Best of Preps — Fall 2020

Recognizing the top high school athletes from throughout Flathead County

By Micah Drew
Marcella Mercer, golfer for Flathead High School. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Marcella MERCER

SCHOOL: Flathead
CLASS: Senior
STATE TOURNAMENT: 4th place (83-77—153)

Marcella started golfing at age 11 and hasn’t put down her clubs since. She’s been a force on the greens for her entire high school career, finishing ninth, fifth and second at the state tournaments her first three years. As a senior, Marcella won every high school tournament she played during the regular season. At state a rare off-day deprived her of medalist honors. Despite coming up a few strokes short, Marcella was happy to cap of a high school career that can only be described as remarkably consistent, with a fun last outing as a Bravette. “It was such a gorgeous tournament, it really was a beautiful way to end the season.” She readily admits that not being able to play in recent wintry weeks has been a struggle and she is excited to continue playing at a university that has year-round golf weather.

Sam ELLS

SCHOOL: Glacier
CLASS: Junior
STATE MEET (5K): 30th 17:54.87

Coming off of a 19th place finish at the state meet in 2019, Ells was poised to take over as the top runner for Glacier this season. He took to his new position with ease, leading the Wolfpack in all seven meets, winning two home meets in Kalispell and never finishing lower than fifth during the regular season. Unfortunately, Ells, a dual sport athlete who also plays on the Wolfpack soccer team, was injured in a soccer match the week before the state meet, resulting in a disappointing 30th place showing. Ells had back-to-back highlights the weeks leading up to the state meet. During the Flathead Quad meet, Ells ran away from members of four Class AA teams, winning by 45 seconds in a lifetime best five-kilometer time of 16:18.3. A week later he repeated the feat, finishing a minute clear of the next runner and running a second quicker, which ranked sixth in Western AA. “I loved being able to push myself out front with no one around.”

Lilli RUMSEY EASH 

SCHOOL: Flathead
CLASS: Freshman
STATE MEET (5K): 7th 19:57.03

In eighth grade Lilli decided to stop playing soccer and focus exclusively on cross country. It proved to be a good choice – she was undefeated that season and as a freshman quickly established herself among the fastest runners in the state. In a season where the eastern and western Class AA teams didn’t race each other until the state meet, Lilli never finished lower than 8th in a meet and won four straight races leading up to the state championships. Her season best time of 19:14 ranked her 15th in the state, but in snowy conditions at Rebecca Farm, Lilli finished seventh. Her finish was the highest placing by a Bravette in five years and speaks to a bright future, even as Lilli humbly demurs her potential stardom. “I was pretty surprised with how well I was doing. I didn’t realize how fast the season was going by because of how much fun it was.”

Hannah SEMPF

SCHOOL: Columbia Falls
CLASS: Junior
STATE MEET (5K): 3rd place, 20:00.84

“It’s taken a lot of time to get the mental side and strategy down,” Hannah told the Beacon, pointing out that she only started running cross country a year ago. To a course-side observer, however, it’s clear that Hannah proved to be a quick learner. After finishing 17th at state as a sophomore, Hannah had a breakout season this fall, finishing in the top six at every meet. At a frigid state championship race at Rebecca Farm, Hannah did what every runner (and coach) hopes for, and she ran her fastest time at the last meet of the season – 20:00.84 to finish third. She led a Wildkats team that placed two runners in the top five, and five in the top 22, culminating in a second place team finish, which tied the best finish in school history.

Kenzie WILLIAMS      

SCHOOL: Glacier
CLASS: Senior
POSITION: Centerback

In the state championship soccer match Glacier was up against Helena High, a team they had yet to beat in the 2020 season. Late in the first half, however, the Wolfpack jumped to an early one-goal lead. From that point on, the game was in the hands of the defense. For more than 40 minutes Williams led her unyielding defenders to control the field of play and block every attempt made by the highest-scoring team in the conference to pull even. When the whistle blew, three time All-State honoree Williams had done her job and Glacier notched a 1-0 win over Helena High and the first soccer championship in school history. “It felt so amazing, I’ve never felt that way before. We’ve been waiting for this opportunity since we were freshman and it was worth all the time spent practicing with my team over the years.”

