Sports

Best of Preps — Fall 2021

Highlighting the best Flathead Valley athletes from the fall sports seasons

By Micah Drew

Photo illustrations by Dwayne Harris

LILLI RUMSEY EASH

SCHOOL: FLATHEAD
CLASS: SOPHOMORE
STATE MEET (5K): 4TH 18:31.65

Cross country is a unique sport in that its black-and-white list of times and numbers makes predicting the future a feasible pursuit. If all graduating seniors are removed from the results of this fall’s Class AA state meet, there is a 55-second gap between Lilli, who ran her best race of the year at the meet, and the next competitor in the state. While purely speculative, (and not accounting for new freshmen phenoms) that’s a level of dominance unheard of in Class AA running in years, meaning Lilli is on her way to becoming the best female runner to pass through the halls of Flathead High School since Zoe Nelson’s four-year reign at the turn of the century. Coach Jesse Rumsey said there has been a marked change in Lilli’s mindset, not just from last year to this year, but over the course of the season. “She’s just really started to dial in the competitive mindset, which is nothing anyone can see from the outside. As a sophomore to put herself up there and go against the fastest girls in the state shows a lot of mental grit.”

GEORGE BUCKLIN

SCHOOL: BIGFORK
CLASS: SENIOR
POSITION: RUNNING BACK

The Bigfork Vikings enjoyed a historic season in just the second year playing under head coach Jim Benn, making the state final for the third time in program history and the first time since 2010, when Bigfork took home the crown. The Vikings went 9-4 this season and played their best games at the end of the season, knocking off three higher-seeded opponents in the post-season, each on the road. While Benn says it was team determination that got Bigfork into the final, he gave the nod to senior George Bucklin for his contributions. George was a strong offensive player all season, but stepped it up in the post-season — he recorded double-digit carries in each game and scored half of his season’s points in the final four games. “George is the spark of this team,” said coach Benn. “We would not have been in the state championship without what he’s done.”

GEORGE ROBBINS

SCHOOL: COLUMBIA FALLS
CLASS: SENIOR
POSITION: MIDFIELDER

When coach O’Brien Byrd had to pick one athlete to man-mark Whitefish’s top player, it had to be senior captain George Robbins. “No one wants to win more than George, I’ve said it for four years in a row at the end of the season banquet,” Byrd said. “He’s a true example of a coach’s dream athlete.” Byrd credits George’s performance in the state final against Whitefish as the sole reason the game was so close. When a penalty was called for Columbia Falls in the final seconds of the game, Byrd also knew that George had to take the shot. Under the most stressful conditions possible, with the chance to send the game into OT, George launched a perfect penalty kick, a laser-straight shot into the lower left corner of the goal. It was perfectly placed, and only thwarted at the last possible moment by an equally heroic effort by the keeper. “That game was one of the greatest spectacles in Montana state history, and George made that possible.”

SIDNEY GULICK

SCHOOL: GLACIER
CLASS: SENIOR
POSITION: OUTSIDE HITTER

Sidney is an electric athlete no matter which of her four sports she’s competing in, but volleyball might be where she shines the brightest. The four-year letter winner was the Western AA player of the year this fall after rolling out a stats sheet that elevates her to the best player to come out of Glacier. Sidney averaged 4.38 kills per set, and she broke Glacier’s single-season kill record by more than 100. She also is on the program’s top-10 list for career digs, after averaging 3.78 per game this year. “To be that dominant in the front row and the back row is demonstrative of what kind of athlete she is — she stepped up every time we needed her to,” said coach Christy Harkins. “I saw just tremendous growth in her areas of leadership, too. We had a young team and she just took those kids in and got them to understand what it takes to play at a high level.”

CHASE YOUSO

SCHOOL: FLATHEAD
CLASS: SENIOR
POSITION: LINEMAN

It’s hard to go through a season and not win a football game, especially when you’re your senior year, but Chase did so without a single down of bad attitude. “Chase makes everyone around him get better, and feel better, and that can be hard sometimes, especially when you’re not a strong football team yet,” said coach Alex Cummings. During the regular season, Chase was the leading tackler in Class AA, smacking opponents onto the gridiron 117 times. Chase also excels at smacking opponents down in another sport: wrestling. Last year he finished third in his weight class and will continue wresting in college. “While he’s a great athlete, no doubt about that, his conduct off the field is even greater,” said Cummings. “He’s a great member of our community, a solid representative of Flathead High School, and just someone that leads by example no matter what he’s doing.”

