Sports

2019 Sports Year in Review

A handful of vaunted coaches walked away, a pair of Wildkats broke lofty records, and one of Kalispell’s greatest athletes called it a career

Quartet of Distinguished Coaches Step Away

The men and women who coach high school sports do it for all sorts of different reasons — to advance their careers, to serve their communities, to scratch their competitive itch or to impact young people in a meaningful way, among others — and when they’re successful, both in competition and in shaping their athletes’ lives, they can leave an indelible mark on their communities.

That’s something four of Flathead Valley’s most prominent coaches certainly did, in their own way, during tenures that for one reason or another came to an end in 2019.

Two football coaches, Flathead’s Kyle Samson and Bigfork’s Todd Emslie, ended their runs last year. Samson came from the college ranks before arriving in Kalispell and returned to the Frontier Conference by taking a job as the offensive coordinator at Montana Tech in January after having revitalized a Braves football program that had endured a lengthy slump through much of the past decade. Samson and the Braves went to the Class AA state championship game in 2018, losing in what would be his final game as Flathead’s coach.

Emslie, meanwhile, took his program to unprecedented heights during 16 seasons as the Vikings head coach. The 54-year-old Wisconsin native retired in January after guiding Bigfork to the Class B semifinals in 2018. Emslie actually spent two stints in charge at Bigfork, first from 1999-2004 and again from 2009-18, and his 2010 team won the Class B state championship, the only title in school history. Emslie won more than 100 games as Bigfork’s head coach.

In the spring, Bigfork lost another coach when boys basketball mentor Sam Tudor left his job after five seasons, going out on top with back-to-back Class B state titles. Tudor inherited a storied program when he took over and made it even better, going 111-14 as head coach. Tudor, who was 42 when he resigned, remains an English teacher at Bigfork and cited the time commitment required and stress endured on the job as among the reasons he walked away.

Perhaps the most successful coach of the group, however, retired in the early summer. Whitefish’s Derek Schulz quietly built a track and field dynasty during 24 years as a head coach. His Bulldogs boys won seven state championships during his tenure, and Schulz took over the girls program in 2006, ultimately guiding them to a state title in 2019, the school’s first in 35 years. Schulz, a Flathead High School graduate and former college baseball player, coached all three of his daughters — Marlow, Allie and Lauren — to individual state titles during his career. He is now retired from both coaching and teaching.

Brock Osweiler (17) follows Peyton Manning (18) onto the field for warm-ups. The Denver Broncos beat the Tennessee Titans 51-28 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Brock Osweiler Retires from NFL

Kalispell’s 6-foot-7 athletic marvel was talented to enough to earn a basketball scholarship offer to Gonzaga and a football scholarship to Arizona State, where he parlayed an outstanding season for the Sun Devils into a second-round selection in the 2012 NFL draft, and a memorable seven-year career as a quarterback and Super Bowl champion.

Osweiler ranks among the greatest athletes ever to come out of Kalispell, graduating a semester early from Flathead High School in 2008 and eschewing the hardwood for a chance to play for Dennis Erickson and Arizona State. Osweiler’s NFL career began with the Denver Broncos, and when legendary signal-caller Peyton Manning was injured late in the 2015 season, Osweiler took control and led the Broncos to a 5-2 record in seven games. Manning returned for the playoffs and would lead Denver to a 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.

Osweiler signed a lucrative contract with the Houston Texans that offseason, a deal that paid him a guaranteed $37 million, but the Texans sent Osweiler to the Cleveland Browns after just one year. He played for the Broncos again in 2017 and later with the Miami Dolphins in 2018.

Casey Schneider of the Whitefish Bulldogs takes a shot at the goal during Class A semifinals match against the Billings Central Rams at Smith Fields in Whitefish on Oct. 26, 2019. The Bulldogs won 11-0. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Whitefish Soccer Perfect Again

One year after returning the Bulldogs’ storied program to the top of Class A boys soccer, Whitefish’s senior-laden team did it again in completely dominating fashion.

In 2019, the Bulldogs won every match they played and only two of those by fewer than four goals, outscoring their opponents 102-9 in 15 games and bashing three playoff opponents by a combined 25-2. Whitefish will enter the 2020 season with a 17-match winning streak and 30-match unbeaten streak both intact.

The 2020 team will be without a host of all-state seniors, however, the bulk of whom played in the state championship match three times in their careers and put up gaudy point totals, particularly in the last two seasons. Casey Schneider led the state in goals, assists and points as a senior, and classmates Sam Menicke and Ian Lacey finished not far behind.

Senior Anders Epperly runs the court during Bigfork High School’s game against St. Ignatius on Jan. 18, 2019. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Bigfork Hoops Goes Back-to-Back

A little farther south, the Flathead Valley’s other modern powerhouse also came home with a second consecutive state championship, although the Bigfork Vikings had to battle quite a bit more to get there.

One season after going undefeated, Bigfork lost twice during the 2018-19 regular season and trailed Missoula Loyola by double-digits in the first quarter of the 2019 state championship game. But the Vikings fought back, clawing within six points at halftime and rattling off a 17-2 run at the end of the third quarter to zoom into the lead. Bigfork held on from the free throw line in the closing minutes to win 47-43 and claim the Class B state title for the third time in six seasons.

The large senior class that propelled the Vikings to a pair of titles included point guard Anders Epperly, who set the state’s career assist record during his senior year, Logan Gilliard, Randy Stultz and twins Colton and Clayton Reichenbach.

