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Best of Preps — Winter 2024

Recognizing the top high school athletes from throughout Flathead County during the 2023-2024 winter sports season

By Micah Drew

Maeve Ingelfinger

School: Whitefish
Class: Senior
Honors: 3x National Junior Cross Country Skiing Champion

Over the last three years, Maeve has seen an almost picture-perfect trajectory through the ranks of the nation’s top Nordic skiers. As a sophomore, she made her first mark on the national scene, with two podium finishes at the junior national championships. As a junior, she topped the podium in the U18 skate sprint. This season, she set her sights even higher and followed through — at the Junior National Cross Country Skiing Championships in March Maeve won the classic sprint and the mass start 10k classic race. “After my first title last year in Alaska, I started to really believe in my ability to win the sprint races. Training at elevation and being used to longer, harder courses has really helped my development.” In the long-distance race, Maeve had an early breakaway that shattered much of the competitive field. Despite being passed on the last lap of the two-lap course, Maeve stuck near to her top competitor and “just sent it” through the final corner, knowing if she was close going into the final uphill, “I knew I’d win on the final hill climb.” She powered through the last feet of vertical and won by two seconds. Adding to her Junior Nationals medal haul, Maeve was also the top under-18 racer at the U.S. Senior XC Nationals in the skate and classic sprint races and earned a spot to represent the United States at an international race in Sweden, where she was the top American. Following the conclusion of her high school athletic career as a member of the Whitefish High School track and field team, Maeve will continue skiing at the collegiate level for Dartmouth.

Anders Thompson

School: Flathead
Class: Senior
Honors: State Champion, 205 lbs

It’s easy to see how Anders has been destined for the winner’s circle at the state wrestling meet. His father, Jeff Thompson, is a local, state and nationally recognized wrestling coach, and twin brother Gunnar makes for the ideal sparring partner, as well as a competitive upbringing. However, in his last year of high school Anders flipped an internal switch and almost deemphasized performance goals during his final season wrestling for the Braves, opting instead to make it the most enjoyable season of his career. “After I signed with Oklahoma for college, I really just set my sights on relishing having one more year with my best friends, and with these amazing coaches at Flathead. I was more happy to be out there with my team than I was winning.” To put that in perspective, Anders admits he’s been looking forward to winning a state title for a decade, so that says a lot about the team culture at Flathead. But about that winning … after runner-up finishes as a sophomore and junior, Anders knew it was time for him to take the championship title. “It was kind of my expectation to dominate all the competition this year. We’ve had some absolutely amazing coaches come on board and they really helped me see what I was capable of and gave me the right tools to get there. They helped shift my mentality and I realized I could be a top-in-the-country wrestler, instead of just a top-in-Montana guy. I wanted to wrestle in college, and I wanted to win the state title. Once I set my goals, I just made sure that it happened for me.”

Braeden Gunlock

School: Bigfork
Class: Junior
Honors: All State, Northwest Conference MVP

At the end of last winter, Braeden said her goal for the rest of her high school career was to show Montana that the Valkyries can be dominant on any basketball court they play on. So far, she’s helped the team do just that. Bigfork’s basketball team has made history two years in a row — last year, the Valkyries earned the program’s first-ever state championship, in their final year as a Class B school. This year, the Valkyries became the first school in Montana to earn back-to-back championship game berths after moving up a classification, despite losing 41-38 in the final to Billings Central. Bigfork’s success on the court the last two years was in no small part to the work of junior captain Braeden Gunlock. As a sophomore, Braeden netted 517 points against Class B competition, and this season was the second-ranked player in Class A based on her stat sheet. Braeden averaged 17.6 points per game, snagged 176 rebounds and 85 steals and added another 59 assists. “I felt like I had a big role to play this year after losing two of our biggest leaders from last year’s team. But I thought I did pretty good, along with my sister, in filling those leadership roles both playing and just being a teammate. I like being on the court and being able to see what’s going on, share my observations with the other players and lead the team’s response. And it’s only going to keep getting better.” It only took about two minutes after the final buzzer sounded before the Valkyries had turned their thoughts towards next season. “Yeah, we’re pretty disappointed but we know now that we have some growing to do before next year. Because Bigfork is not a losing program.”

