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Best of Preps — Fall 2023

Highlighting the best Flathead Valley athletes from the fall sports seasons

By Micah Drew | Photos by Hunter D'Antuono

Olivia Genovese, Norah Schmidt, Isabelle Cooke

School: Whitefish
Class: Seniors
Position: Forward, Keeper, Forward

The image of the Bulldogs hoisting the state trophy is a poignant one, and it’s been a long time coming. In the 17 years since Whitefish last won the Class A championship, the team made eight appearances in the state final — including three of the last four seasons — always coming up short. Until this year. “I feel like this year was less about what we needed to learn in order to win, but how to put everything together. We’ve had the talent and skills before — three years ago, and last year — but just couldn’t put it all together,” Norah said. The caliber of players who donned Whitefish jerseys this year cannot be overstated. Olivia and Isabelle led a robust offense with a combined 36 goals and 19 assists, while Norah anchored a stout defense that allowed just 10 goals the entire season. “The whole season was “a rollercoaster of emotions,” Olivia said. “We started off super strong, super excited and pumped up, but then had a bit of a slump in the middle of the season and we had some hiccups that I’ve never seen our team go through before – losing to Columbia Falls was a first for my high school career.” That blip on the Bulldogs’ record prompted a reckoning among the team and they took time to reevaluate what they wanted from themselves, their coaches and their season. “It was a bit of an epiphany moment where we really came away as a unified team, instead of just a collection of players,” Olivia said.The team was flawless for the remainder of the season, even in the face of their rival in the championship. “There was a kind, calm mentality around the state final. We’d played Columbia Falls twice, and lost once and won once, so winning the final wasn’t this completely untouchable idea like it is when we’ve played against eastside teams. We just knew we had the capability to do it,” Isabelle said. The Bulldogs cruised past the Wildcats with a 3-1 victory, in front of a packed home crowd in Whitefish. Olivia started the rout by netting a ricocheted corner kick in the 25th minute, and Isabelle added a second goal just minute later. “To be honest, it didn’t really feel like we just won the state championship. The game ended and I kind of thought, ‘what’s next? Shouldn’t there be practice on Monday?’” Norah said. “It was our third championship game in four years, and we’d beaten every team that had ever beaten us. It really felt like it was about time.”



Kash Goicoechea

School: Glacier
Class: Senior
Position: Running Back, Defensive Back

The Wolfpack was chock-full of star players this year — evidenced by a team synergy that launched Glacier to their best season since 2016 — but there’s no denying the impact Kash had in all three phases of the game. The Griz-bound senior was dynamic on the field in every position — he rushed for 620 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, broke into the triple digits for career tackles, and was a key weapon on special teams, averaging 44.4 yards on kickoff returns. During the quarterfinal game of the state playoffs, Kash electrified the crowd by returning a kick 79 yards for a touchdown, stamping the Wolfpack into a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. “Kick returns are a big game changer, and they happen so fast. It’s just crazy to know that the play can have a big outcome on how the game turns out and have to block out the crowd and the noise and just play.” Kash said the entire Wolfpack, but particularly the senior class, truly embraced the fellowship of the sport, which helped them reach the chipper when other teams had come up short. “We just knew when we got to our senior year that we wanted to do something greater than the teams we watched over the years. From the first day of team camp over the summer, we were bonded and that set the tone for how our whole season would turn out.”


Hope McAtee

School: Columbia Falls
Class: Senior
Position: Forward

H ope found the back of the net 25 times throughout the season, an offensive stat that by itself would be worthy of recognition. But sometimes, the most telling statistic from an athlete’s career isn’t one that can be gleaned from the scoreboard. Hope had a state-leading, and state record, 24 assists in her senior season and her career total 75 assists shattered the previous all-class record. It’s a selfless statistic that sums up Columbia Falls’ best player. “I’m 100% more excited when someone else scores a goal than when I do. Having three assists and no goals would be a really good game in my mind.” Hope’s team-centric attitude began as a freshman, when she was already thinking about what kind of leader she wanted to be as an upper classman, and what legacy she wanted to leave behind after four years. “As a senior, I had the most fun season I’ve ever had and our team had the kind of chemistry and culture that most people can only dream of. I’ve never seen a high school team, in any sport, that’s as close as we were. That’s a cycle that I hope the younger players will keep going for a long time.” Hope’s offensive prowess helped the Wildcats to a 12-1-2 record and a berth in the state title game, but the moment that stands out to her most on the pitch came early in the season when she broke the career assist record. “I passed the ball to my best friend, and her first goal ever in a game is what broke the record. I share every record I have with my team and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”



