“Even if the weather is bad, if it’s cold, at least we get to be out here,” Wolfpack softball coach Abby Connelly said. “The biggest thing for players and us as coaches is just the overwhelming sense of gratitude to be on the field.”
Athletes and coaches alike touted an overwhelming sense of gratitude during the first two high school sporting seasons of the school year, but the words carry extra weight this spring. No spring athletes — track, tennis or softball — have taken to their respective field or court in two years.
The sentiment dominated the diamonds last week as the Flathead and Glacier softball teams took to the bases for the first games of the season.
The Wolfpack spent little time getting into their groove, showcasing team stability even after a full year off of playing, sweeping three games during the first week of competition.
In the season opener on April 8, the Wolfpack beat Columbia Falls 13-3 before returning the next day to take down Great Falls CMR and Great Falls High 9-7 and 10-7, respectively.
“I was super impressed with the whole lineup from the seniors down to the freshmen,” Connelly said. “They had such a high level of focus going into the game.”
The senior-freshman synergy was most evident on the mound, as senior Griz commit Kynzie Mohl pitched six-plus innings, fanning one, against CMR before freshman Ella Farrell came on as relief for Mohl against Great Falls, pitching four innings.
“As a freshman, Ela held off some of the best hitters in the state — she just held them powerless,” Connelly said. “We have a great senior option and a great freshman option on the mound, and that’s powerful.”
Even though the Wolfpack came out of the den hot, Connelly knows the team still has work to do. In her mind, they just began looking like a Class AA softball team in the last week, a product of inexperience among many of the younger players.
“From a strategic standpoint, it kind of feels like you have two freshman classes,” she said. “Instead of introducing your program and system to just a few girls, you’re coaching up two classes, and that has its challenges.”
Flathead had a comparatively disappointing start to their season, as the Bravettes dropped games against Great Falls and CMR 18-2 and 10-0. Both games ended after five innings with the mercy rule.
“It wasn’t the outcome we wanted to start the year, but I saw some really good things with the girls,” Bravettes coach Jack Foster said. “Each game just had one really bad inning where it made the game look worse than it was.”
Defensively, Foster said Flathead was on top of the ball, with only two errors the whole day, but a lot of work needs to be done offensively.
“More than anything, it’s just building up their confidence and getting them to believe that they can play hard and pull together,” Foster said. “That’s so big. As coaches, we just have to get our athletes to believe they’re as good as we think they are.”
Foster started working with his athletes back in November and noted that there was a lot of trepidation about whether the season would come together.
“You only get four years to play your high school sports and missing a whole year is a pretty big deal,” Foster said. “It hurt us a lot — it was disappointing for the seniors who didn’t get to play, but it hurt development with the younger kids.”
Foster’s roster has a core of five seniors and two juniors, five of whom had pre-pandemic experience as starters.
“This group of ladies just works well together,” Foster said. “From the first practice, the seniors were helping out the freshmen, and I think that is a big key for the program.”
“We just want to keep moving forward, go out there and battle and compete,” he added. “The rest will take care of itself.”
For both local teams, earning a berth to the state tournament this year will come with an added home field advantage, as Kalispell will be hosting Class AA state for the first time since 2016.
“A lot of times with high school kids, they like traveling to big competitions,” Foster said. “But we’re hosting it, so it’s kind of the ultimate competition. It really gives the kids an added excitement to get there.”
Flathead won a state title in 2003 but hasn’t made it back to the tournament since 2007. Glacier has been a dominant force over the last decade with eight straight state appearances, including a championship run in 2015 and a narrow loss in the title game in 2016. The Wolfpack hope to make their ninth straight appearance, and will be doing so with a bit of a target on their jerseys.
“One bad thing about beating both of the Great Falls schools right away is now teams know how good we are,” Connelly said. “It’ll be hard to fly incognito this season after that.”
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