Country

BOYS
Aidan Jarvis, Columbia Falls, Jr., Class A 4th Place
James Role, Columbia Falls, Jr., Class A 7th Place
James Petersen, Columbia Falls, So., Class A 11th Place

GIRLS
Lara Erickson, Columbia Falls, Jr., Class A 12th Place

Football

CLASS AA
Drew Deck, Glacier, Sr., First Team All-State WR and PR
Luke Bilau, Glacier, So., Second Team All-State TE
Maddoxx Fucci, Glacier, Sr., Second Team All-State OT
Max Anderson, Flathead, Sr., Second Team All-State C
Chance Sheldon-Allen, Flathead, Sr., Second Team All-State CB

CLASS A
Devin Beale, Whitefish, Sr., All-State RB
Ian Calaway, Whitefish, Sr., All-State TE
Camren Ross, Whitefish, Jr., Second Team All-Conference DE
Bodie Smith, Whitefish, So., Second Team All-Conference FS
Jaxsen Schlauch, Whitefish, So., Second Team All-Conference CB
Niels Getts, Columbia Falls, Jr., First Team All-Conference K
Isaac Balla, Columbia Falls, Jr., Second Team All-Conference ILB
Mason Peters, Columbia Falls, So., Second Team All-Conference P

CLASS B
Tanner Stone, Bigfork, So., First Team All-Conference K
Levi Taylor, Bigfork, So., Second Team All-Conference ATH and LB
David Wickwire, Bigfork, Sr., Second Team All-Conference OL

Golf

BOYS
Tyler Avery, Glacier, Fr., Class AA 3rd
Andrew Brozek, Whitefish, Sr., Class A 13th

GIRLS
Marcella Mercer, Flathead, Jr., Class AA 2nd
Jillian Wynne, Flathead, So., Class AA 7th
Megan Archibald, Whitefish, Sr., Class A 11th

Soccer

CLASS AA — BOYS
Diego Mendoza, Glacier, Jr., All-State
Braden Nitschelm, Glacier, Jr., All-State
Eli Mildren, Glacier, So., All-Conference
Micah Heil, Glacier, Sr., All-Conference
Camas Rinehart, Flathead, Sr., All-Conference
Jalen Hawes, Flathead, Sr., All-Conference

CLASS AA — GIRLS
Kenzie Williams, Glacier, Jr., All-State
Madison Becker, Glacier, Jr., All-State
Micah Hickethier, Glacier, Sr., All-Conference
Lily Tanko, Flathead, So., All-Conference

CLASS A — BOYS
Ian Grover, Whitefish, Jr., All-State
Brandon Mendoza, Whitefish, Jr., All-State
Joshua Gunderson, Whitefish, Jr., All-State
Gabe Menicke, Whitefish, So., All-Conference
Story Stemborski, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-State
Niels Getts, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-Conference

CLASS A — GIRLS
Anna Cook, Whitefish, Sr., All-State
Josie Schneider, Whitefish, So., All-State
Emma Barron, Whitefish, So., All-State
Sophie Olson, Whitefish, So., All-State
Sami Galbraith, Whitefish, Jr., All-Conference
Madeline Robison, Columbia Falls, So., All-State
Flora Jarvis, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-State
Lexi Purcell, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-State
LaKia Hill, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-Conference

Volleyball

CLASS AA
Aubrie Rademacher, Glacier, Sr., Second Team All-Conference
Kaylee Fritz, Glacier, Jr., Second Team All-Conference
Emma Anderson, Glacier, Jr., Second Team All-Conference
Julia Burden, Flathead, Sr., Second Team All-Conference
Kaitlyn Kalenga, Flathead, Sr., Second Team All-Conference

CLASS A
Kaiah Moore, Whitefish, Sr., All-State
Luci Ridgeway, Whitefish, Sr., First Team All-Conference
Angellica Street, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-State
Madysen Hoerner, Columbia Falls, Jr., First Team All-Conference
Dillen Hoerner, Columbia Falls, Jr., Second Team All-Conference
Lauren Falkner, Columbia Falls, Jr., Second Team All-Conference

If you enjoy stories like this one, please consider joining the Flathead Beacon Editor’s Club. For as little as $5 per month, Editor’s Club members support independent local journalism and earn a pipeline to Beacon journalists. Members also gain access to www.beaconeditorsclub.com, where they will find exclusive content like deep dives into our biggest stories and a behind-the-scenes look at our newsroom.