Best of Preps: Spring 2021

Recognizing the spring's top high school athletes from throughout Flathead County

By Micah Drew

Kynzie Mohl

School: Glacier 
Class: Senior
Highlights: Offensive Player of the Year, 18 home runs

“Missing last year was very hard but at least I still got to travel ball season, so it kind of made up for it a little bit,” Kynzie said. “But having this year was really fun because I met a lot of new girls and played with a lot of different people I’ve never played before.”

Like all spring athletes, Kynzie’s team essentially had two classes of freshmen and a diminished cadre of experienced returners. “It was a challenge at first learning to play with the different girls, but then we started to bond and it all clicked.” Kynzie distinguished herself over the years as a dangerous and versatile player on the diamond. This year she hit .634 and led the state with 18 home runs while also making regular appearances on the mound for the Wolfpack.

“As soon as the last game was done I cried,” Mohl said. “I really formed a bond with all the girls but especially the other pitcher Ella. I’ll always come back and watch them play.”

Talon Holmquist

School: Whitefish 
Class: Junior
Event Highlight:  State champion shot put

Recounting his experience at the Class A state meet, Talon noted that he hadn’t even been to state before. “I’ve gone to like a divisional basketball tournament, but it’s not the same as when there’s 5,000 people in the stands.”

At the first meet of the season, Talon surprised himself by launching the 12-pound metal shot put 46 feet. Given that his last competition was two years ago as a freshman, the more than 10-foot personal best was nothing short of shocking.

“Once i realized where I was starting, I knew i could go pretty far this year,” he said. “There were a lot of technique changes I had to make since my body had changed, speeding up parts of my glide, slowing down other parts, working on angles. But then sometimes … everything clicks for one throw and it goes really far.” That’s what happened at state. After an initial underwhelming throw of 49 feet, Talon launched four throws over 50 feet. Talon is bumping right up against Whitefish’s school record, which is just over 54 feet, and after playing his first season of football this fall, he’ll be ready to go for the record.

Hannah Perrin

School: Flathead
Class: Senior
State Placement: 2nd 3200, 8th 1600, 3rd 4×400 relay

After a disappointing cross country season, Hannah took three weeks off from running to decide whether she was done with the sport. “I honestly thought about quitting,” she said. But after a full reset, she began training for her senior track season. 

In the past, Hannah said she had occasionally struggled with feeling extra pressure on herself due to the success of her three older brothers, but this year she flipped a mental switch, decided she had nothing to lose and opted to leave it all on the track. 

At the Class AA divisional meet, her last race in Legends Stadium, Hannah won a decisive victory in the 3200-meter run, adding to the legacy of Perrins crossing their home track’s finish line first. A week later, at the state meet, the 3200 field went out fast, and Hannah stayed with the front pack, finishing second in 10:52, an 18-second personal best. “The goal was to win, so I was really bummed about it afterwards — I was actually kind of mad — but then I went over to my brothers and they told me my time,” Hannah said. “I had no idea we were running that fast, so I was so happy.”

Rory Smith

School: Glacier
Class: Senior
Highlights: Singles Champion

Rory first picked up a tennis racket when he was in kindergarten, following in the steps of his older siblings who both played the game. When they moved on to other activities, he stuck with tennis, turning it into his own hyper-competitive passion. “The idea of losing makes me a little sick to my stomach,” Rory said. 

After his state title as a sophomore, Rory wondered what his next big goal would be. “For my whole life I was chasing the state tournament, chasing the state title,” he said. “So now I’m always trying to find new motivation, and I would take small victories if I could minimize unforced errors or see if I could get my serve better.” 

He channeled his competitiveness and the improvements to his game at the state tournament, breezing by the competition and swiftly dispatching his finals opponents 6-2, 6-0. 

Knowing Glacier had a chance to win the team title added extra fire to his senior season. The Wolfpack ended up winning the program’s first state championship since 2013, and Rory attributed every victory by a Glacier player to the constant cheerleading of his teammates. “We kept each other going the whole time.”

