fbpx
Sports

Best of Preps — Fall 2022

Highlighting the best Flathead Valley athletes from the fall sports seasons

By Story by Micah Drew | Photos by Hunter D'Antuono

Kai Golan, Bryce Dunham, Finley Sundberg, Andrew Miner

School: Columbia Falls
Class: Junior, Senior, Senior, Senior
Position: Forward, Keeper, Forward, Defender
It’s been a long time coming. Seventeen boys on the Columbia Falls soccer roster had lived their entire lives without the Wildcats bringing home a first-place trophy. Seventeen years passed between the last state soccer championship for Columbia Falls and their title this year. “We got these guys to manifest this great thing, this great accomplishment out of nothing,” said coach O’Brien Byrd. The new undisputed kings of Montana soccer are the black-clad Wildcats, whose journey to the top included back-to-back losses in the state final to their cross-valley rival, Whitefish. This year the Wildcats reached a new level, defeating the Bulldogs twice in the regular season, ending the state’s longest winning streak in the process, and adding their own lines to the history books. A team of this caliber draws success from its strength and depth across all positions. It’s nearly impossible to single out stars on the roster, but we can try. Finley led the state with his 24 goals (a school record) and 17 assists and had the final say for the Wildcats in the championship by scoring the team’s fifth and final goal of the game. Bryce tied the school record in shutouts and allowed just three goals during the regular season. Defensive MVP Andrew led a rock-solid defense that kept the soccer ball far from the Wildcat side of the field all season. And then Kai is arguably the best offensive player in the state and displays a level of athleticism and competitiveness on the pitch that’s nearly unmatched. At the state final, he showed up after kicking for the football team’s playoff game and scored a hat trick in the first half. “Across the board, every position is just cracked. Every teammate has my back, and it doesn’t matter which teammate that is,” Kai said. On the back line, Andrew’s coordinated leadership among the defenders made Bryce’s job in the goal much less stressful. “We just came into every game deciding they weren’t going to score on us, and then we played to that standard,” Andrew said. While it was rare Bryce had to block a ball, when a shot did slip past the iron defense, he stepped up and got the job done. Even though the team entered the championships as clear favorites, the biggest emotion they felt once the win was assured was relief. “We’ve been so close for so many years and knew if we didn’t get it this year, that would be it for our seniors. It was relief, excitement, happiness, just awesome feelings,” Finley said. “I don’t think we’ve ever been more ready for anything in our lives,” Bryce adds. “And we got it done.”

Lilli Rumsey Eash

School: Flathead
Class: Junior
State Meet (5k): 5th, 19:26.26
Entering a cross country season as the top returner from the state meet carries a weight of pressure, but also spawns lofty goals, a balance Lilli tackled throughout her junior year. “I had really big goals that I didn’t quite reach but I still had a super fun year. Even though I was a little disappointed, I think I’ve really figured out a lot of things over the last three years – what I do best, how I prepare for races, how I work.” Physically, Lilli was in the best shape of her life, and her times on the cross country courses reflected that. She entered the season faster than ever and clocked huge personal bests on courses she races every year. She admits to having some mental battles in the few races she didn’t win, including the state meet, but quickly points out that not every race can go perfectly. As an upperclassman, Lilli also understands her sport has depth beyond the numbers on a finishing clock – she embraced her leadership role, showing younger runners the ropes of cross country and points to the close bonds of the team as a key part of her success – every runner pushes, motivates and supports every other runner. That will be key as Lilli eyes her senior year, when state will be on her home course at Rebecca Farm. “It’ll be senior year, it’ll be here, it’s the big one and I’m excited because I feel like I can fine tune everything.” 

Tyler Avery

School: Glacier
Class: Senior
State tournament: 2nd place
During the spring, Tyler was having serious doubts about whether he saw his future unfolding on the putting green. For three years he had proven himself to be a potent golfer – after finishing third in the state as a freshman, the top of the podium continued to elude him. He was eighth as a sophomore, sixth last year. Outside of high school play, some recent regional tournaments had gone horribly wrong as well. It was taking a toll. “I really just sat down and decided there were two options. I could either just quit and be done for the rest of my life, or I could go full throttle.” He opted for the latter. The decision led to Tyler’s most successful prep season. In September he won the Butte Fairmont Invitational, defeating the state’s top golfers and leading Glacier to the team title. Throughout the season Tyler either won medalist honors or lost by a few strokes to a rival from Butte. At the state tournament, Tyler held an eight-stroke deficit going into the second day of play, but in typical fashion played his best golf when it mattered. He shot a tournament-low 69 to tie for first and force a playoff where he came up short with an errant putt. “I can’t frown too much after coming back from fifth to finish second. I can sleep soundly knowing I gave it everything I had. I played some of the best 36 holes of golf ever those days.”