Sam Engellant

School: Glacier
Class: Junior
State tournament: 2nd place

During the first golf tournament of the year, Sam recalls playing the back nine talking to his fellow competitors about who they thought might emerge as the individual champion later in the year. Several names of top players were bandied about before a someone mentioned Sam’s. “I was skeptical when I heard that. I mean, I’d have to come a long way to end up at the top, so to see myself get there and finish tied for first was a weird full-circle moment for me.” It certainly felt like a long road to the state tournament for Engellant, who missed out on his sophomore season due to a cerebral spinal fluid leak. He missed months of school, but after surgery was cleared for low-intensity activity and spent the fall golf season as the team manager. “It was really eye-opening to see the game from that perspective. And it really benefitted me by the time I finally came back. I mean, I just appreciate everything so much more. Having tournaments is something I used to take for granted, but I really have a new love for every single opportunity I get to tee off.” His recovery and subsequent return to playing full swing was relatively swift this year, and Engellant was soon eyeing the top of the podium. For the second year in a row, the Class AA individual title came down to a playoff. Engellant and Skyview’s Tye Boone both bogeyed the first playoff hole, but Engellant lipped out his putt on the second. His runner-up finish, however, was plenty high enough to help the Wolfpack storm to the team title. “At the start of the season we knew we’d be good, but it takes a lot of work to actually make it happen. When we realized we had won it was just this coming together of absolute excitement and joy for what we’ve done. To know you have special ability and talent, and then to actually see it play out, is pretty awesome.”


Robbie Nuila

School: Flathead
Class: Junior
State Meet (5k): 7th, 15:51.3

Adapting to a new level of competition can take time — unless you’re Robbie Nuila. The Flathead junior transferred from St. Ignatius High School over the summer, bumping up from Class B competition to Class AA. As a sophomore, Robbie was the state runner-up, and helped the Bulldogs win the first-ever cross country championship in school history — solid credentials, but no guarantee that he’d replicate that success against the state’s largest schools. “I’ve had to learn a lot more about how to run, which sounds kind of funny. In Class B I was almost always guaranteed a second-place spot, which I kind of took for granted. Now, I’ve got to make decisions, I’ve got to have a racing strategy. It’s a lot more thinking and it comes down to whether you want it or not.” Robbie clearly wants to succeed, because as a Brave he’s done nothing but excel. Every single race he ran was faster than his personal best from the year before, he twice broke the tape at the finish line, and at the state meet in Kalispell, running on his new home course, Robbie finished seventh, the first non-senior across the line. “It’s definitely been a big learning curve, but early in the season I realized it was going to be tough and I was going to have to work hard at this alongside my teammates. If anything, that’s what I’m taking away from this year — I can definitely do the work during the track season and next summer, but so can all my teammates and if we do that, I think we can do something great together.”



Lauren Bissen

School: Glacier
Class: Freshman
State Meet (5k): 18:13.88

A cross country meet doesn’t get much more exciting than when two athletes — in any finish position — are sprinting in lock step towards the finish line. In three separate races, including the state championship, Montana’s top two freshman runners, Glacier’s Lauren Bissen and Bozeman’s Kylie Neil, did just that. During the regular season, Lauren lost a race in Bozeman by two-hundredths of a second and then won the head-to-head duel against her de facto rival in Helena by three-hundredths of a second. “It’s scary because you just don’t know. You don’t know if you’re going to actually get by them. Sometimes you’re really confident, like ‘this is mine,’ but other times it’s more like ‘whoa, they’re inching ahead.’” In the final meters of the state meet, Lauren summoned her last iota of strength to take a one-tenth of a second margin over Kylie, and finish second overall. That finish wrapped up a surprising emergence onto Montana’s high school cross country scene for Lauren, despite having solid bona fides as a middle school runner. “I was pretty scared when I came into high school because I just didn’t know how it would go, or where I would chalk up against the other girls in the state. But I was also surprised with the sport in general — everyone on my team was so kind and supportive and that was really cool to see.” While next season Lauren wants to challenge for individual state title, she said that, “ultimately, I just want to keep trying my best. I still want to have a love for this sport after high school.”


Cody Schweikert

School: Columbia Falls
Class: Senior
Position: Quarterback

Under the glare of stadium lights, Cody’s right arm is metronomic in its regularity. Time and time and time again he fired a spiral down field during his senior football season and time and time and time again it found its mark. More than any Montana high school player in history, in fact, with a season completion percentage of .777. Add that to his career total 101 touchdowns — 62 passing and 39 rushing, according to MaxPreps — and it’s clear why Cody was recruited as the next signal caller for the Griz. “Growing up, all I ever wanted was to be a football player and I wanted to be the star football player. The Griz was always the ultimate dream because the team is right there close to home— I’ve always pictured it as the coolest place to play where friends and family can go to the games.” Cody’s growth on the gridiron over four years has been exponential, mirroring the team’s upward trajectory and culminating in the Wildcats’ first trip to the chipper since their 2017 title. At the state championship, Columbia Falls pushed the game into overtime and ended up just one point down to eventual champions Dillon. Despite the final loss, the post season was just about everything Cody and his teammates had spent months hoping for. “This year, our senior class knew we had nothing to lose. It was our last shot and we just believed we had the guys to go all the way. Something really clicked with our team this year and gave us the most confidence I’ve ever seen on this field.”


Kai Johnson

School: Glacier
Class: Senior
Position: Quarterback
The Glacier Wolfpack Flag Football team just finished its second season as a program, but from the way senior quarterback Kai Johnson takes charge on the field, you’d think she’s been leading the squad forever. In the first two years as a sanctioned sport in Montana, Kai and her teammates have defied expectations, crushed their rivals and left their mark as two-time state champions. Kai threw three touchdowns in the championship game where the Wolfpack defended their title with a 28-13 win over crosstown rival Flathead. As Kai prepares to leave high school flag football in the rearview mirror, she hopes that the younger girls on the team can continue the winning streak next year. “The way our team worked together played a huge role in how we performed. I’m hoping they keep it up. Of course, it’s not the most important thing, but it would be so cool if we could do that again.” Kai played flag football as a kid on a co-ed team with her brother but said that being part of an all-women team is an entirely different dynamic — it makes the sport even more special for her. “At the beginning of flag I wasn’t that close with a lot of the girls, but then as we played, we got a lot closer. I like it better than co-ed. I feel like it’s just easy to get along with the girls because we have that in common.” Kai still has a senior track season ahead of her, but now she’s taking a breath to celebrate the end of her flag career with the 16 other seniors she’s shared the last two years with. “I love the seniors and I could shout-out the whole team; we just had an amazing season.”

~By Anusha Mathur


Ryder Elliott

School: Whitefish
Class: Senior
Position: Midfielder

Ryder entered his senior year with the Bulldogs fresh off a hiccup in the program’s dynastic grip on Class A soccer. The team didn’t make the 2022 state final, breaking a four-year streak, but was ready to put things right. “Starting as soon as we lost last year, into the spring club season and then when we came back together, we all realized we needed to get better if we wanted to win again. We hadn’t been able to do it for the seniors above us, but we knew we wanted to do it for us.” On a team filled with prolific scorers — nine Bulldogs found the back of the net and three did so more than 10 times — Ryder was an offensive anchor, sinking 12 shots and aiding teammates on another 10. Of all those moments on the field, the one that stands out the most took place in a rivalry matchup against Columbia Falls. “It was less than a minute into play and I got the ball on the top of the box, and just took a rip and finished it. That was probably the best moment of my whole high school career. It’s seared into my mind.” Ryder said his senior year overall ended up being the most fun he’s had on the pitch. “The whole senior group is awesome, and when we pulled it off in the end, it was the perfect way to end a career.”


