2022 Sports in Review

From state championships to record-breaking runs, 2022 was a year to remember

By Micah Drew
The Columbia Falls Wildcats celebrate their 5-2 win over The Park High Rangers in the Class A state soccer championship at Columbia Falls High School on Oct. 29, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Wildcats Take Over as Soccer Kings

When Columbia Falls last won a state soccer championship, the iPhone hadn’t been invented. Seventeen boys on the current roster had yet to be born. 

For the last four years, Montana boys Class A soccer has been dominated by a team from the Flathead Valley. That trend continued in 2022, but the locus of power shifted seven miles to the east. 

On Oct. 29, the Columbia Falls Wildcats hosted the state soccer final, and, for the first time since 2016, the game didn’t feature the Whitefish Bulldogs.

 “In Whitefish, everyone knows about the legacy, the storied history of that team. They grew up with it,” said Columbia Falls coach O’Brien Byrd. “No one had won a championship since these boys were born. We had to get them to manifest this great thing, this great accomplishment out of nothing.”

The new undisputed kings of Montana soccer are the black-clad Wildcats, who put away Livingston 5-2 in October’s state final. 

Columbia Falls has been an emerging championship-caliber program for years, dwarfed only by the dynasty of arch-rival Whitefish. The previous two state finals pitted the two Flathead Valley schools against each other. Whitefish won 3-0 in 2020, and a close 3-2 match last fall. This season however, the Wildcats made a statement early on by ending the Bulldogs’ four-year winning streak, making them a clear favorite for the title. 

“I don’t think we’ve ever been more ready for anything in our lives,” said Wildcats keeper Bryce Dunham. “And we got it done.”

Whitefish senior Erin Wilde clears the bar at 5 feet, 3 inches to win the Class A state high jump title in Butte on May 28, 2022. Micah Drew | Flathead Beacon

Whitefish Women Sprint, Jump to Championship

During the Class A state track and field championship in Butte, several athletes from Whitefish were asked to do some true heavy lifting to help their team. 

Senior Erin Wilde and sophomores Hailey Ells and Brooke Zetooney competed in a total of 11 individual events as well as two relays, contributing to 94 of the team’s points. 

“It could not have gone any more perfect,” Whitefish coach Kelliann Blackburn said. “What those girls did, every single one of them on the team did exactly what they needed to.”

In the meet’s final event, the 4×400 relay, Ells, Zetooney, sophomore Isabelle Cooke and freshman Rachael Wilmot performed four flawless handoffs and won by four seconds, a far cry from a disqualifying lane violation in 2021. The 10 points sealed the Bulldogs’ victory.

Whitefish was also the only Class A school to have a team podium finish on the girls and boys side with the boys taking second place overall, aided by individual title defenses by seniors Talon Holmquist and Gabe Menicke. 

Brock Knoten of the Glacier Range Riders pitches during the team’s very first game in their new stadium, Flathead Field, in Kalispell on June 14, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Glacier Range Riders Complete Inaugural Season

The first home run in Flathead Field was hit high into the sky on June 14, touching down just past the right field wall, and prompting a resounding swell of “boos” from the crowd. The two-run home run was hit by a Billings Mustang at the top of the first inning, spoiling the start of opening day for the hometown Glacier Range Riders.

A rain-soaked stadium led to a smaller-than anticipated home crowd for the first game of the Pioneer Baseball League’s newest team, but those in attendance were “just so stoked,” according to the Range Riders GM. 

Over the course of the summer season, the Range Riders finished at the bottom of the standing for the north region of the League, but the team’s 39-56 record was better than three teams in the south region. Regardless of the stats, the team was embraced by Flathead Valley fans. 

St. Ignatius wins the Class B State Championship cross country meet in Missoula on Oct. 22, 2022. Micah Drew | Flathead Beacon

Bulldogs Run Into History Books

With 100 meters to go in the 2022 Montana State Cross Country Championships, St. Ignatius senior Andrew Rush was all alone. 

Hyping up the crowd with his arms, Rush powered down the homestretch for a dominating victory in the Class B race, delivering St. Ignatius its first ever individual state title in the sport. His time of 16:15.65 for the five-kilometer course in Missoula was the fastest winning time for the Class B meet since the distance was increased from three miles in 2017. 

Immediately behind Rush was teammate Robbie Nuila, in a surprise runner-up finish. A minute later St. Ignatius’ fifth scoring runner crossed the line, cementing the team title by 49 points over Three Forks, and ending a 60-year state-title drought for the school across all sports. Half the town of St. Ignatius seemed to be on hand to celebrate the school’s historic championship. 

Basketball Trophies Abound

For the first time in history, the Bigfork Valkyries came away from the Class B state basketball tournament with a trophy, but it wasn’t an easy plaque to get. 

In a season that saw Bigfork take four victories over Class A schools, and remain a top-three ranked Class B team all season, the Valkyries had the misfortune of matching up against top-ranked Jefferson in a marquee first-round game at state. Their defeat required some serious emotional regrouping, but the team delivered. 

In the third-place trophy game, freshman Braeden Gunlock scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and fellow freshman Ava Davey provided another 12 points for the Valkyries, who led 15-8 after one quarter and fended off every Glasgow mini-surge until creating separation in the final 2:30 to finish 59-49.  

In Class AA, the Flathead Bravettes also took home a third-place trophy in their first state tournament appearance since 2013. The Bravettes lost a first-round game, but beat Missoula Sentinel for the trophy. The team’s lone senior, Clare Converse, closed her career with a seven-point, five-rebound performance.

In the Montana Christian Athletic Association (MCAA) state basketball final, Stillwater Christian appeared smoked after falling to a 13-0 deficit in the first few minutes. Opponent Billings Christian was on a three-year winning streak, but the Cougars started to slowly claw their way back. 

In the final seconds, a foul led junior Luke Frampton to the free throw line where he sank three in a row, tying the game and sending it into four minutes of overtime. The Cougars emerged victorious. 

Glacier High School wrestler Teegan Vasquez on March 9, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Local Wrestlers Remain on Top

Glacier’s Teegan Vazquez won his third state championship in a tournament as close to flawless as he could ask for. He won his first two matches by fall, then took an 8-1 decision in the semifinal before downing a Billings Senior grappler in the final. He will soon attempt to join the exclusive four-time champion club. 

Across town, the Brave Brawlers completed a second straight year of sweeping the Class AA boys and all-class girls state wrestling titles. The boys title is the fourth for Flathead in the last six years, which included back-to-back wins in 2017 and 2018 as well, and the program’s 11th overall.  

Maggie Voisin, professional freeskier, three-time Olympian and a seven-time X Games medalist, from Whitefish, pictured in Kalispell on Oct. 5, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Maggie Voisin Competes in Olympic Games

Three-time Olympian Maggie Voisin finished fifth in the women’s ski slopestyle finals at the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. 

The Whitefish skier had hoped to improve on her fourth-place finish from the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang. Voisin qualified for the slopestyle final in fourth and was in medal position until the final run. She was the only American to compete in the slopestyle final, and also competed in the ski big air competition, finishing 15th.  

“This year coming into the Olympics, it wasn’t about my result or a medal, it was about how far I had come,” Voisin said. “It was about where I had come eight years since my first Olympics, where I had come from four years since that Olympics, and about not getting down on myself for not having a physical medal at this one. An Olympic medal changes things but at the same time, it doesn’t define who I am as a person. At the end of the day, I ask myself what my career is about and what’s important to me – and what I really want is to inspire somebody and be a role model.”