Hope McAtee

School: Columbia Falls
Class: Junior
Position: Forward
Sporting events are usually remembered by the numbers on the scoreboard, and while goals are an exciting part of soccer, they don’t happen without selfless players passing the ball. Enter Hope, who for two seasons now has tied the state record for assists. She’s just one assist removed from the all-time career record, held by her former teammate, with an entire senior season ahead of her. “This was a really different year for me because I’ve always been a passing oriented player. I like setting up my teammates for success, but I also needed to focus on scoring. I wasn’t sure what to expect from myself this season, so it was a big confidence booster to see the numbers adding up.” Hope’s offensive prowess helped the Wildkats finish with a 10-5 record and a narrow loss in the state semifinals. She took extra pride in her passing game this season too, working hard to set up younger players for goals, often the first of their varsity careers. “This might have been the closest I’ve seen this team, and that chemistry made the whole season.” “I’m incredibly proud of her,” said coach Thomas Clark. “Obviously her stats speak for themselves. When a player finishes with 23 goals and 21 assists in a single season it is really unbelievable. But her biggest impact on the team came in her the way the stepped up as a leader this year and worked so hard with our other captains to ensure that we made a real run at a championship.”

Fynn Ridgeway

School: Whitefish
Class: Senior
Position: Quarterback
Not many prep players, much less quarterbacks, can claim four years as a starter by their graduation. That alone puts Fynn in a class of his own, and ranks him on the all-time state lists, according to Montana High School Association record books. His 6,010 career passing yards ranks ninth in the state, an impressive stat, but Fynn is more impressed with his improvement over four seasons. “I’ve been able to watch myself slowly develop and grow as a person and an athlete over four years. When I was a little freshman, I didn’t know if I was going to play a lot, and also just didn’t know who I was or what I was really doing. Through the years, my confidence developed, my passion for football kept growing, and I’ve really seen some personal growth as a human.” Fynn said his final season contained several highlights, but seeing how the Bulldogs responded to adversity was a favorite. The team rebounded from a season opening loss to find an identity and synergy that carried them to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2015. “We put the weight of our team on Fynn’s shoulders, and he wore it like a champion, on and off the field,” said coach Brett Bollweg. “He can do just about anything on the football field and watching him on Friday nights has been a special treat for us.”

Inga Turner

School: Bigfork
Class: Senior
Position: Middle Hitter
When a team is firing on all cylinders, it’s apparent in every action on the court. For the Bigfork Valkyries this fall, every serve, dig and kill showed a team of historic talent and synergy making a statement. Not a single player on the team was born when Bigfork last qualified for the state tournament, making the team’s performance even more impressive – they did so without a legacy of players to look up to. At the district tournament, the undefeated Valkyries lost an early game, sending them into a four-game back-to-back streak – 15 sets – to come away with the district championship. “Every single player deserves acknowledgement for their amazing marathon achievements,” said coach Ariel Stallknecht. “Inga, though, she was a rockstar all season.” Over the course of her career, Inga had more than 500 kills, including 79 in the district tournament, and received all-state and all-state tournament honors for her performances. “Everything we did this season just worked well. We were just so close as a team that we were able to make things work on the court that we’d struggled with in the past. For years our main goal has just been to try and make state, but suddenly our goal was to try and place. Ending high school on that note with the friends I have on the team was really awesome.”

Justin Windauer

School: Columbia Falls
Class: Senior
Position: Safety
Sure, coaches tend to be biased towards their own athletes, but a coach who’s been around the gridiron as long as Jaxon Schweikert knows exactly how players stack up across the state, giving his statements a little extra weight. “Justin had a huge year offensively and defensively for us — he was the best safety in the state.” As a senior, Justin took the leadership reigns of a young team that was growing into its identity and had high hopes to continue the Wildcats record of making the state tournament. “It was super fun as an upper classman, having a say with the team and on the field. It’s a kind of pressure that I really thrive under – I get it a lot in wrestling. Even with football being a team sport where pressure is more spread out across the athletes, it’s a fun feeling to have. I like a little extra pressure on my shoulders.” Going into the state tournament, Columbia Falls faced Miles City and many expected a close game to decide who advanced. Instead, the Wildcats blew out their opponents with a 48-point shutout. “That was definitely my favorite game. It was also probably the game I played the best in. We just scored on pretty much every opportunity and were just on fire. It felt really good to get such a big win in the playoffs.”