HANNAH SEMPF

SCHOOL: COLUMBIA FALLS
CLASS: SENIOR
STATE MEET (5K): 1ST 20:03.
4

As the top returner from last year’s state cross country meet, Hannah had good reason to be confident going into her senior season. She was challenged during the season in the best kind of way — from within her own team — and going into the state meet was one of a handful of runners capable of winning the Class A race. State meets aren’t always about how fast a race is run and coach Jim Peacock watched Hannah execute a tactically perfect race. “There are times when you’re running and fighting demons, asking yourself, ‘OK, what do I want and what am I willing to settle for, what is good enough for today,’” said coach Jim Peacock. “Hannah had to answer those questions several times and each time she answered by saying, ‘I’m in this, I can do this.’” By the time Hannah fought her demons for the last time, she had broken the tape well clear of her competitors, leading Columbia Falls to the program’s first ever state championship.

ZANE ELLIOTT

SCHOOL: GLACIER
CLASS: SENIOR
POSITION: MIDFIELDER

Last year, as Glacier embarked on a playoff campaign, Zane was unable to help his team out due to a quarantine. The experience of watching (socially distanced) from the sidelines as his Wolfpack tried to make the finals set up the two-time all-state honoree with a mentality to give it his all during his senior season. Coach Ryan Billiet remembers guest coaching for a club team eight years ago when he first worked with Zane, and vividly recalls seeing him score his first goal for the Wolfpack during his freshman year. Four years, and many, many more goals later, Zane leaves Glacier as the all-time leading scorer in program history, and a key player in helping the Wolfpack make it to the state final this fall. “Zane is just such a magician with the ball. His mastery and technical abilities continue to get better,” Billiet said. “And it’s been awesome watching him evolve in every position we put him in. It takes patience, timing and vision to have that success and he has that.”

JACK JENSEN

SCHOOL: BIGFORK
CLASS: SOPHOMORE
STATE MEET (5K): 3RD
16:58.8

Talented runners often make their mark early in their high school careers – think of anyone carrying the last name Morley or Perrin. Jack Jensen is the latest iteration of that tradition in the valley, and he’s doing so at a school where cross country alums have become world-class runners within a few years. Jack was the top Montana freshman miler on the track in the spring and earned a podium finish in his first ever cross country season, while learning about his abilities in the sport. “He’s a new runner, and frankly he doesn’t know his own pacing very well, he never runs with a watch, he has no idea,” said coach Ryan Nollan. “But he’s a competitor, he looks at who’s the top group and decides to run with them, stay close and try to make a move at the end.” That competitive strength took Jack to a third place finish at the state meet, behind two graduating seniors, and helped lift the Vikings to their first state title since 1975.

BODIE SMITH

SCHOOL: WHITEFISH
CLASS: SENIOR
POSITION: WIDE RECEIVER/FREE SAFETY

For two-time all-state senior Bodie Smith, his last high school season was about doing everything he could to help the Bulldogs win, putting up solid stats on offense, defense, and special teams. Throughout the season, Bodie sprinkled in plays that are sure to stand out to recruiters watching his highlight reel. There are his seven catches, 115 receiving yards and touchdown at an early season game against Frenchtown; his five straight weeks of scoring; at least one TD for the Bulldogs; and of course, his biggest play of the year, a 93-yard kick-off return for a touchdown against Libby. “Bodie just showed up for us everywhere on the field,” said coach Chad Ross. “He’s going on to play at the next level.”

JAKE RENDINA

SCHOOL: GLACIER
CLASS: SENIOR
POSITION: RUNNING BACK

What more is there to say about Jake Rendina? He leaves Glacier after three years as a starter that saw him tuck the football into the crook of his arm 676 times and storm into the endzone an astonishing 62 times – more than anyone in state history, according to MHSA’s out-of-date record books. His stats tell one story, but his coach, Grady Bennett, tells another: that of Rendina’s attitude and commitment to his team. “He’s developed his voice as a leader, and he really challenges the team to get better, on and off the field,” according to Bennett. After evaluating a handful of collegiate opportunities, Jake recently committed to attend West Point to further his athletic and academic careers where he’s sure to make his mark and provide locals a familiar sight on a bigger stage when he rushes his way through the annual Army-Navy game. He’ll also take his grounding principles along with him: Drink your protein shakes, eat your breakfast and ultimately, enjoy life. “Smile a lot, give good hugs and definitely cherish each moment,” Rendina says.

MADDIE ROBISON

SCHOOL: COLUMBIA FALLS
CLASS: SENIOR
POSITION: MIDFIELDER

Columbia Falls coach Thomas Clark remembers working with Maddie at a summer camp. “We were all watching this little girl destroy all the boys in these activities and you knew she was going to be a freak wherever she ended up playing.” As it turns out, Maddie ended up playing for Clark in high school, where she will leave behind a record-breaking legacy. As a junior last year, Maddie notched an impressive stat sheet: 32 goals, one away from a school record, and 21 assists, an all-class state record. This year Maddie kicked her career stats onto the record board as well. Her 88 goals leapfrogged her past several Division I talents to fifth all time, and her 58 assists is a state record, and a testament to her other-centered drive on the soccer field. “I think it’s fitting that the most significant individual accolade that she’ll get is one that’s super interconnected to her teammates,” said Clark. It’s clear Maddie has influenced her teammates’ skills and equally selfless drive — sophomore Hope McAtee tied Maddie’s season assist record this season. “I love passing to my teammates, I love seeing them score and I just love winning games with them,” Maddie said. 

SAM ELLS

SCHOOL: GLACIER
CLASS: SENIOR
BEST TIME (5K): 15:41.4

The first time he laced up his spikes at Rebecca Farm this fall, Sam introduced himself as a podium threat after he easily pulled away from a competitive field and ran a lifetime best of 15:53 in smoky conditions. Sam notched four other wins, a school record, and won two of three head-to-head matches against the state’s other top runner during his senior season. At the state championship in Missoula, Sam was poised to finish first or second going into the last mile of the race before he dropped out. Not finishing the last race of a high school career might weigh on most athletes, but Sam’s resilience was in peak form that day, as a few hours later he donned another Glacier uniform to take the field at the state quarter-final soccer match. “Having Sam come back in after what he faced, the adversity in his cross country meet, it’s just admirable for him to step in,” said soccer coach Ryan Billiet. “It gave us a new confidence, we’re a different team when he’s in the lineup.” Sam scored a game winning goal in the match and later earned all-state honors, proving himself as one of the most talented single-season, dual-sport athletes in Flathead Valley’s history.

ISAIAH ROTH

SCHOOL: COLUMBIA FALLS
CLASS: SENIOR
POSITION: RUNNING BACK/CORNERBACK

Isaiah earned his second all-state nod for his offensive performance on the gridiron this year. Isaiah rushed for 770 yards, added another 88 receiving yards, and accounted for 16 touchdowns during his senior campaign, but he may have shone even brighter as a return specialist. “I’m sure every team held their breath on each punt, because he returned it a lot further than it was punted every single time,” said coach Jaxon Schweikert of the star senior. “He’s just lightning in a bottle. He’s going to make a good college football player.” In a blowout game against Browning, Isaiah racked up seven touchdowns, and those 42 points are the fifth most scored by an individual in a single game in state history, according to the Montana State High School Association record books.

SAVANNA STERCK

SCHOOL: FLATHEAD
CLASS: SENIOR
POSITION: OUTSIDE HITTER

It’s been three years since Flathead last swept the crosstown volleyball series against rival Glacier, but this year the Bravettes did it with seeming ease. In the first matchup, Flathead overcame a two-set deficit to beat the Wolfpack. Their comeback was so hot during the fourth set that the fire alarm went off three separate times, which only delayed Flathead’s win. Two weeks later the Bravettes again won in five sets, with senior Savanna putting her powerful hits to work. Between the two matches, Savanna had 31 kills, 14 digs and 4 aces and across the season, led the Bravettes in hitting percentage. “Savanna’s been such an awesome anchor for our team the past two seasons,” said coach Emily Russell. “No matter where she’s playing, she brings fire to the team on and off the court.”