Mikenna and Hailey Ells

School: Whitefish
Class: Senior, Freshman

State Placements: 1st (200, 400, 4×100) 2nd (100, 300H), 5th (high jump, 100H), 6th (high jump)

Mikenna had big designs on her senior year, but her primary goal was to repeat as the 400 champion, and maybe take a crack at Marlow Schulz’s school and state record. While she didn’t get the record, Mikenna had a stellar performance at state in the 400, winning by nearly two seconds over her nearest competitor. 

In the 200, a relaxed preliminary performance got Mikenna into the final but put her in lane eight, on the far outside without the ability to see her competitors until they pulled even with her. At the last possible second, she edged ahead to add another state title, in exceedingly exciting fashion, in an event she just started running this season. 

While Hailey also ran the 400, finishing seventh, her strength lies in the hurdles, where she finished fifth in the 100 hurdles and was barely edged out at the line in the 300 hurdles. For Hailey, however, getting to run at the state meet in Laurel was an experience in itself. “I remember going out there and watching Mikenna, and then I was like, ‘Oh, I always want to go onto the track, just to jog on it,’” Hailey said. “And now I got to compete on it with Mikenna.”

Seth Osborne

School: Bigfork 
Class: Senior
Highlight: State champion pole vault

When Seth was a freshman on his high school’s track team in Illinois, he had never heard of pole vault. The coach at his school gave him the rough rundown — you take a pole, launch yourself over a bar and land on your back on a mat. Seth thought it sounded like a great event, mostly because it meant he could skip cardio. The program had a history of producing nationally ranked high school vaulters, and Seth was moving up the ranks. Then, his family decided to move to Bigfork last summer.

“I was not happy at first,” he said. “I wanted to vault and I didn’t know if the school would have my poles.” Seth jumps on a longer pole than most people of his body weight, and it turned out that Bigfork did happen to have one, but no one in school history had ever jumped with it. Seth started his season with consistent vaults between 11 and 12.5 feet, but then at districts he launched himself 13 feet 9 inches. In a sudden-death jumpoff at state, he matched that height to take the state title.

“I’m so glad I didn’t stop,” he said. “I know I want vaulting to be part of my life whether it’s competing just on my own, or at a college or just coaching high school.”

Alyssa Blankenship

School: Columbia Falls 
Class: Senior
Highlights: 1st team all state

Alyssa remembers last year’s missed season well: Columbia Falls had tryouts, and that was it. Her summer travel team helped her bridge the gap year, but she was ready to have a full senior season, and she went out on top.

“I wasn’t keeping track of my stats,” Alyssa said. “Then I saw at the end of the season I was fourth in the state, and it was just shocking to see.” Her 40 runs contributed strongly to Columbia Falls’ appearance at the state tournament. Early in the season, cross-lake rivalry games against Polson provided season highlights. “We played well to lose just 5-4 to the best team in the state,” she said. “It was very exciting to be at that level as a team. And I was on something that night, just trying to keep the energy high on the field and in the dugout.”

Alyssa has played softball since she was 3 and isn’t done yet — she will continue her career playing at Luther College. “It’s fun to be good at a sport, but it’s also fun to have been around it long enough to understand the game.” 

Tate Kauffman

School: Glacier
Class: Junior
State Placement: 2nd triple jump

As a freshman, Tate spent most of his time on the track as a middle-distance runner, with no thoughts of testing out any field events — he’d dabbled in some as a middle schooler but none of them stuck. Then, during a game of pickup basketball in the gym this year, Glacier’s head track coach Arron Deck saw him shooting hoops and told him he needed to try his hand as a jumper. Tate started with high jump for a few meets before Deck signed him up for the triple jump.

“I was actually pretty good at it, jumping like 37 [feet], and then I just kept getting better and all of a sudden I was one of the top guys in the state,” Tate said. At the state meet, he had his best jump yet, good enough to finish in second place. 

“I’m pretty excited because the guy who won is a senior,” Tate said. “I’m going to be doing some jumping training over the summer, and I know it’ll help with football and basketball, too. There’s just a lot of improvement I can make — this was only my first year doing it.” 

Lara Erickson

School: Columbia Falls
Class: Senior
Season Highlights: State champion 1600, 3200; school record 800

The medals and podium finishes are great, but Lara was most excited to spend a season on the track with her younger sister Siri, who finished right behind her in both state races. “It’s really special and it was really sad after our last race,” Lara said. “We were both kind of crying a little bit because we had just raced together since my eighth-grade year when she was a sixth grader, so it was just really cool to be able to go one-two in the mile and a two mile, and just be on the podium together.”

While Lara expects her sister to surpass her achievements in the future, it won’t be easy. Lara ran 5:13 in the 1600, 11:29 in the 3200 and 2:20 in the 800, and won her individual titles decisively. “I envisioned during the third 800 of the 3200 just solidifying my lead and then hammering the last two laps as hard as I could, and that’s exactly what I did.” she said. “Now I can take like two weeks off — that would be nice — but my legs will be wanting to run in a few days.”

Gracie Smyley

School: Whitefish 
Class: Senior
Season Highlight: Singles Champion

Gracie ends her high school career solidly cemented as one of the best high school players to compete in Montana, with a 50-0 record. After spending time in Florida attending a tennis academy, she returned to Whitefish as a sophomore and won the girls singles title at the state tournament. After last year’s missed season, she returned as one of the only defending champions with a clear target on her back. “There was pressure for sure, but I just wanted to have fun and play match by match,” she said.

All season, that’s what she did: had fun and took down opponents match by match. The state tournament was no different. Gracie breezed through all the rounds, easily dispatching her opponents. In the final, she faced the closest thing she has to a rival, Columbia Falls’ Hannah Schweikert, in a rematch of the divisional final. Despite some unforced errors early on, Gracie stormed back to win 6-4, 6-2. “This year, I knew what to expect at state and I had a greater sense of how to play and different tactics,” Gracie said. 

Gabe Menicke

School: Whitefish
Class: Junior
State Placement: State champion triple jump

Gabe had one goal in his mind when he started the season: surpass the best performance by his older brother in the triple jump. The third time he stepped up to the boards, he jumped 44 feet, beating the family record by a foot and a half. That jump also established Gabe as one of the top jumpers statewide, across all classifications. “My friends and teammates, you know, we push each other at practice a lot,” Gabe said, attributing much of his success to the team dynamic. “And same with our coaches; our coaches would really push us to not take it easy.”

At state, Gabe knew he was facing tough competition in the triple jump, and pulled himself out of the 200-meter final to give himself the best possible chance for a state title, a move that paid off. 

In addition to the triple jump, Gabe competed in the 200, 400, high jump and both relays. He’s already looking forward to his senior season with designs on higher placements for the school’s relay teams, and goals to exceed 6 feet in the high jump and push the boundaries in the sand as well. 

Wyatt Duke

School: Bigfork
Class: Senior
State Placement: 3rd high jump, 6th 110 hurdles

As an eighth grader, Wyatt jumped 6 feet. Then he grew. A lot. As a freshman and sophomore, he was the runner-up at the state meet, and his senior year saw vast improvements, almost by accident. “The first meet, jumping 6-08 was unexpected,” he said. “I just wanted to clear 6-04. Then in Frenchtown, jumping 6-09 was a complete surprise.” It was at that point that Bigfork jumps coach Jim Epperly knew Wyatt could be a seven-foot high jumper. 

The state meet was a roller coaster of emotion for Wyatt. The top jumper in the state, his main competition, pulled a hamstring the first day of competition and was a question mark until he started warming up for the high jump. Then Wyatt says he got in his head a little bit and was jumping a little too close to the bar — for the first time all season he missed clearing 6-04 and lost a jumping competition. 

Wyatt doesn’t think he’s done yet. “I haven’t reached my max potential. I think I’m a seven-foot jumper, and if I can get four more years of practice, I’ll get there.”

Taylor Brisendine

School: Glacier
Class: Senior
State Placement: 2nd triple jump, 3rd long jump, 5th 100 hurdles

High jumping isn’t Taylor’s favorite event, but it was the first one she competed in during the state track meet. “I kind of wanted to get it done, and I think I got in my head a bit,” she said. Despite jumping 5-03 this season, Taylor no-heighted and started the two-day meet in tears. 

Then her coach told her a story of a former Glacier athlete who had a similar experience in the high jump, but went on to crush every other event. “I think that kind of changed my mindset a little bit, going into hurdles,” Taylor said. “I was ready to race.” She ran a lifetime best to take second in her heat of hurdles, made the final and finished on the podium. Then she finished third in the long jump, which also was a lifetime best. She was “super pumped” for the triple jump the next day because she knew she had a shot at winning. In her last jump of the competition, Taylor stretched out to leap past 39 feet, two feet better than she’d ever jumped. And even though she lost by three inches in the end, Taylor knows she gave it her all. “It was really emotional and I’ve never had more people come up and congratulate me on a jump before.” 

Brooke Zetooney, Mikenna Ells, Hailey Ells, Erin Wilde

School: Whitefish
Class: Freshman, Senior, Freshman, Junior 
State Highlights: State champions 4×100; combined 11 podium finishes

“We really wanted to beat Central Catholic in the relay,” Erin said. “We walked up before the race and were high fiving each other and they were giving us the side eye. We were like, ‘We need to beat them.’” The relay order ascended by seniority. Hailey started off, handed to Brooke who handed to Erin who passed the baton to Mikenna to bring home. 

Throughout the season, in a race that has no margin for error, the second handoff from Brooke to Erin had been at times sketchy. “We just got it down,” Erin said. “I was screaming and jumping up and down yelling for Zetooney, and then we made the handoff and it was perfect.” The Bulldogs won with a half-second to spare over Billings Central Catholic. 

Individually, Brooke pulled off a stunning victory in the 100-meter over Mikenna, while also making the final of the 200 and 400. Erin competed in all three jumping events and, even with a rare off day in the high jump, finished fourth. 

“The seniors definitely made an impact on our athletics, all around, so it’s going to be hard,” Erin said. “The underclassmen definitely have to step up, but it’ll be fun, and it’ll be fun to watch the graduates continue competing.”

Caleb Bernhardt

School: Glacier 
Class: Junior
State Highlights: 2nd 300 hurdles, 5th 110 hurdles

Caleb first cleared a hurdle in fifth grade. “I found that fun, just jumping, but I think that’s because there’s a lot more than raw speed involved,” he said. “It’s not like true jumps where you’re on your own pace, going when you’re ready. You can’t scratch in hurdles; you’ve just got to get over them.” 

For the whole season, the state’s best times in the 300 hurdles — Caleb’s better of the two hurdle disciplines — belonged alternately to Caleb and Sentinel’s Drew Klumph. The two athletes ended the season with lifetime bests separated by a mere .01 of a second. The margin in the state final was a little bigger, a whole .08 of a second, but provided excitement all the way through the line and the photo finish. “I felt like we were running fast, but then I noticed, yeah, he definitely got to the line first,” Caleb said. “And then I was pumped for him. I’m happy and I’m humbled and I’m coming back next year and crushing.” As both athletes are juniors, track fans will be able to cheer through another season of close finishes.

More Stars

AA Girls
Ceriese Lee, Flathead, junior, 5th place 400/3rd place 4×400 relay
Lili Rumsey Eash, Flathead, freshman, 4th place 800/4th place 1600/3200
Skye Thompson, Flathead, senior, 6th place 300 hurdles/4th place 4×100 relay
Akilah Kubi, Flathead, sophomore, 4th place 4×100 relay
Kelcey Copping, Flathead, sophomore, 4th place 4×100 relay
Rylee Barnes, Flathead, junior, 4th place 4×100 relay
Tori Noland-Gillespie, Flathead, senior, 3rd place 4×400 relay
Peyton Walker, Flathead, sophomore, 3rd 4×400 relay
Sidney Gulick, Glacier, junior, 300 hurdles
Rebecca Eacker, Flathead, senior, 3rd place discus
Cameron Gilman, Glacier, senior, 6th place shot put
Hania Halverson, Flathead, junior, 5th place pole vault

Track and Field
AA Boys
Jeff Lillard, Glacier, sophomore, 3rd place 400/6th place 4×400 relay
Jake Turner, Glacier, junior, 4th place 400/6th place 4×400 relay
Sam Ells, Glacier, junior, 3rd place 1600/4th place 800
Connor Sullivan, Glacier, junior, 6th place 4×400 relay
Xavier Stout, Glacier, sophomore 6th place 4×400 relay
Dylan Zink, Flathead, junior, 4th place triple jump