Maya Lacey

School: Whitefish
Class: Senior
Position: Midfielder
For the second time in three years, the Bulldogs reached the state final and lost in a nail-bitingly close match. For senior Maya, the trajectory to get to that final match seemed laid out at the start of the season. “We were a little nervous about how this season was going to go, but it was just three or four games in when we knew this year was going to be a different one. We were playing super great together and something just clicked. It was exciting to feel we had a chance to go all the way this year.” Maya has played all over the field during her career and this year settled into her role as a center mid. “I felt really good in that position. I was able to lead the team as a captain, but also literally helped lead our play being the center.” The dual roles were tough for Maya at times, especially considering the caliber of center mids she faced on the opposing teams. “Tackling that responsibility, that expectation of leadership as well as having to be on my game was pretty cool.” Maya is excited to continue her development at the collegiate level, where she plans to play for a Division III school in the Midwest.

Siri Erickson

School: Columbia Falls
Class: Senior
State meet (5K): 8th place, 19:55.05
In her first state meet Siri finished in the 40s, some two minutes behind the top runner in her grade – not a result that heralded the talented runner she would become. From that freshman year, Siri saw vast improvement. She finished 20 places higher as a sophomore and the last two seasons has been one of a handful of names bandied around as championship material. In October Siri had the best finish of her career, a testament to her years of training and work overcoming physical obstacles that had been barriers to success in previous seasons. “Being able to finish and still feel in control of my body was such a good feeling. I was so happy when I crossed that line, I’ve never been all-state before and I just sat down and cried when they brought me to the all-state box. But it was happy tears, because I got to share that experience with all those girls that I competed with. We have a bond from pushing each other to run our best.” Siri also had a memorable final year from a team standpoint – the Wildcats captured a third straight trophy. “When I was a freshman, I never expected our team would get a trophy, so it’s cool to have experienced all three different types of podium finishes. Every year is so different with teammates and super good competition, but each year every girl has given it their all, because of that each season has finished on such a strong note.”

Gage Sliter

School: Glacier
Class: Senior
Position: Quarterback
“In my 32 years, Gage is one of the best stories I’ve coached,” said Glacier head coach Grady Bennett. “It’s a story of how through incredible hard work, commitment and dedication, someone can truly make themselves into a better athlete, a better player, a better leader and a better young man.” As an underclassman, Glacier’s coaches were unsure whether Gage would be able to match the high level of Class AA signal callers around the state, but one glance at his junior and senior stat sheets shows Gage graduating as one of the state’s best prospects. “After my junior year, I wanted to take my play a step up for this last year,” Gage said. “I was more comfortable in the pocket after my first year as a starter. I was comfortable leading the guys and trusting them. The game really slowed down for me this year.” Gage broke a school record for most touchdowns in a game – seven against Belgrade. He also is on the record board for a host of other stats: four of the top 10 passing games, all over 340 yards; second in single season yards, 3,175; top career completion rate, 63%; third in career yards, 5,398; and second in career touchdowns with 57. Gage also graduates having overseen a four-year streak of Wolfpack victories in the annual crosstown rivalry game.

Joseph Farrier

School: Bigfork
Class: Senior
Position: Running Back
The Bigfork Vikings had another stellar season under head coach Jim Benn, with an undefeated record that took them to the state semifinals. While Benn credits a number of his players for making that run possible, the Vikings’ offensive game, grounded by Joseph, was key. “Joseph has always been an extremely fast kid, but this year he really developed into an ‘every down’ back, and did much of his best work between the tackles,” Benn said. “He has an incredible knack for explosive plays at key moments in games.” Throughout his career, Joseph racked up 1,688 yards on the ground and 29 touchdowns – more than half of which came in his senior season. “For me, it felt like it was finally my turn. I’ve watched such talented guys go through the program and it was my time to go up the field and score. But even though I’m fast, it’s all credit to my line for giving me room to work and keeping the other line away from me,” Joseph said. Though the Vikings’ season ended a game earlier than they’d hoped, the team’s energy and maturity was on display in every game. “After being in the championships last year, we knew expectations were high, but we didn’t feel much pressure as a team. All the guys were comfortable where they were at and we just always found ways to win. That made for pretty good, fun, team moments.”

