To the Winners Go the Spoils

After a lost year of spring competition, the final week of the 2020-21 prep sports season saw stars from Flathead Valley's high schools reap podium placements

By Micah Drew
Glacier’s Caleb Bernhardt runs in the 2021 Class AA state track meet in Missoula on May 27, 2021. | Micah Drew

A year of restrictions and limits on participation, competition and spectating came to a close last weekend with the state track and field, softball and tennis finales. All schools in the Flathead Valley had athletes come away with state titles and podium finishes, after losing the entire spring season of competition to cancellations last year. Here’s a wrap-up of highlights from state. 

Glacier Boys Take Tennis Title

Glacier’s Rory Smith won the AA boys singles championship on Friday in Great Falls. | Photo by Daniel Shepard via 406mtsports.com

Despite a decade-long streak of winning the Western AA Divisional tennis tournament, the Wolfpack hadn’t pulled off the same success at the state tournament since 2013. 

That changed on Friday, when Glacier pulled together 25 points to take home the top trophy. 

“It’s really nice,” Glacier coach Josh Munro told 406mtsports.com. “Coming out of COVID and losing last season, this was a big triumph for us. We finished undefeated at duals, got our divisional win and then to win here, it’s a nice finish to the season.”

One highlight of the Wolfpack’s win was senior Rory Smith’s defense of the singles title he won as a sophomore in 2019. 

As the only reigning boys singles champion in the state from the last tournament, Smith was focused on nothing more than meeting his own expectations and adding to his title collection. 

In the semis, Smith beat Capital’s Ryan Ashley 6-1, 6-4, before breezing through the final match against Big Sky’s Jace Tolleson Knee, 6-2, 6-0. 

“It was good to have some closure this season, especially since we didn’t get to last year. It was good to come back out and [win it again],” Smith told reporters.

Adding to Smith’s 15 points for the singles title was the doubles pair of Ethan Purdy and Harrison Sanders, who defeated a pair from Billings Senior 6-2, 6-3 for third place. 

Flathead’s Nolan White was third in the singles bracket after he dispatched his last opponent from Capital 6-7, 7-5, 6-1.

Smyley Repeats in Rivalry Final

The early morning light casts a shadow across the Flathead Valley Community Colleges tennis courts. – Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon

Whitefish’s Gracie Smyley only needed two sets to secure her second state title, dispatching crosstown rival Hannah Schweikert 6-4, 6-2 in a repeat of the divisional final to join the two-time champion club. She just wishes she could have had a shot at three. 

“That hurt. I was really bummed out about that,” Smyley told 406mtsports.com of losing her junior season. “Honestly, very grateful that we got to have a season in the first place. I’m really happy to just be here.”

Smyley knew that Schweikert would be the biggest threat to her state title, after facing off several times throughout the season, including the divisional final.

“There was some pressure,” she told reporters. “I was going for too much at the beginning and then I took it a step down. Way too many unforced errors, hitting the ball too hard, not enough spin. I started to figure out my backhand the match before that and I started getting more into a rhythm.”

A similar crosstown rivalry played out between Whitefish’s Jayce Cripe and Columbia Falls’ Niels Getts for the third-place match, with Cripe taking the win 6-3, 6-1. Both Bulldogs teams finished second.  

Whitefish Misses Title Defense

Mikenna Ells runs the final leg in the 4 x 100 meter relay in Columbia Falls on May 8, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

After a year hiatus from track competition, the Whitefish girls showed they still have the ability and depth to string together top-notch performances against statewide competition, but the Bulldogs came up just short of the title, finishing second as a team to Laurel. Columbia Falls took third. 

Senior Mikenna Ells scores 30 points on her own, with wins in the 400 meters (57.96) and 200 meters (26.07), a runner-up finish in the 100 meters (12.67) and a fifth-place finish in the high jump, clearing five feet. She also anchored the winning 4×100-meter relay team and the winning 4×400-meter relay team, although that victory was disqualified due to a lane violation.

One of the biggest takeaways from the meet, however, is how big Whitefish’s future is on the girls side. A slew of freshman phenoms wracked up points for the Bulldogs, with Brooke Zetooney winning the 100, taking fourth in the 200 and eighth in the 400. Hailey Ells was one spot ahead in the 400, runner up in the 300-meter hurdles and fifth in the 100-meter hurdles, and she also scored a point in the high jump. A third young standout, Isabelle Cooke, was runner up in the 800-meter run.

Contributing strongly to Columbia Falls’ team score, sisters Lara and Siri Erickson pulled off a 1-2 finish in both the 1600-meter and the 3200-meter runs. Siri recorded personal best times in both events. 

Columbia Falls’ Lara Erickson wins the 1600m run at a track meet at Glacier High School on April 6, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

On the boys side, Whitefish took seventh, with Columbia Falls in 16th. 

For the Bulldogs, junior Bodie Smith ran a lifetime best in the 110-meter hurdles to finish second, followed by a fourth place in the 300 hurdles. 

The Bulldogs had an individual champion in the shot put when junior Talon Holmquist launched the 12-pound ball 52 feet, 3.5 inches, two feet ahead of his closest competition. Over in the jumping pits, junior Gabe Menicke took home the state title with a triple jump lifetime best of 44 feet, 3 inches. 

For the Wildcats, senior Allex Knapton finished third in the discus.

Osborne Wins Class B Vault

Bigfork senior Seth Osborne is reportedly good friends with Red Lodge’s Spencer Jacobsen, and he told 406mtsports.com that before the pole vault competition started, they told each other, “I’m not going to be mad if I lose to you.”

Both athletes cleared the bar at 13 feet 9 inches, but after three failed attempts each at 14 feet, the bar dropped back down for a jump off. 