GABE MENICKE, CHASE SABIN, WILL PEPPMEIER

SCHOOL: WHITEFISH
CLASS: SENIORS

Nothing is certain in this world but death, taxes and Whitefish winning the state soccer championship. The three Bulldogs co-captains led a senior class to an unprecedented level of dominance in Montana soccer — the group of 10 will graduate having never lost a single game in a Bulldog uniform, a streak that has lasted more than 1,500 days. The program is the only men’s team in state history to win back-to-back-to-back-to-back titles. All three captains earned all-state honors; Gabe and Chase for the second year in a row. Gabe is the most prolific scorer in program history and he found the back of the net 27 times this season, while Chase led the Bulldogs in assists and contributed 14 goals of his own. As starting keeper, Will helped the Bulldogs achieve seven shutouts during the season, and performed his most crucial save when it mattered the most, during the final seconds of the championship match. “Every boy has to step forward at their moment and the keeper’s job at that moment on the line was to stop the PK, and he did it,” said coach John Lacey. 

MORE STARS

GOLF BOYS

Will Salonen Glacier Sr. Class AA 4th

Tyler Avery Glacier Jr. Class AA 6th

Billy Smith Whitefish Jr. Class A 2nd

Johnny Nix Whitefish Jr. Class A 9th

Marcus Kilman Whitefish Sr. Class A 10th

GOLF GIRLS

Chloe Tanner Glacier So. Class AA 5th

Jillian Wynne Flathead Sr. Class AA 10th

Stella Claridge Glacier Sr. Class AA 12th

Anyah Cripe Whitefish Sr. Class A 11th

Macy Whisenand Whitefish Sr. Class A 14th

CROSS COUNTRY BOYS

Mason Genovese Whitefish So. Class A 6th

Elliot Sanford Bigfork Sr. Class B 10th 

James Petersen Columbia Falls Sr. Class A 11th

Jacob Henson Whitefish Sr. Class A 13th

CROSS COUNTRY GIRLS

Paetra Cooke Whitefish Sr. Class A 13th

Madelaine Jellison Flathead Jr. Class AA 14th

VOLLEYBALL

Maddie Frazier Glacier Jr. 2nd Team All-State

Kylie Munsinger Flathead Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Akilah Kubi Flathead Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Haven Speer Glacier So. 2nd Team All-Conference

Cyan Mooney Flathead Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Ella Farrell Glacier So. All-Conference 

Kennedy Moore Flathead So. All-Conference 

Jazzy Marino Columbia Falls Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Jadi Walburn Whitefish Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Emma Trieweiler Whitefish Sr. All-Conference 

Maddie Stutsman Columbia Falls Sr

SOCCER CLASS AA BOYS

John Pyron Glacier Sr. All-State

Elijah Mildren Glacier Sr. All-State

Burke Fox Glacier Sr. All-State

Landon Saraceno Flathead Jr. All-Conference

Soloman DallaBetta Glacier Sr. All-Conference

Sullivan Coggins Glacier Sr. All-Conference

Sam Ells Glacier Sr. All-Conference

SOCCER CLASS AA GIRLS

Rylee Barnes Flathead Sr. All-State

Reagan Brisendine Glacier So. All-State

Ally Pollan Flathead So. All-Conference

Fionna Coulter Flathead Jr. All-Conference

Ella Wilson Glacier Jr. All-Conference

Calista Wroble Glacier SO All-Conference

Mickaela Santa Glacier Sr. All-Conference

SOCCER CLASS A BOYS

Kai Golan Columbia Falls So. All-State

Darby McCarthy Whitefish Sr. All-State

Aaron Dicks Whitefish Sr. All-State

Dale Blickhan Columbia Falls Jr. All-State

Nico Lang Columbia Falls Jr. All-State

Walton Nichols Columbia Falls Jr. All-State

Landen Byerman Bigfork Jr. 1st Team All-Conference

Finley Sundberg Columbia Falls Jr. 1st Team All-Conference

Collin Lyman Whitefish So. 2nd Team All-Conference

Willem Gray Whitefish Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Charlie Hyatt Whitefish So. 2nd Team All-Conference

Ryder Elliott Whitefish So. 2nd Team All-Conference

Andrew Miner Columbia Falls Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Bryce Dunham Columbia Falls Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Caden Riedesel Bigfork Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Levi Peterson Bigfork Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Niko Hunter Whitefish Sr. All-Conference 

Ethan Austin Columbia Falls Jr. All-Conference 

SOCCER CLASS A GIRLS

Anna Akey Whitefish Sr. All-State

Emma Barron Whitefish Sr. All-State

C. Johnston-Heinz Columbia Falls Sr. All-State

Isabelle Cooke Whitefish So. All-State

Adrienne Healy Whitefish Sr. All-State

Hope McAtee Columbia Falls So. All-State

Brooke Roberts Whitefish Jr. All-State

Olivia Genovese Whitefish So. 1st Team All-Conference

Josie Schneider Whitefish Sr. 1st Team All-Conference

Sydney Mann Columbia Falls Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Alexis Green Columbia Falls Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Brette Guenzler Bigfork Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Scout Nadeau Bigfork Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Maya Lacey Whitefish Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Zoey Byrd Columbia Falls Jr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Danika Bucklin Bigfork So. 2nd Team All-Conference

Lucy Lowry Whitefish Sr. 2nd Team All-Conference

Josie Harris Columbia Falls So. 2nd Team All-Conference

Sophie Olson Whitefish Sr. All-Conference 

Aletheia Fisher Columbia Falls Sr. All-Conference 

Lily Tanko Bigfork Sr. All-Conference 

Braeden Gunlock Bigfork Fr. All-Conference 

FOOTBALL CLASS AA

Patrick Rohrback Glacier Sr. 1st Team All-State P/K

Kash Goicoechea Glacier So. 1st Team All-State KR

Connor Sullivan Glacier Sr. 1st Team All-State WR/FS

Jake Turner Glacier Sr. 2nd Team All-State WR/CB

Erik Junk Glacier Sr. 2nd Team All-State T/DE

Wyatt Thomason Glacier Sr. 2nd Team All-State OLB

Levi Frost Glacier Sr. 2nd Team All-State FS

Royce Conklin Glacier Sr. 2nd Team All-State OLB

FOOTBALL CLASS A

Cody Schweikert Columbia Falls So. All-State QB/ILB

Mason Peters Columbia Falls Sr. All-State FS

Ryder Barinowski Whitefish So. All-State K/P

Ty Schwaiger Whitefish Jr. All-State RB/ILB

Kai Nash Whitefish Jr. All-State G

Talon Holmquist Whitefish Sr. All-State DE

Jack Akey Whitefish Sr. All-State CB

Jaxson Schluach Whitefish Sr. All-State TE/CB

Ashton Akey Whitefish Sr. 2nd Team All-conference C

Fynn Ridgeway Whitefish Jr. 2nd Team All-conference QB

Cade Morgan Columbia Falls Sr. 2nd Team All-conference WR

Tanner Harmon Whitefish Sr. 2nd Team All-conference T

Montana Cohenour Whitefish Jr. 2nd Team All-conference DL

Raphe Salmon Columbia Falls Sr. 2nd Team All-conference DL

Zane McCallum Columbia Falls Sr. 2nd Team All-conference OLB

Logan Conklin Whitefish Sr. 2nd Team All-conference SS

Justin Windauer Columbia Falls Jr. All-Conference  FS

Colton Nevins Columbia Falls Sr. All-Conference  DE

Cody Berry Whitefish Sr. All-Conference  FB/ILB

Hunter Goodman Columbia Falls So. All-Conference  T

Jace Duval Columbia Falls Jr. All-Conference  WR

Tyler Gilfrey Columbia Falls Jr. All-Conference  CB

FOOTBALL CLASS B

Braeden Guse Bigfork Sr. All-State T/C

Levi Taylor Bigfork Sr. All-State RB

Bryce Gilliard Bigfork Jr. All-State TE

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