Glacier High School cross country runner Simon Hill at practice at Glacier High School on Oct. 24, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Cross Country Stars Go the Distance

The Flathead Valley’s long tradition of decorated distance runners grew in 2019, with a pair of Kalispell harriers atop the sport and the Columbia Falls boys winning a team title for the second time in as many years.

The year began with Flathead’s Ben Perrin, who won the 2018 Class AA state cross country championship, adding Montana’s most prestigious award to his resume when he was named the state’s Gatorade Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year. Not long after, Perrin committed to run at Montana State University — joining both of his older brothers as Division I athletes — and he wrapped up his prep career with state titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters at the state track meet in Kalispell.

Five months later, Glacier’s Simon Hill became just the second Wolfpack runner to win a state cross country title, holding off a fierce challenge in the final few meters to cross the line first. Hill will run at the University of Montana beginning next fall.

At the same state cross country meet in Great Falls, the Columbia Falls boys again proved distance running is a team sport, taking home a second straight Class A state championship without placing a runner at the top of the podium. Junior Aidan Jarvis was fourth, but the Wildcats won the title on the strength of the four runners behind him, all of whom crossed in the top 22.

Angellica Street of Columbia Falls, pictured on May 15, 2019, is among the top javelin throwers in the nation, with the fourth-longest throw out of all female high school athletes in the country. She claimed the 2018 state javelin title. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Two Wildkats Make History

Columbia Falls’ Angellica Street and Josie Windauer, members of the same class of 2021 but starring in different sports in different seasons, both made headlines for record-breaking performances in 2019.

Street’s junior season in track and field culminated with an unsurprising second straight state championship in the javelin, but the year was most notable for the enormous strides she took from 2018 to 2019. Street unleashed a heave of 158 feet, 8 inches on May 9 at Glacier High School, the longest throw ever by a Montana girl in the years since the javelin was redesigned in 2007. It was also 2019’s longest throw in the country by a high school junior. Street will be back in 2020 to defend her titles and attempt to shatter her lofty record.

Not to be outdone, soccer star Windauer found the back of the net 33 times during a conference title-winning 2019 season for Columbia Falls, breaking the school record. Windauer tallied 81 goals in her last three varsity seasons and will continue her career at the University of Montana next fall.

Makena Morley poses on the Bigfork High School Track on July 3, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Makena Morley an All-American Again

The Bigfork High School graduate’s collegiate cross country career came to an end in 2018, but in her second-to-last season on the track the University of Colorado distance star kept adding to her impressive list of accomplishments.

Morley earned a couple of All-America finishes at the 2019 NCAA Division I indoor meet in March, and snared two more All-America placements at the outdoor meet three months later. Morley is now a seven-time college All-American and enters the 2020 track and field season among the top-rated runners in the country in the 5K and 10K.

The Eureka Lions celebrate their win against the Red Lodge Rams in the Class B semifinal at Lincoln County High School on Nov. 16, 2019. The Lions beat the Rams 39-35. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Eureka’s Fun-Filled Fall

The Lions have become football royalty under Trevor Utter and won their third Class B state championship in the last four years with another undefeated season in 2019. Eureka was led by a trio of exceptional seniors in Hank Dunn, Chet McCully and Jake Kindel, and a suffocating defense that held Manhattan to six points in a 20-6 title-game victory.

Earlier in the fall, Eureka also won the Class B boys cross country state championship, pulling off the rare boys double in the same season. The Lions had never won a state cross country title before 2019 and did so on the strength of four top-17 runners, paced by Isaac Reynolds in third.

Josh Sandry looks toward the sidelines during the University of Montana intra-squad spring game at Legends Stadium on April 13, 2019. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Locals Help Cats, Griz to Renaissance Seasons

College football in the state of Montana moved back to the forefront of the Football Championship Subdivision, with both Division I teams winning postseason games and Montana State advancing all the way to the national semifinals for the first time in more than 30 years. The Bobcats’ semifinal game was played after the Beacon went to print.

And both teams had plenty of Flathead Valley flavor mixed in. The Bobcats depended all year on a pair of Glacier High School grads, Josh Hill and Logan Jones, who both played key roles during their senior seasons. Hill, a linebacker who battled back from years of injuries, earned All-Big Sky Conference honors in 2019 and Jones, a running back and returner, was the team’s second-leading rusher.

In Missoula, a large crop of mostly underclassmen Griz began their college careers and had an able mentor to watch as they learned the ropes. Josh Sandry, a Bigfork High School product, started in the defensive backfield once again and earned his first All-Big Sky commendation following his senior year. Junior linebacker Patrick O’Connell, a Glacier grad, also had a big impact for the Griz, leading the team with six and a half sacks.

Nicole Heavirland, co-captain of the the U.S. National Rugby 7s team poses for a portrait at Smith Fields in Whitefish on July 31, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Nicole Heavirland, Future Olympian?

The Glacier High School alum was a tremendous high school basketball player and even began her college career on the hardwood, but it was shortly after college began that she fully embraced the sport of rugby and the results have been remarkable.

At just 24 years old, Heavirland is the co-captain of the USA 7s rugby team and she helped the Eagles to an unprecedented No. 2 world ranking after a phenomenal 2019. Her team has already qualified for a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and while Heavirland has not yet officially made the Olympic team, it’s hard to imagine one of the team’s on- and off-field leaders being left off the squad.

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.