A Girls
Ally Sempf, Columbia Falls, freshman, 6th place 100
Isabelle Cooke, Whitefish, freshman, 2nd place 800
Siri Erickson, Columbia Falls, senior, 2nd place 1600/2nd place 3200
Kristina Shestak, Whitefish, freshman, 6th place 100 hurdles
Hannah Sempf, Columbia Falls, junior, 5th place pole vault 
Alexis Green, Columbia Falls, junior, 4th place triple jump

A Boys
Jace Duval, Columbia Falls, sophomore, 6th place 200
Richard Role, Columbia Falls, senior, 6th place 800
Bodie Smith, Whitefish, junior, 3rd place 110 hurdles/4th place 300 hurdles/6th place 4×400 relay/6th place long jump
Colter Gaertner, Whitefish, junior, 6th place 4×400 relay
Marvin Kimera, Whitefish, senior, 6th place 4×400 relay
Alle Knapton, Columbia Falls, senior, 3rd place discus 

B Girls
Jessy Frey, Bigfork, senior, 4th place 4×100 relay
Afton Lambrecht, Bigfork, freshman, 4th place 4×100 relay/1st place 4×400 relay
Chloe Raats, Bigfork, junior, 4th place 4×100 relay/1st place 4×400 relay
Audrey Buenz, Bigfork, senior, 4th place 4×100 relay/1st place 4×400 relay
Coralyn Shillam, Bigfork, junior, 1st place 4×400 relay
Scout Nadeau, Bigfork, sophomore, 4th place shot put
Zoey Albert, Bigfork, sophomore, 6th place javelin
Inga Turner, Bigfork, sophomore, 6th place high jump

B Boys:
Jack Jensen, Bigfork, freshman, 5th place 1600
Isak Epperly, Bigfork, sophomore, 2nd place 110 hurdles
Cormac Benn, Bigfork, senior, 4th place 4×100 relay/6th place 4×400 relay/4th place long jump
Joseph Farrier, Bigfork, sophomore, 4th place 4×100 relay/6th place 4×400 relay
George Bucklin, Bigfork, junior, 4th place 4×100 relay/6th place 4×400 relay
Noah Kinslow, Bigfork, senior, 4th place 4×100 relay/6th place 4×400 relay

Nolan White, Flathead, senior, 3rd place boys singles
Ethan Purdy, Glacier, senior, 3rd place boys doubles
Harrison Sanders, Glacier, sophomore, 3rd place boys doubles
Jayce Cripe, Whitefish, senior, 3rd place boys singles
Niels Getts, Columbia Falls, senior, 4th place boys singles
Highland Lee-French, Whitefish, junior, 4th place boys doubles
Aaron Dicks, Whitefish, junior, 4th place boys doubles
Hannah Schweikert, Columbia Falls, senior, 2nd place girls singles
Justus West, Bigfork, senior, 3rd place boys singles
Blane Barrows, Bigfork, junior, 4th place boys singles

B Golf:
Colin Wade, Bigfork, freshman, T-10th

Class A
Aspen Dawson, Columbia Falls, sophomore, All State
Syd Mann, Columbia Falls, sophomore, 1st Team All Conference
Abbie Darsow, Columbia Falls, junior, 2nd Team All Conference
Haylee Lawrence, Columbia Falls, junior, 2nd Team All Conference
McKenna Rensel, Columbia Falls, senior, 2nd Team All Conference
Class AA
Ella Farrell, Glacier, freshman, All State
Kenadie Goudette, Glacier, freshman, All State
Sammie Labrum, Glacier, junior, All State
Kenna Vanorny, Glacier, senior, All State
Halle Shroeder, Glacier, senior, 2nd Team All Conference
Ilyssa Centner, Flathead, senior, Western AA Honorable Mention
Alyssa Cadwalder, Flathead, senior, Western AA Honorable Mention
Brianna Morales, Flathead, senior, Western AA Honorable Mention
Macy Craver, Flathead, junior, Western AA Honorable Mention

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