Haven Speer

School: Glacier
Class: Senior
Position: Setter

W hen a team is firing on all cylinders, it’s apparent in every action on the court, and that’s how the Wolfpack was from day one. “We just started off this year super strong, and early in the season had a couple of huge wins that really made us feel that we were making a historic season,” said Haven, the Western AA volleyball Player of the Year. The Wolfpack reached new heights as a program after earning the No. 1 seed into the state tournament while clinching the Divisional title in a hard-fought match against Helena. “That was really a top-notch pinnacle moment for us. Winning the last game, just an incredible feeling.” Haven said that in her four years playing volleyball, nothing compares to the energy and camaraderie she felt with this year’s team. It’s a similar feeling she’s seeking out as she weighs offers to play collegiately next year. “It’s bittersweet knowing I’m done with volleyball in my high school career, but I think it was a really good way to end that phase, getting to have Coach [Christy] Harkins back for my last season and getting to play with all my closest friends.”


Kai Golan

School: Columbia Falls
Class: Senior
Position: Forward/Kicker
Kai entered a rare club of high school athletes this year when he made his fourth straight appearance at a state championship game. It wasn’t the way he expected to earn that honor, however. After playing in three state soccer finals, and winning the team title last year, Kai’s Wildcats missed the chance to defend their title on the pitch. But Kai’s other Wildcats, the football team, did make it to the chipper. It’s only fitting that Kai, the top offensive soccer player in Class A in recent years, also puts his foot to work kicking on the gridiron. “I only missed one football game last year and one soccer game this year. It was a bit of a stretch, but it’s just super fun to do both sports. It was really cool to pick up football partway through high school and realize I was pretty good at kicking already.” On the gridiron, Kai averaged 60 yards on his kickoffs, and added 115 points to the Wildcats’ scoreboard over three years. On the soccer pitch, Kai tied the all-class career goal record, 68, and shattered the all-class assist record with 45. Both those records came second to Kai’s dedication to team leadership this season. “The goals weren’t really on my mind until we got into playoffs really, I wanted to just make a presence on the team, something that people would remember. Coming in as a senior I knew it would take work to learn how to be a leader, but I really enjoyed being the guy who worked out situations on and off the field, figured out how to bring the team together and how to win games.”



More Stars

Soccer

Boys
Class AA

Liam Ells, Glacier, Sr., All-State, Western Player of the Year
Ethan Grant, Glacier, Sr., All-State
Hans Coggins, Glacier, Sr., All-Conference
Elias Holly, Glacier, Jr., All-Conference
Joey Paolini, Glacier, Sr., All-Conference
Miller Bushnell, Flathead, Sr, All-Conference Honorable Mention
Trace Lenz, Flathead, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention
Matthew Himsl, Flathead, Jr, All-Conference Honorable Mention

Class A  

Rye Duffy, Whitefish, Sr., All-State
Adam Healy, Whitefish, Sr., All-State
River Wolford, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-State
Jackson Dorvall, Whitefish, Sr., All-State
Caleb Riedesel, Bigfork, Sr., All-State
Elijah Adams-Griffin, Whitefish, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Max Everett, Columbia Falls, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Charlie Hyatt, Whitefish, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Quinn Kerr, Bigfork, Fr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Collin Lyman, Whitefish, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Preston McPherson, Whitefish, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Corban Benson, Bigfork, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention
Rafe Rusche, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Girls

Class AA

Mauraia Nigon, Flathead, Sr., All-State
Reagan Brisendine, Glacier, Sr., All-State
Calista Wroble, Glacier, Sr., All-Conference
Alivia Reinhart, Flathead, Jr., All-Conference
Cecelia Vandenbosch, Flathead, Sr., All-Conference
Avi Schmautz, Flathead, So., All-Conference Honorable Mention
Emmery Schmidt, Glacier, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention
Reese Ramey, Glacier, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention
Joy Sund, Flathead, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Class A

Josie Harris, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-State
Piper Buzzell, Bigfork, Sr., All-State
Delaney Smith, Whitefish, Jr., All-State
Taylor Rodgers, Columbia Falls, So., All-State
Sadie Olson, Whitefish, Jr., All-State
Danika Bucklin, Bigfork, Sr., All-State
Mila Johns, Columbia Falls, So., All-State
Braeden Gunlock, Bigfork, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Irelynd Vigil, Bigfork, So., 2nd Team All-Conference
Alexa Friske, Columbia Falls, Fr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Charlize Ullrich, Whitefish, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Apani Awua, Columbia Falls, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Madison Gordon, Whitefish, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Brynn Bagley, Bigfork, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Tatiana Raymond, Columbia Falls, Fr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Truth Baxter, Whitefish, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention
Bella Mann, Columbia Falls, So., All-Conference Honorable Mention
Paeton Gunlock, Bigfork, So., All-Conference Honorable Mention
Gracie Johnson, Bigfork, So., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Golf  

Boys

Torren Murray, Glacier, Jr., Class AA 4th
Tanyon Murray, Glacier, Jr., Class AA 6th
Trevor Cunningham, Glacier, Sr., Class AA 10th
Colin Wade, Bigfork, Sr., Class A, 8th

Girls

Chloe Tanner, Glacier, Sr, Class AA T-6th
Keni Wade, Bigfork, Jr., Class A 2nd

Volleyball
Class AA

Sarah Downs, Glacier, Sr., 1st Team All-Conference
Sienna Sterck, Flathead, Sr., 1st Team All-Conference
Leila Major, Glacier, Sr., 1st Team All-Conference
Kenedee Moore, Glacier, Jr., 1st Team All-Conference
Ella Farrell, Glacier, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Olive Lyngholm, Flathead, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Kendall Kratofil, Flathead, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Class A

Brooke Zetooney, Whitefish, Sr., All-State
Isabella Hartwig, Whitefish, Jr., All-State
Ava Davey, Bigfork, Jr., 1st Team All-Conference
Maddie Moultray, Columbia Falls, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Myli Ridgeway, Whitefish, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Taylor Howlett, Bigfork, So., 2nd Team All-Conference
Emalee Alton, Columbia Falls, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference
Ainsley Scott, Whitefish, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention
Bailey Smith, Whitefish, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention
Ainsley Scott, Whitefish, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

FOOTBALL
Class AA

Jackson Presley, Glacier, So., All-State, Conference Offensive MVP, QB
Braden Capser, Flathead, Sr., All-State, HR
Kobe Dorcheus, Glacier, Jr., All-State, RB
Cohen Kstelitz, Glacier, Sr., All-State, WR
Henry Sellards, Glacier, Sr., All-State OT/DL
Ben Winters, Glacier, Jr., All-State, OT
Ryan Heil, Glacier, Sr., All-State, OG
TJ Gannon, Glacier, Sr., All-State, C
Isaac Keim, Glacier, Sr., All-State, Conference Defensive MVP, DE/LS
Aiden Krause, Glacier, Sr., All-State, DL
Kaleb Shine, Glacier, Sr., All-State, ILB
Carson Baker, Glacier, Jr., All-State, NB
Jordan Griffin, Flathead, So., All-State, CB
Alex Hausmann, Glacier, Sr., All-State, CB
Brody Thornsbury, Flathead, Sr., All-State
Mark Ahner, Glacier, Jr., All-State
Miller Bushnell, Flathead, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference, K

Class A

Jace Hill, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-State, WR/DB
Mason Kelch, Whitefish, Sr., All-State, WR/DB
Adler Waters, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-State, LB
Eli Thorness, Bigfork, Sr., All-State, TE
Henry Carlson, Bigfork, Jr., All-State, OL
Lance Voermans, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-State, DL
Lane Hoerner, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-State DL
Mark Robison, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-State WR
Tristan Crane, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-State OL
Tristen Herd, Bigfork, Sr., All-State DB
Wyatt Johnson, Bigfork, Sr., All-State, DB
Hunter Goodman, Columbia Falls, Sr., 1st Team All-Conference, T
Henry Bennetts, Whitefish, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference, T
Tristan Herd, Bigfork, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference, QB
Dane Hung, Whitefish, Sr, 2nd Team All-Conference, WR/TE
Chance Miller, Columbia Falls, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference, WR/TE
Ryder Barinowski, Whitefish, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference, P/K
Andrew Wallen, Bigfork, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention, C
Carson Reid, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention, C
Logan Olson, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention, T
Caron Gulick, Whitefish, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention, QB
Felix Zambergs, Bigfork, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention, Line
Asher Knopik, Bigfork, So., All-Conference Honorable Mention, ILB
Cole Moses, Whitefish, So., All-Conference Honorable Mention, OLB
Austin Dodson, Columbia Falls, Jr., All-Conference Honorable Mention, CB

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