Skyleigh THOMPSON

SCHOOL: Flathead
CLASS: Senior
POSITION: Striker

Even though her senior year didn’t have the same state leading numbers as her junior year did, Skyleigh still pulled in more honors during her last year playing for the Bravettes. For the second year in a row the four-year All-State striker was the leading scorer for Western AA with 17 goals. She earned preseason All-American status this fall, the only Montana player to make the national list.  Skyleigh officially signed up for the next phase of her soccer career, inking with the University of Montana where she will follow in a line of Flathead Valley superstar players taking the field for the Griz, but she ended her high school career with a lot of nostalgia. “It’s definitely kind of glorious looking back at all the memories I’ve made since I’ve been playing with these girls since freshman year. It was bittersweet, knowing every game it’s inching towards the last time you’ll be playing with these girls.”

Jason ALBIN

SCHOOL: Columbia Falls
CLASS: Senior
POSITION: Striker

Columbia Falls had the best season in a decade and a half, making its first state championship appearance since an overtime win in 2005. As a senior captain, Jason led the Wildcats on the offensive end of the field, notching 10 goals and seven assists, which earned him All-State honors for the first time. Jason knew his final season was going to be a special one when the team downed Frenchtown 3-2 in September, the first time beating the Broncs during his tenure with the team. Playing in the title match was a career-capping exploit for Jason. Even though the Wildcats came up a few goals short, the atmosphere at the state championship match was unlike anything he’d ever experienced on the field. “We’ve never had that kind of support at a game. Having that kind of crowd of people behind you for a game is such a cool feeling.”

Josh GUNDERSON, Brandon MENDOZA and Ian GROVER

SCHOOL: Whitefish
CLASS: Senior

It’s hard for most people to remember where they were 157 weeks ago, but the three Bulldogs co-captains do. They were witnessing firsthand as Whitefish lost a state championship match to Belgrade. That was the last time in the seniors’ high school careers that their team lost a soccer game. The three teammates led the Bulldogs to a level of dominance unheard of in Class A soccer, tacking on a third straight undefeated season and state title to an already heralded program. Ian and Brandon earned All-State honors while Josh was a second team All-Conference selection. Ian and Josh led an impenetrable defense that only allowed five goals in 13 games while Brandon controlled games from the middle of the field and was the most prolific scorer in the state, finding the back of the net 21 times. Josh and his teammates are excited to watch the younger members of the team continue the legacy into the future. “When I was a freshman, this is exactly how I imagined our senior year going. We just replicated what we saw the last two years.”

Madysen HOERNER

SCHOOL: Columbia Falls
CLASS: Senior
POSITION: Middle Hitter

At the post season awards banquet, individual Wildkats receive recognition for their season and career stats. One such award is the “Kill Club,” representing the career total point-scoring plays a team member makes, with different levels for every 100 kills. This year, Madysen created a new level with a single member, the 700 Kill Club, solidifying her status as one of the most dominant players in school history. On the first day of the Class A tournament in Sidney she broke the school record for kills, and then continued to add about 70 more. During her senior season, Madysen had 306 kills, 214 digs ad 26 aces, easily cementing her position as the conference MVP. “After our first loss of the season in the state tournament, we just flipped a switch and clawed our way to the championship match. It was a good way to end my career and the girls and I had such a good connection from playing together for so long.” Madysen will continue her career in Great Falls playing for the University of Providence.

Morgan HERNANDEZ

SCHOOL: Glacier
CLASS: Senior
POSITION: Libero

Morgan and her eight senior teammates entered the season knowing it would be a nostalgic end to years of playing together and the Wolfpack enjoyed their best season in years, making it to the quarter finals of the Class AA state tournament in Bozeman. Morgan earned All-State laurels this year after leading the Wolfpack with 246 digs, including a single match, three-set school record in an early season game against Butte. She also has the second-highest pass rating in Glacier history. “We had an old team and the whole season was bittersweet but I’m super excited to be able to keep playing at the next level!” Fulfilling a dream of continuing her career at the college level, Morgan is bound for Dickinson State University in North Dakota where her skills on the back line earned her a scholarship.

