Winter Prep Sports Preview

After a delayed start, basketball, wrestling and swimming seasons have started practicing, with competitions kicking off in January

By Micah Drew
Flathead High School faces Glacier High School at Flathead High in Kalispell for the annual crosstown wrestling match on Jan. 10, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

After a successful fall season across the sporting spectrum, and new Montana High School Activities Association (MHSA) guidelines for winter sports, the hope is that the next round of athletic events will go off without a hitch.

Wrestling is going to be the biggest storyline of the winter because girls wrestling is a sanctioned event for the first year. MHSA voted to approve girls wrestling last January, and the sport will be offered as an initial two-year pilot program. While girl wrestlers will be allowed to compete against male or female competitors during the regular season, they will have their own state tournament with all schools competing in the same classification across seven weight classes.

Swimming

COLUMBIA FALLS/WHITEFISH

Head Coach: Hayden Pierce (first season)
2019-20 postseason (boys): Columbia Falls fifth /Whitefish first
2019-20 postseason (girls): Columbia Falls sixth/Whitefish second
Key Returners (girls): Helena Kunz, Whitefish, Sr., Ada Qunell, Whitefish, Jr.
Key returners (boys): Logan Botner, Whitefish, Jr., Connor Cheff, Columbia Falls, So.

New head coach Pierce has a long history with the cooperative program, having been part of the inaugural team. Botner will be looking to defend titles in the 200 freestyle and the 100 backstroke, while Qunell (200 IM, 100 backstroke) and Kunz (200 backstroke, 100 freestyle) will also be defending titles.

FLATHEAD/GLACIER

Head Coach: Karen Bouda (second season)
2019-20 postseason (boys): Flathead seventh /Glacier 10th
2019-20 postseason (girls): Flathead 11th/Glacier fifth
Key Returners (girls): Lily Milner, Flathead, Jr., Eden Flake, Glacier, Jr.
Key returners (boys): Xander Stout, Glacier, So., Drew Bouda, Glacier, Jr.

The lower valley cooperative swim team boasts a talented crew of underclassmen. Last year Milner won the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke and Flake was third in the 50 free and second in the 100 butterfly, with only a senior ahead of her in the latter race.

Wrestling

FLATHEAD BRAVES

Head coach: Jeff Thompson (13th season)
2019-20 postseason: second at state (24-4 dual meet record)
Key Wrestlers: Fin Nadeau, Jr., Ryan Nelson, Sr.; Noah Poe-Hatten, So.,  Alyssa Poe-Hatten, Sr., Hania Haliverson, Jr.

The six-time state champion Brave Brawlers are looking to continue their Class AA dominance. The 60-person team has a lot of depth with freshmen and sophomores making up a majority of starters. Seven returning members placed at state, including runners up Nadeau and Nelson. On the girls side, Thompson would like to see his girls win the first state championship. There are 15 ladies on the roster including Poe-Hatten, who won a Western regionals preseason competition, and Haliverson, a state qualifier in Oregon.

GLACIER WOLFPACK

Head coach: Ross Dankers (eighth season)
2019-20 postseason: 10th at state (13-9 dual meet record)
Key Wrestlers: Teegan Vasquez, So., Kael Willis, Sr., Josh Melton, So.

Vasquez is the valley’s only returning state champion and is looking to add another title to his resume. Alongside Vasquez, Willis and Melton are both returning state qualifiers and could help move the Wolfpack closer to the podium. On the girls side, the roster is 20 strong, 18 of whom are new to the mats.

COLUMBIA FALLS WILDCATS

Head coach: Jessie Schaeffer (15th season)
2019-20 postseason: eighth at state
Key Wrestlers: Justin Windauer, So., Lucas
Thacker, Sr.

Columbia Falls returns two top-five finishers in Windauer (third) and Thacker (fifth), and the younger team should be supportive on the mats.

WHITEFISH BULLDOGS

Head coach: Danny Neff (second season)
2019-20 postseason: 20th at state
Key Wrestlers: Nathan Sproul, Sr., Camren Ross, Sr.

Sproul and Ross will provide key senior leadership to a small Bulldogs squad, but will be bolstered by talented underclassman like returning state qualifiers Kai Nash and Rylee Creasey.

BIGFORK VIKINGS

Head coach: Shawn Hall (third season)
2019-20 postseason: eighth at state
Key Wrestlers: Archie Brevik, Sr., Joseph Farrier, So.

Hall continues to work on rebuilding a Vikings program that is only a few seasons old in its latest iteration. Farrier had a solid freshman season, qualifying for the state tournament. Brevik is looking to return to state after missing out as a junior.