Reagan Brisendine

School: Glacier
Class: Junior
Position: Forward
Glacier’s Reagan Brisendine has been on fire since she first put on a Wolfpack jersey and took to the soccer pitch, and it’s a fire that’s impossible to extinguish. As a freshman, she was essential to the Wolfpack’s first state title, scoring the game-winner in the semifinals to send Glacier into the championship match. Even as the team has struggled since that peak, Reagan hasn’t let up for a minute. In the final match of the fall season, Reagan scored eight goals against Butte, tying the MHSA reported record for single-game goals, and breaking the Glacier school record with 33 goals on the season. Then, she kept going, rolling straight from the high school season into club, playing in regional and national tournaments into the winter holidays. “Soccer has just always been my life. I’ve been doing it since I was 4 and the play of the game hooked me right away. No matter who I’m playing with or what’s at stake, I try to give it my all, every minute of every game.” Even though she plays soccer year-round on some of the highest level teams in the region, Reagan loves the high school season the most. “It’s my favorite time of year. Playing with the Wolfpack jersey on just hits a little differently.”

Deneb Linton

School: Whitefish
Class: Junior
State meet (5K): 7th, 16:44.22
There is some debate about the worst place to be at the end of a state cross country meet. Is it in second place? Is it one spot removed from the podium? For Deneb, the worst place to be is on the side of the course, with crutches. That’s where the top-10 ranked runner was at the end of his sophomore season, watching the championship unfold without him. It sparked a year-long focus on training that led Deneb and the Bulldogs to bring home its first cross country trophy in a decade. Even a month later though, the team’s runner-up finish still stung a bit. “We had high expectations and all season we were racing up to those expectations. I don’t think any of us thought it would end up as close as it was though.” Every member of the team ran either their fastest or second fastest time on the day it mattered – you can’t ask anything more from a teammate. “Personally, it’s all I could have wished for, to run my best time at the state meet and be all-state. And in every other meet, I got to run right up at the front, usually right next to my teammates. This was a strong team; everyone gave it their all each week and we strung together the best season in 10 years. But next year… we definitely want that win.”

MORE STARS

Golf

Boys

Trevor Cunningham, Glacier, Sr., Class AA 7thth

Dylan Morris, Flathead, So., Class AA 15th

Billy Smith, Whitefish, Sr., Class A T-3rd

Johnny Nix, Whitefish, Sr., Class A T-10th

Matthew Peschel, Whitefish, Sr., Class A 14th

Girls 

Chloe Tanner, Glacier, Jr., Class AA 6th

Cross Country

Boys

Logan Peterson, Columbia Falls, Jr., Class A 8th

Mason Genovese, Whitefish, Jr., Class A 11th

Soccer

Boys – Class AA 

Harrison Sanders, Glacier, Sr., All-State

Hans Coggins, Glacier, Jr., All-State

Matthew Sanchez, Flathead, Sr., All-Conference

Liam Ells, Glacier, Jr., All-Conference

Bridger Dalla Betta, Glacier, Jr., All-Conference

Caleb Brannan, Glacier, Jr., All-Conference

Hunter Lisowski, Glacier, Jr., All-Conference

Landen Saraceno, Flathead, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Class A 

Landon Byerman, Bigfork, Sr., All-State

Ryder Elliott, Whitefish, Jr., All-State

Nico Lang, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-State

Collin Lyman, Whitefish, Jr., All-State

Walton Nichols, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-State

Dale Blickhan, Columbia Falls, Sr., 1st Team All-Conference 

Adam Schrader, Columbia Falls, Sr., 1st Team All-Conference 

Ethan Austin, Columbia Falls, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Logan Bingham, Whitefish, So., 2nd Team All-Conference

Caleb Riedesel, Bigfork, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Rye Duffy, Whitefish, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Kyler Jonson, Whitefish, Fr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Josiah Kilman, Columbia Falls, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Chris Noone, Whitefish, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Levi Peterson, Bigfork, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference

River Wolford, Columbia Falls, So., 2nd Team All-Conference

Jackson Dorvall, Whitefish, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Jeremiah Pilskalns, Bigfork, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Girls- Class AA 

Fionna Coulter, Flathead, Sr., All-Conference

Mauraia Nigon, Flathead, Jr., All-Conference

Calista Wroble, Glacier, Jr., All-Conference

Cadence Murcray, Glacier, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Cecelia Vandenbosch, Flathead, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Class A 

Isabelle Cooke, Whitefish, Jr., All-State

Brooke Roberts, Whitefish, Sr., All-State

Olivia Genovese, Whitefish, Jr., All-State 

Danika Bucklin, Bigfork, Jr., All-State

Josie Harris, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-State

Braeden Gunlock, Bigfork, So., All-State

Norah Schmidt, Whitefish, Jr., All-State

Patten Gunlock, Bigfork, Fr., 1st Team All-Conference

Sydney Mann, Columbia Falls, Jr., 1st Team All-Conference

Scout Nadeau, Bigfork, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Zoey Byrd, Columbia Falls, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Madeline Mulfeld, Whitefish, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Delaney Smith, Whitefish, So., 2nd Team All-Conference

Taylor Rodgers, Columbia Falls, Fr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Mila Johns, Columbia Falls, Fr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Piper Buzzell, Bigfork, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Maeve Ingelfinger, Whitefish, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference 

Gracie Johnson, Bigfork, Fr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Kenzee West, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Delaney Kirby, Bigfork, Fr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Volleyball 

Class AA 

Maddie Frazier, Glacier, Sr., 2nd Team All-State

Cyan Mooney, Flathead, Sr., 1st Team All-Conference

Ella Farrell, Glacier, Jr., 1st Team All-Conference

Sarah Downs, Glacier, Jr., 1st Team All-Conference

Sienna Sterck, Flathead, Jr., 1st Team All-Conference

Olive Lyngholm, Flathead, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Haven Speer, Glacier, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Georgia Wilson, Flathead, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Class A 

Brooke Zetooney, Whitefish, Jr., All-State

Maddie Moultray, Columbia Falls, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Emalee Alton, Columbia Falls, So., 2nd Team All-Conference

Myli Ridgeway, Whitefish, So., 2nd Team All-Conference

Ainsley Scott, Whitefish, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Demye Rensel, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Class B

Zoe Albert, Bigfork, Sr., All-State

Piper Linson, Bigfork, Jr., All-Conference

Ellie Jordt, Bigfork, Sr., All-Conference

Ava Davey, Bigfork, So., All-Conference

FOOTBALL

Class A 

Cody Schweikert, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-State, QB/LB

Mason Kelch, Whitefish, Jr., All-State, WR/S

Ty Schwaiger, Whitefish, Sr., All-State, RB/LB

Kai Nash, Whitefish, Sr., All-State, OL

Jace Hill, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-State, WR

Tristan Cranes, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-State, OL

Kai Golan, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-State, K

Brandon Role, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-State, DL

Montana Cohenour, Whitefish, Sr., All-State, DL

Hunter Goodman, Columbia Falls, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference, T/LB

Jace Duvall, Columbia Falls, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference, WR

Clayton Godsey, Whitefish, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference, WR

Ryder Barinowski, Whitefish, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference, K/P

Ayden McFadden, Columbia Falls, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference, DL

Scotty Dalen, Whitefish, So., 2nd Team All-Conference, DL

Mark Robison, Columbia Falls, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference, S

Alihn Anderson, Columbia Falls, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference, C

Henry Bennets, Whitefish, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention, OL

Trey Rice, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention, OL

Lane Woemans, Columbia Falls, So., All-Conference Honorable Mention, OL

Reggie Sappa, Columbia Falls, So., All-Conference Honorable Mention, RB

Dane Hunt, Whitefish, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention, WR

Trey Torpen, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention, DL

Luke Moses, Whitefish, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention, LB

Tyler Gilfry, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention, C

Class B 

Isak Epperly, Bigfork, Sr., All-State, WR

Nick Walker, Bigfork, Sr., All-State, WR/DE

Bryce Gilliard, Bigfork, Sr., All-State, TE

Tristen Herd, Bigfork, Jr., All-State, QB

Manny Baldi, Bigfork, Sr., All-State, LB/G

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.