Camren ROSS

SCHOOL: Whitefish
CLASS: Senior
POSITION: Defensive End/Tackle

For senior All-State selection Camren, no matter what happened during his final season playing for the Bulldogs, he wanted to win the rivalry game against Columbia Falls.  At the time, Whitefish was 0-2 and facing a 2-0 Wildcats team, making it a crucial game beyond the perennial bragging rights. During the game, Camren anchored a strong defense that allowed just a single touchdown by the Wildcats, paving the way for a Bulldogs victory, and kicking off a four-game winning streak. “It was one of the greatest games I’ve ever played in, that night against Columbia Falls.” Camren had a number of sacks and solo tackles and was a strong a leader both on and off the field. Even as he prepares for his final wrestling season, he’s reflecting on his solid career on the gridiron. “I’m really going to miss the team bonding, the weekly dinners and being around the team.”

Lucas THACKER

SCHOOL: Columbia Falls
CLASS: Senior
POSITION: Linebacker

The Wildcat captain made a case for his first team All-Conference selection in the first game of the season against Polson. Lucas had back-to-back sacks and an interception, opening the door for the Wildcats to win 48-28. Lucas was a strong starting center on offense, but it was as a core member of the Columbia Falls defense that he really made his mark. Wracking up five-and-a-half sacks, 92 total tackles and two fumble recoveries, Lucas helped his team fight for their spot in the Class A state tournament. “We took a big step to make it to quarters. It was just really awesome getting to spend one more season playing the game with all my friends.” Lucas is now turning his attention to the wrestling season where he hopes to improve on his finish from state last year when he was fifth at 152 pounds.

Cormac BENN

SCHOOL: Bigfork
CLASS: Senior
POSITION: Running Back/Outside Linebacker

After a mid-pandemic move to Bigfork, Cormac wasn’t sure how his senior football season was going to go. “It was one of the best places I’ve been and played at and it was fun playing together with my team,” he told the Beacon. “I didn’t think anyone expected me to do that well.” Cormac especially didn’t expect to rush his way into the all-class record books. He was the state leader for rushing years — 1,934 — which places him seventh on the all-time rushing list. He also topped the list this year for carries (239), yards per game (214.9, second in state history), and longest carry (87 yards). In a win over Polson, Cormac rushed for 381 yards, fifth highest in state history. During a route of Anaconda, Cormac scored six touchdowns in a single quarter.  Cormac will continue his football career at Carroll College.

Jake RENDINA

SCHOOL: Glacier
CLASS: Junior
POSITION: Running Back/Outside Linebacker

Jake is only a junior, but his highlight reel is already chock-full of scholarship-worthy plays, mostly of him rushing, scampering and sprinting the ball past a myriad of opponents into the end zone. His best night saw him rush for 276 yards and seven touchdowns against Hellgate. According to the out of date Montana High School Association record books, seven touchdowns is tied for the third most by an individual in state history. “That was the best game I’ve played so far. I didn’t realize what touchdown I was on until someone asked me.” In the same game, Jake had a mean pass block that popped a Knight defensive end flat on his back – a video of the play has been viewed nearly 4,000 times on Twitter. All told Jake rushed for 1,326 yards and a state leading 28 touchdowns this season, easily proving his All-State status. “I am very grateful by all the opportunities given to me by my seniors. I’m just looking to keep improving from here.”

MORE STARS

GOLF BOYS
Cameron Kahle Sr. Class A 1st
Billy Smith so. Class A 2nd
Will Salonen Glacier Jr. Class AA 6th
Tyler Avery Glacier So. Class AA 8th
Marcus Kilman Whitefish Jr. Class A 8th
Ezra Epperly Flathead Sr. Class AA 9th
Johnny Nix Whitefish So. Class A 10th
Keaton Cassidy Glacier Jr. Class AA 11th

GOLF GIRLS
Jillian Wynne Flathead Jr. Class AA 12th
Kendall Reed Whitefish Sr. Class A 12th
Anyah Cripe Whitefish Jr. Class A 15th

CROSS COUNTRY GIRLS
Lara Erickson Cfalls Sr. Class A 4th

VOLLEYBALL CLASS AA
Kaylee Fritz Glacier Sr. 2nd Team All-State
Emma Anderson Glacier Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference
Kynzie Mohl Glacier Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference
Sidney Gulick Glacier Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference

VOLLEYBALL CLASS A
Hannah Schweikert Columbia Falls Sr. All-State
Dillen Hoerner Columbia Falls Sr. All-State
Brook Smith Whitefish Sr. 1st Team All-Conference
Lauren Falkner Columbia Falls Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference
Jazzy Marino Columbia Falls Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference

VOLLEYBALL CLASS B
Myranda Gray Bigfork Jr. 1st Team All-Conference
Allie Reichner Bigfork Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference

SOCCER CLASS AA — BOYS
Diego Mendoza Glacier Sr. All-State
Eli Mildren Glacier Jr. All-State
Braden Nitschelm Glacier Sr. All-State
Arsen Sokolov Flathead Sr. All-Conference
Ethan Vandenbosch Flathead Sr. All-Conference
Zane Elliot Glacier Jr. All-Conference
Burke Fox Glacier Jr. All-Conference

SOCCER CLASS AA — GIRLS
Madison Becker Glacier Sr. All-State
Emily Cleveland Glacier Sr. All-State
Tessa Smith Flathead Sr. All-Conference
Lily Tanko Flathead Jr. All-Conference
Reagan Brisendine Glacier Fr. All-Conference
Taylor Brisendine Glacier Sr. All-Conference
Ady Powell Glacier Sr. All-Conference

SOCCER CLASS A — BOYS
Gabe Menicke Whitefish Jr. All-State
Marvin Kimera Whitefish Sr. All-State
Ben Pilskalns Bigfork Sr. All-State
Chase Sabin Whitefish Jr. All-State
Niath Edland Whitefish Sr. All-State
Walton Nichols Columbia Falls So. 1st Team All-Conference
Kai Golan Columbia Falls Fr. 2nd Team All-Conference
James Thompson Whitefish Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference
William Hyatt Whitefish Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference
Darby McCarthy Whitefish Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference
Johny Carl Columbia Falls Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference
Nico Lang Columbia Falls So. 2nd Team All-Conference
Andrew Miner Columbia Falls So. 2nd Team All-Conference
Niels Getts Columbia Falls Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference
Caden Riedesel Bigfork Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference
Landen Byerman Bigfork So. 2nd Team All-Conference

SOCCER CLASS A — GIRLS
Maddie Robison Columbia Falls Jr. All-State
Isabelle Cooke Whitefish Fr. All-State
Emma Barron Whitefish Jr. All-State
Cheyanne Johnston-Heinz Columbia Falls Jr. All-State
Anna Akey Whitefish Jr. All-State
Hope McAtee Columbia Falls Fr. All-State
Sophie Olson Whitefish Jr. All-State
Josie Schneider Whitefish Jr. All-State
Sydney Mann Columbia Falls So. All-State
Sami Galbraith Whitefish Sr. 1st Team All-Conference
LaKia Hill Columbia Falls Sr. 1st Team All-Conference
Brette Guenzler Bigfork Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference
Brooke Roberts Whitefish So. 2nd Team All-Conference
Danika Bucklin Bigfork Fr. 2nd Team All-Conference
Alexis Green Columbia Falls Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference
Adrienne Healy Whitefish Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference
Maya Lacey Whitefish So. 2nd Team All-Conference

FOOTBALL CLASS AA
Rocco Beccari Glacier Sr. 1st Team All-State DL/T
Alec Thomas Flathead Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference LB
Tyler Hausmann Glacier Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference S
Ethan Diede Glacier Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference DE
Luke Bilau Glacier Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference TE
Patrick Rohrbach Glacier Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference P

FOOTBALL CLASS A
Isaiah Roth Columbia Falls Jr. All-State RB/RS/K/P
Cade Morgan Columbia Falls Jr. All-State WR
Stevie Wilkinson Columbia Falls Sr. All-State OL
Jaxsen Schlauch Whitefish Jr. All-State WR/DB
Bodie Smith Whitefish Jr. All-State WR/S/DB
Tanner Harmon Whitefish Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference OL
Fynn Ridgeway Whitefish So. 2nd Team All-Conference QB
Mason Peters Columbia Falls Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference QB
Neils Getts Columbia Falls Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference K/P
Finn Coleman Columbia Falls Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference DE
Ty Schwaiger Whitefish So. 2nd Team All-Conference LB
Josh Nelson Whitefish Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference LB
Cody Schweikert Columbia Falls Fr. 2nd Team All-Conference LB
Zane McCallum Columbia Falls Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference DB

FOOTBALL CLASS B
Luke Benson Bigfork Sr. All-State OL/DL
Braeden Guse Bigfork Jr. 1st Team All-Conference OL
Levi Taylor Bigfork Jr. 1st Team All-Conference LB
Tre Rodriuez Bigfork Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference OL
Bryce Gilliard Bigfork So. 2nd Team All-Conference LB

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