Osborne jumped first, sprinting down the runway, planting his pole and launching himself cleanly over the bar. 

He watched as Jacobsen went for it next and dropped to his knees when he saw the bar fall. 

“This is what I’ve been working on my whole career,” he told reporters. “I’m really happy to end it on a bang.”

Osborne’s 10 points helped Bigfork to finish sixth as a team. 

Bigfork’s Wyatt Duke clears 6 feet 4 inches en route to winning the high jump competition at Whitefish High School on April 20, 2021. Micah Drew | Flathead Beacon

One of the most anticipated events at the state meet was the high jump, where two-time defending champion Noah Bouchard of Huntley Project and Bigfork’s Wyatt Duke were expected to duel at state-record heights for the title. 

That duel looked to be lost when Bouchard injured his hamstring in a preliminary heat of the 110 hurdles. He expected to scratch four events the next day, including the high jump. 

On the second day of the meet, however, Bouchard warmed up and took a crack at the high jump. He cleared 6-02 along with Duke and Cut Bank’s Seewald, and then 6-04, but the other two athletes were unable to match his feet. Despite taking a crack at the state record height of 6-10, Bouchard had to settle for a third title in the event. 

Duke, who cleared 6-09 earlier in the season, and cleared 6-04 in seven meets this year, had a disappointing finish in third. He also took sixth in the 110 hurdles behind teammate Isak Epperly, who had a big PR to finish second. 

For the girls, the 4×400 relay team of Audrey Buenz, Chole Ratts, Choralyn Shillam and Afton Lambrecht edged out Manhattan by 5/100 of a second to take the top of the podium. 

Class AA Adds Slew of Runners Up

Flathead’s Lili Rumsey Eash and Hannah Perrin during the 1600 meter run at the 2021 Class AA state track meet held in Missoula on May 27, 2021. Micah Drew | Flathead Beacon

In Missoula, the Class AA championship was two days of stellar performances but was dominated by Sentinel, which swept the meet. Flatheads girls and boys finished sixth and 15th, respectively, while the Glacier Wolfpack were ninth and fourth. 

In the girls 3200-meter run, Flathead senior Hannah Perrin was looking to copy her decisive win from the divisional meet. 

Perrin and Hellgate’s Kensey May broke away from the pack of runners after the mile mark, cranking down the pace every lap until May pulled away enough to claim the title. Perrin finished in 10:52.28, a lifetime best in the event by nearly 20 seconds. 

“I had no idea we were running that fast,” Perrin said. “I was actually just a bit bummed out that I didn’t win, but then my brothers told me how fast I’d gone.”

Flathead’s other distance standout, freshman Lili Rumsey Eash, competed in all three long distance disciplines, finishing fourth in the 800 meters, fourth in the 1600 meters and eighth in the 3200, with personal best times in each event. 

In her very last triple jump, Glacier’s Taylor Brisendine went 39 feet, 3 inches to take the lead in the competition. That should have been enough to give her the title, but Sentinel’s Audrey McElmurry, who had led throughout the competition, had one more attempt left. McElmurry jumped more than a foot over her previous best, giving Brisendine the silver. Brisendine also landed on the podium with a third-place finish in the long jump and a fifth-place finish in the 100 hurdles. 

The top of the boys’ podium in the triple jump was identical to the Class AA Western Divisional meet as Glacier’s Tate Kauffman took second to Butte’s Christian Hansen. Kauffman jumped 42 feet, 8 inches for a lifetime best at the meet. 

Also for the Wolfpack, senior Caleb Bernhardt came into the state meet ranked second in the 300 hurdles and matched his ranking. It was the only time this season Bernhardt lost a 300-hurdle race. He also finished fifth in the 110 hurdles. 

Glacier’s Caleb Bernhardt runs in the 2021 Class AA state track meet in Missoula on May 27, 2021. Micah Drew | Flathead Beacon

Glacier junior Sam Ells had podium finishes in the 800 and 1600 runs, taking fourth in the 800 with a two-second best in 1:59.37, before returning the next day to run 4:18.75 for third in the 1600, just missing the Glacier school record. 

The Wolfpack also had a three-four finish in the boys 400 meters with Jeff Lillard and Jake Turner both running under 52 seconds. 

Glacier Rallies After Rough Start at State

Kenna Vanorny of the Glacier High School Wolfpack dives back onto first after trying to steal second base in a game against Helena High School Bengals at the Kidsports Complex in Kalispell on May 28, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The home-field advantage wasn’t apparent in the first day of the Class AA softball tournament in Kalispell as Glacier lost its first-round game, as did the other three Western AA teams. 

“Obviously we didn’t have the start we wanted,” Glacier coach Abby Connolly said. “It was very frustrating — we knew we were better than we were playing. But I was very happy with how the girls responded on day two.”

After the initial 8-4 loss to Billings Senior, which was highlighted by senior Kynzie Mohl’s 17th home run this season and an inside-the-park home run by Kenna Vanorny, Glacier came back in the consolation bracket, beating Helena 14-1 and defending state champion Great Falls 5-3. 

Then it was a rematch of the divisional tournament, with the Wolfpack taking on Sentinel. The Spartans emerged victorious, holding Glacier scoreless.

“Across the board the girls just had a great weekend,” Connolly said. “Kynzie Mohl was stellar as always. Her game winning home run against Great Falls was huge.”

Mohl, who Connolly describes as “not a natural pitcher,” spent a lot of time in the center of the diamond, putting together her best performance from the mound. 

“She wanted the ball in her hand, to be in command,” Connolly said. “That leaves a legacy in the program for what being a competitive athlete means.”

Kynzie Mohl of the Glacier High School Wolfpack pitches in a game against the Helena High School Bengals at the Kidsports Complex in Kalispell on May 28, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon