Best of Preps — Winter 2023

Recognizing the top high school athletes from throughout Flathead County during the 2022-2023 winter sports season

By Micah Drew
Bigfork High School basketball players Braeden Gunlock and Paeten Gunlock. Hunter D'Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Braeden Gunlock, Paeten Gunlock, Scout Nadau, Madison Chappuis, Ava Davey

School: Bigfork
Class: Sophomore, freshman, senior. senior, sophomore
State Tournament: Champions

The Bigfork High School girls basketball team made history this month by winning their first-ever state championship. The team, made up of a talented and versatile starting lineup, dominated their opponents all season long, winning most of their games by lopsided margins. Consider: four years ago, the top scorer for the Valkyries put up a respectable 183 points during the season. This year, the entire starting lineup exceeded that, led by the Gunlock sisters Braeden and Paeten with 517 and 301 points respectively. Truly, if there’s a phrase to describe Bigfork’s team this year, “prolific scorers” seems appropriate. On average, the Valkyries outscored their opponents by 46 points, putting up more than 68 points an astonishing 17 times during the season. In a February game against Troy, Bigfork came one shot away from breaking into triple digits.

In the state championship game against Big Timber, the team clinched the title with a convincing 49-37 victory. “It’s just a crazy feeling. Last year losing in the first round put a little chip on our shoulder and since then it’s just been pedal to the metal. Everybody knew this was the year,” said senior Scout. “I’m just so excited I got to be part of this program — from my freshman year when coach Cortnee was brand new, I got to help build a name for Bigfork girls basketball that was never there before.”

Even as one of the most dominant players in Class B as a sophomore, Braeden is quick to point to each of her teammates as essential members of the championship squad. “Every single girl played their hearts out and put in the work to make this happen,” she said. “I hope this isn’t the last championship I get to be part of. Next year, going to Class A, I think we’ll be able to work really hard, get super far and show everybody that we’re not just dominant in Class B, we’re dominant on any basketball court.”

Madison, the other senior in the starting lineup, is happy to be leaving behind a legacy at Bigfork. “For four years we’ve been trying to figure out how we can finally get a championship so other girls can look up to us. It feels amazing to have made history, and I hope other girls will see that and figure out ways to be even better than what we were.”

Isaac Keim

School: Glacier
Class: Junior
Events: Champion, 50 and 100 freestyle, 400 freestyle relay, 3rd place 200 medley relay

In his third year swimming for Glacier, Isaac Keim has a knack for finding the top of the podium. The junior is now a three-time state champion after sweeping the 50-freestyle and 100-freestyle and anchoring the Wolfpack’s 400-freestyle relay. “Last year, one kid beat me in the 50 and I knew I’d be seeing him again this year, so that provided a lot of motivation. I also kept hearing the kid who’d finished behind me had been working out like crazy, so that pushed me to really start digging down.” A multi-sport athlete, Isaac made the transition from the football season to the pool this winter, which he says takes a while to get the right muscles back in shape, but he knows the exact moment he felt ready to go. “At crosstown I set PRs in both my freestyle events, and I could just feel that everything had clicked then. My mindset was so strong after that.” At the state swim meet, Isaac had good, but not great, preliminary races, giving him a little extra fire as he dove in for the finals. “In the 50 I was in the side lane, where no one expects to see the winner. It’s an all-out sprint and I just managed to touch the wall first. I’m sure my long arms helped me get there.”

Noah Poe Hatten

School: Flathead
Class: Senior
State Tournament: Champion, 182 pounds

After the state tourney his junior year, Noah took nearly three months to get over his second consecutive runner-up finish. After coming up shy of a championship for the third year (he finished third as a freshman), his disappointment fueled a year-long push to becoming a dominant force on the mats. “I knew I had to get bigger last summer — I’d always been on the smaller side of my weight class — so I hit the weight room hard. I’d been relying mostly on skill but this year I just added muscle and mass and I got a lot faster and stronger from that.” Noah wanted to dominate his senior year, really making a point that he’d put in significant work in the off season to gain an edge in his final season and it showed. None of his matches left the third period until the state final. “In the final, we were tied up and I was just remembering everything I’d done up to that point, and I got it done. Winning was such an indescribable feeling. I remember standing up and turning around to see my dad’s expression and he was jumping all over the place cheering for me. Seeing that might have felt better than winning the actual match.”

Noah Dowler

School: Glacier
Class: Senior
State Tournament: 3rd place

Towering over the court is a baller’s dream, and at 6’7” Noah Dowler did just that as Glacier’s anchor for both the team’s dynamic offense and stingy defense that earned the senior-strong Wolfpack a third straight appearance at the state tournament. “We set really high expectations for ourselves this year and were good about pushing ourselves in practice every day. We really wanted to make sure we played our best basketball by the end of the season and that’s how it came together.” Noah was a menace on defense as the state’s rebound leader, averaging 8.2 per game. He also had 18 blocked shots over the season. On the other side of the court, he had a field goal percentage of .522 and, along with Ty Olsen, helped the Wolfpack win a first-round game at state for the first time since 2017. Glacier made it to the third-place match and outscored Bozeman by 10 points to bring home the second trophy in program history. “We were playing through fatigue and injury, but we worked our butts off to make sure we came home with a trophy. There were certainly points where we could have given up, but we dug deeper and showed them what we were made of.”

Maddy Moy, Kennedy Moore, Akilah Kubi, Avery Chouinard

School: Flathead
Class: Senior, junior, senior, senior
State tournament: 2nd place

The Flathead Bravettes have been a fairytale to follow over the last three years. In the first season under new head coach Sam Tudor, Flathead went 2-13. “My first two years, our record wasn’t good but everyone always said, ‘oh, we’re a building team, we’re still learning.’ In the long run those early years were huge in building the character and chemistry of the team and got us to where we are now,” said senior Akilah. In Tudor’s second year coaching, he found a way to harness the team’s synergy on the court and the crop of talented players began oozing confidence, playing with poise and scoring points. That team pivoted to one of the best records in the state, 17-5, storming through the state tournament and bringing home a third-place trophy, breaking a 15-year drought of hardware. With another year of experience under their belts, starters Maddy, Kennedy, Akilah and Avery led the Bravettes on a historic run.

At divisionals, down by two with the final seconds bleeding off the clock, Avery was trying to execute a called play for Maddy or Kennedy to get off a shot but saw both were being face guarded. “I saw the clock, thought ‘we gotta go’ and I just threw up a shot and hoped for the best. You know when you’ve put up a good shot, you can feel it, and this didn’t feel right at all, so I thought it was going to airball.” Instead, the ball bounced on the rim — three times — and went in after the buzzer to give the Bravettes the divisional crown.

For Maddy, the entire senior season was a testament to resiliency after she blew out her ACL and meniscus during a camp last summer. Told her recovery could take up to nine months, Maddy was instead back on the court in six. “I wanted to be back playing the sport I love with my best friends I’ve been playing with since third grade. When I finally was allowed to play, even when it was just two minutes in a game, I was so thankful for every moment I got to be out there with my teammates.” Even though the Bravettes missed their goal of winning state, they cemented their place as one of the best teams in school history. “As a freshman, I never would have thought we’d make it to state,” Maddy said. “All year we heard from folks around the state how enjoyable it was to watch us, that they were excited by how well we were doing. It was a little more than just basketball, I guess. It felt like we’d united people behind us.”

Justin Windauer

School: Columbia Falls
Class: Senior
State Tournament: Champion, 160 pounds

It can be hard for a returning state champion to set loftier goals for their final season, but Justin was in a unique position to raise the bar with a top-caliber team of Wildcats backing him up. “The focus this year was not so much again on my own individual title, but on getting the team title as well. Winning my own title was just a steppingstone to getting the team trophy.” From the start of the season, Justin said his teammates knew they would have a shot at winning the Class A championship, and as the season progressed their confidence just grew. “Starting with the first practice and carrying through each tournament, each kid was stepping up and improving and a lot of that is a testament to having seniors like Justin they can look up to,” said coach Jessie Schaeffer. At the state tournament, it was clear after the initial rounds that the Wildcats had a clear path to the championship if they wrestled “half as good as we were supposed to,” said Justin. “There’s obviously always pressure at state, but all the guys responded super well.” They won by nearly 50 points. Justin will continue wrestling for MSU Northern in Havre next year.

Olivia Gibbons

School: Glacier
Class: Sophomore
Events: Champion, 100 freestyle/ 2nd place 200 freestyle/ 2nd place 200 free relay/ 3rd place 400 freestyle relay

Glacier sophomore Olivia Gibbins first dipped her toe in the world of competitive swimming at the age of 8 and knew immediately she had a talent for the pool. “My parents couldn’t keep me out of the pool after that. It’s just where I always wanted to be.” In her first year of high school swimming, Olivia wasn’t competing against the top echelon of girls, but had found an environment where she exceled. “The biggest takeaway I had from that first year was just how much fun it was being with a team. The girls were all so fun, there’s so much energy on the team and at meets, I really love the atmosphere.” Now stepping into more veteran role, Olivia began to show the talent she had discovered all those years ago. She dedicated more time to swimming and was surrounded by talented teammates on the two Wolfpack relay teams who pushed her every day. “Halfway through the season I realized I was really close to some of the girls I’ve looked up to. It made me so excited to be racing just like the people I’ve always wanted to be like.” With two more years left in the pool, Olivia plans to rack up additional podium finishes, across all disciplines.

Teegan Vasquez

School: Glacier
Class: Senior
State Tournament: Champion, 132 pounds

Achieving back-to-back-to-back-to-back state titles has been Teegan’s dream since he was 6. Until he took to the mat for the 132-pound final at the state wrestling tourney, just 38 athletes had pulled off the four-peat in Montana history. One pin later — Teegan’s fourth of the tournament — he became No. 39, leaving an indelible mark on Montana’s wrestling scene. “Entering the season I was ready to give it my all, give it my last go. I was really excited for this year, but definitely knew I had to stay focused, stay vigilant and work my hardest.” Teegan’s dominance in the sport comes from years of hard work and dedication to his craft, and from the influence of his family, which is chock-full of top-caliber wrestlers. His father/coach and older brother, who wrestles collegiately, helped Teegan keep his mental and physical edge at a stage where other competitors might begin to rest on their laurels. “I always tell myself ‘I’m the best, I’ve worked harder than anyone else, done everything I can to get ready. I like to be humble, but on the inside that’s what I have to tell myself to compete at that level. The amount of time and work I’ve put in outweighs any doubts that could creep up.”

Nick Walker

School: Bigfork
Class: Senior
State tournament: 3rd place

It can be hard to live up to a program that’s seen historic success in the past, a struggle Nick knows well. “Bigfork has such a legacy, it always feels like there’s a little bit of pressure to get a trophy. I mean we’ve obviously wanted it for ourselves for years, but there’s this greater drive around it.” As a freshman, Nick joined a team in transition, with new coach John Hollow taking the reins and the Vikings coming off back-to-back state titles. “For four years I worked hard to get to where I’m at and I saw my teammates put in the same work to get us back to being the top of the state. We did so much last year, dominating the conference, but we really wanted to progress beyond that this year.” In the state tournament, the Vikings lost a semifinal game, but earned a spot in the third-place showdown where they took down Red Lodge 45-36. Finally holding the trophy was an “indescribable feeling,” even though Nick wasn’t on the court during the final game. A hurt ankle in the semifinal put him on the sidelines, but that didn’t dampen his spirits. “Just being part of the team at that moment of victory, even though I didn’t touch a ball that game, was just a super great feeling, and great way to end high school basketball.”


Swimming— Boys

Thane Borgen, Columbia Falls, Jr., 2nd 200 medley relay/6th 100 freestyle/ 4th 100 backstroke/ 4th 400 freestyle relay

Avic Lime, Columbia Falls, Jr., 5th 100 backstroke/4th 400 freestyle relay

Adam Schrader, Columbia Falls, Sr., 2nd 200 medley relay/1st 50 freestyle/ 3rd 100 freestyle/ 2nd 200 freestyle relay

Quinn Clark, Columbia Falls, Jr., 2nd 200 medley relay/ 5th 100 butterfly/ 6th 500 freestyle/ 4th 400 freestyle relay

Connor Keith, Columbia Falls, So., 2nd 200 medley relay/ 2nd 200 IM/ 2nd 200 freestyle relay/ 1st 100 breaststroke

Teagan Bates, Columbia Falls, Fr., 6th 200 freestyle/ 2nd 200 freestyle relay/ 6th 100 backstroke/ 4th 400 freestyle relay

Christopher Carlin, Columbia Falls, So., 2nd 200 freestyle relay

Jack McDaniel, Whitefish, Jr., 3rd 200 medley relay/1st 100 butterfly

Zane Meuter, Whitefish, So., 3rd 200 medley relay

Hayden Knauer, Whitefish, 3rd 200 medley relay

Gavin Sibson, Whitefish, Fr., 3rd 200 medley relay/ 2nd 200 freestyle/2nd 500 freestyle

Xander Stout, Sr., Glacier, 3rd 200 Medley relay/ 5th 100 butterfly/ 5th 200 freestyle relay/ 1st 400 yard freestyle relay

Ed McNeil, Glacier, 3rd 200 Medley relay/ 6th 200 freestyle/ 5th 200 freestyle relay

Jakob Sonderegger, Glacier, 3rd 200 Medley relay/ 6th 100 freestyle/1st 400 yard freestyle relay

Jack Melnick, Glacier, 5th 200 freestyle relay/ 1st 400 yard freestyle relay

Owen Carpenter, Glacier, 5th 200 freestyle relay

Swimming— Girls

Sadie Cheff, Columbia Falls, So., 3rd 200 Medley relay/3rd 100 freestyle/ 3rd 200 freestyle relay/ 2nd 100 breaststroke

Kaylee King, Columbia Falls, Sr., 3rd 200 Medley relay/ 6th 50 freestyle/ 5th 100 freestyle/ 3rd 200 freestyle relay

Molly Bagley, Columbia Falls, Fr., 3rd 200 Medley relay/ 3rd 200 freestyle relay

Eloise McKeon, Columbia Falls, Sr., 3rd 200 Medley relay/2nd 200 freestyle/ 2nd 500 freestyle/3rd 200 freestyle relay

Emi Qunell, Whitefish, So., 5th 200 Medley relay/ 6th 100 backstroke/ 4th 400 freestyle relay

Linnea McCrady, Whitefish, Jr., 5th 200 Medley relay/ 6th 500 freestyle/ 4th 400 freestyle relay

Georgia Morrell, Whitefish, Fr., 5th 200 Medley relay/ 4th 400 freestyle relay

June Callaway, Whitefish, So., 5th 200 Medley relay

Gretel Vine, Whitefish, Fr., 4th 400 freestyle relay

Maci Pickens, Bigfork, So., 6th 200 Medley relay/ 6th 200 freestyle relay

Chanelle Marchinek, Bigfork, So., 6th 200 Medley relay

Kylie Kinslow, Bigfork, Jr., 6th 200 Medley relay

Ellena Peterson, Bigfork, Jr., 6th 200 Medley relay

Danika Bucklin, Bigfork, Jr., 5th 200 freestyle/ 6th 200 freestyle relay/ 6th 400 freestyle relay

Zoe Guffin, Bigfork, Jr., 6th 400 freestyle relay

Ashlyn McGill, Bigfork, Jr., 6th 200 freestyle relay/ 6th 400 freestyle relay

Erika Dowling, Bigfork, Jr., 6th 200 freestyle relay/ 6th 400 freestyle relay

Madison Taylor, Glacier, 3rd 400 freestyle relay

Madeleine McGaughy, Glacier, 5th 200 IM/ 2nd 200 freestyle relay/ 3rd 400 freestyle relay

Maggie Dean, Glacier, 5th 50 freestyle/ 2nd 200 freestyle relay/ 3rd 400 freestyle relay

Hanna Vornbrock, Glacier, 2nd 200 freestyle relay


William Barnes, Flathead, 6th 120 lbs.

Aiden Downing, Flathead, 5th 126 lbs.

Gannon Wisher, Flathead, 5th 132 lbs.

Dane Lake, Flathead, 4th 138 lbs.

Logan Stansberry, Flathead, 6th 145 lbs.

Kaleb Shine, Glacier, 3rd 152 lbs.

Lakoda Wieczorek, Flathead, 4th 152 lbs.

Cade Troupe, Flathead, Sr., 5th 152 lbs.

Gabe Lake, Flathead, Sr., 5th 160 lbs.

Tynan Krause, Flathead, 6th 160 lbs.

Anders Thompson, Flathead, Jr., 2nd 170 lbs.

Gunnar Thompson, Flathead, 4th 170 lbs.

Sawyer Troupe, Flathead, Jr., 2nd 205 lbs.

Traic Fainter, Columbia Falls, Jr.,3rd 103 lbs.

Tyler Gilfry, Columbia Falls, 2nd 126 lbs.

Blake Hoerner, Columbia Falls, So. 6th 132 lbs.

Cris Rathjen, Columbia Falls, Jr. 2nd 138 lbs.

Winslow Peters, Columbia Falls, 6th 128 lbs.

Billy Gustafson, Columbia Falls, 6th 145 lbs.

Blaise Cronk, Columbia Falls, 3rd 152 lbs.

Josiah Kilman, Columbia Falls, 4th 152 lbs.

Rowdy Crump, Columbia Falls, 3rd 170 lbs.

Brandon Role, Columbia Falls, Sr., 3rd 182 lbs.

Kai Nash, Whitefish, 6th 205 lbs.

Wrestling — Girls

Jaelynn Nace, Columbia Falls, 4th 100 lbs.

Brooke Yeadon, Glacier, 2nd 107 lbs.

Brinly Youso, Flathead, 6th 107 lbs.

Kaura Coles, Glacier, 1st 114 lbs. *

Ariana Conklin, Glacier, 4th 114 lbs.

Skye Shelmerdine, Flathead, 5th 114 lbs.

Bella Downing, Flathead, 5th 120 lbs.

Jasmine Cartwright, Glacier, 6th 145 lbs.

* Kaura was selected as a featured athlete but was out of town during Preps week.

Basketball — Boys**

Cohen Kstelitz, Glacier, Jr., Second Team All-Conference, State All-Tournament

Ty Olsen, Glacier, Sr. Second Team All-Conference, Most Outstanding Defensive Player

Kadrian Buls, Glacier, Sr., State All-Tournament

Noah Cummings, Flathead, Jr., Conference Honorable Mention

Adam Nikunen, Glacier, Conference Honorable Mention

Jace Hill, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-State/Co-Conference MVP

Alihn Anderson, Columbia Falls, Jr., 1st Team All-Conference

Cody Schweikert, Columbia Falls, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Mason Kelch, Whitefish, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Hunter Goodman, Columbia Falls, Jr., Conference Honorable Mention

Jack Sears, Whitefish, Sr., Conference Honorable Mention

Isak Epperly, Bigfork, Sr., All-State

Basketball — Girls **

Reese Ramey, Glacier, So., Conference Honorable Mention

Noah Fincher, Glacier, Jr., Conference Honorable Mention

Hope McAtee, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-State

Taryn Borgen, Columbia Falls, So. 2nd Team All-Conference

Bailey Smith, Whitefish, Jr., Conference Honorable Mention

Lexi Oberholtzer, Columbia Falls, Jr., Conference Honorable Mention

** In the print issue of the Beacon, the Class AA State All-Tournament honors are printed, as the AA All-Conference and All-State lists were not available by press time