Boys Basketball

FLATHEAD BRAVES

Head coach: Dirk Johnsrud (first season)
2019-20 record: 3-17  (1-8 Western AA)
Key Players: Gabe Adams, Sr., Joston Cripe, Jr., Hunter Hickey, Sr.

This is Johnsrud’s first season as head coach after four years as the junior varsity boys coach and a season as the freshman girls coach. The Braves return a trio of top scorers who were responsible for more than 63% of Flathead’s scoring last season.

GLACIER WOLFPACK

Head coach: Mark Harkins (14th Season)
2019-20 record:  11-10 (4-4 Western AA)
Key Players: Weston Price, Sr., Jaxson Olsen, Sr.

The Wolfpack had a steady record last season before key losses to Butte High kept them out of the state tournament. Price is one of the top-returning scorers in the conference, having averaged 12.9 points per game last season.

WHITEFISH BULLDOGS

Head coach: Scott Smith (third season)
2019-20 record: 9-13 (3-7 Northwest A)
Key Players: Bodie Smith, Jr., Jayce Cripe, Sr.

The Bulldogs had a breakaway season two years ago, winning 15 games and challenging for a berth to the state tournament. Last year was a bit of a hiccup, but Whitefish aims to earn a tournament spot this year led by all-conference honorable mentions Smith and Cripe.

COLUMBIA FALLS WILDCATS

Head coach: Chris Finberg (fifth season)
2019-20 record: 4-15 (3-7 Northwest A)
Key Players: Allec Knapton, Sr., Cade Morgan, Jr., Mason Peters, Jr.

Knapton, an all-conference honorable mention, will lead a relatively young team in a competitive Northwest A conference. He’ll have help from Morgan, who will returns as the top three-point shooter on the team.

BIGFORK VIKINGS

Head Coach: John Hollow (second Season)
2019-2020 record: 11-15 (5-1 District 7B)
Key Players: Levi Taylor, Jr.

Bigfork has been one of the top teams in the state over the last decade. Hollow is now in his second season at the helm, and will continue to find his stride with the Vikings as they aim to return to the state title game, just two seasons after their last championship.

Girls Basketball

FLATHEAD BRAVETTES

Head coach: Sam Tudor (first season)
2019-20 record: 5-18 (1-7 Western AA)
Key Players: Clare Converse, Jr., Akilah Kubi, So.,  Maddy Moy, So.

It’s been two decades since the Bravettes last won a state title. New head coach Tudor hopes to bring the team back to the top of the conference, a year after the Bravettes won just a single conference game. Tudor previously coached a dominant Bigfork High boys team where he had a 111-14 record over five seasons, including back-to-back state championships in 2018 and 2019. The Bravettes lost top scorer Jenna Johnson to graduation but have a strong underclassmen presence with Kubi and Moy, who got substantial playing time as freshmen.

GLACIER WOLFPACK

Head coach: Amanda Cram (second season)
2019-20 record:  12-12 (7-5 Western AA)
Key Players: Ellie Keller, Sr., Emma Anderson, Sr.

Amanda Cram returns for her second year as head coach of the Wolfpack. In her first year, Cram guided the program to a fourth straight state tournament berth. Keller, a second team all-conference pick last season, was the conference leader in assists (4.1) and averaged 10.4 points per game.

WHITEFISH BULLDOGS

Head coach: Bob Bolam (third season)
2019-20 record: 7-15 (4-6 Northwest A)
Key Players: Gracie Smyley, Sr., Jadi Walburn, Jr.

It’s been 18 years since the Bulldogs played in the Class A championship game, and just over a decade since their last appearance at the state tournament, but the team is slowly building upward under Bolam, doubling their conference wins last year.

COLUMBIA FALLS WILDKATS

Head coach: Cary Finberg (10th season)
2019-20 record: 16-4 (8-2 Northwest A)
Key Players: LaKia Hill, Sr., Hannah Schweikert, Sr.

Columbia Falls hadn’t finished lower than third at the Class A state tournament since 2013 until last year’s near miss of a tournament berth. While the Wildkats lost 2020 co-MVP Josie Windauer to graduation, they return Schweikert, who averaged 14 points per game, and all-state selection Hill, who topped the state in assists.

BIGFORK VALKYRIES

Head Coach: Cortnee Gunlock (second season)
2019-2020 record: 12-12 (4-1 District 7B)
Key Players: Emma Berreth, Jr.

The Valkyries graduated two all-district standouts last year, but all-state returnee Berreth leads a slew of underclassman who will be clamoring to step into leadership roles and return to the state tournament.

micah@flatheadbeacon.com

 

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