Cohen Kastelitz

School: Glacier
Class: Senior
Honors: All-State

Scoring points on the basketball court is all about making opportunities happen, something Cohen excelled at during his senior year. The 6-3 forward was the state leader in rebounds, pulling down 191 of them to give the Wolfpack the chance to rally its offense. Add that to an average 12.9 points per game, 30 season steals and the third highest number of field goals made — 102 — and Cohen proved to be a pillar for the Wolfpack on the court. “I was named team captain at the end of last season, so I felt a big responsibility this year. I started leading the guys into the off season and knew I needed to put in extra work to make sure that I was able to be that leading presence on and off the court.” A defining piece of Cohen’s final year with the Wolfpack was the announced retirement of head coach Mark Harkins partway through the season. “He’s always there for us, not just as a coach but as a person and a teacher. He really inspires all of us and we wanted to give him a good sendoff.” In the final home game of the season — Harkins’ last as a coach — the Wolfpack had a huge night against Hellgate with a 63-40 victory. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be able to deliver that win for him, and we went out and put on a great performance when it mattered.”

Bella Downing

School: Flathead
Class: Sophomore
Honors: Champion, 120 lbs.

Bella has been a devoted wrestler since she was in fifth grade. Both the intensity and mano-a-mano nature of the sport immediately hooked her, despite not immediately showing up as the top contender. “I just have loved the sport from the beginning. I wasn’t really always the best wrestler, but I also wasn’t the worst because I had a history of jiu-jitsu training before I began wrestling.” For the better part of four years, Bella was in the all-too-common spot of being one of the only girls on her wrestling team. After the decision by MHSA to sanction girls wrestling as a high school sport, there was a surge of participation across all levels, stoking the excitement for Bella’s high school career. “As soon as we heard that high school wrestling was sanctioned, I knew it was going to be great. I’ve got girls to practice with and it’s really made a difference in how I can train.” After a fifth-place finish at 120 pounds as a freshman, Bella came into her sophomore season aiming for the top spot on the podium — but it was an early-season loss that really spurred her forward. “I just gained this extra bit of motivation to try as hard as I could to come back and not lose. I worked specifically on moves that would work on the girl who beat me and I made sure I wouldn’t have a repeat of that first tournament experience.”

Jace Hill

School: Columbia Falls
Class: Senior
Honors:All State, Northwest Conference Co-MVP

Jace rolled straight from a state championship appearance with the Wildcats football team last fall into a competitive basketball season that saw Columbia Falls make the state tournament for the second-straight year and win its first tournament game since 2015, fighting through the consolation bracket to finish third for the first trophy in a decade. “We came into the state tournament as a low seed and we knew people would be doubting us — that’s where we thrive. This is a team that really likes to be an underdog.” Individually, Jace stood out on the court, putting up 427 points during the season and leading the state in assists. However, Jace said every single victory was the result of a truly cohesive team. The overlap of teammates from the gridiron to the court helped preserve the competitive momentum that developed throughout the fall and helped the team overcome some early-season losses and injuries that could have otherwise set a negative tone for the season. “It’s been four years I’ve played for this team and this coaching staff and we really just grew together as a good team. Our senior year to take third was really great because it meant we got to end the season on a win, and only two teams get to say that.”

Kennedy Moore

School: Flathead
Class: Senior
Honors: Second Team All-Conference

Big changes on an athletic team are always difficult, but the departure of a head coach following a program-best state finish was especially hard for the Flathead Bravettes. Thankfully, a well-known coach stepped into the top role and Kennedy said her senior year ended up being more fun than she would have ever imagined. “Even though we lost a coach and good players, we just had amazing classes of underclassmen and the whole team was ready for a fresh start.” In a season defined by individual growth among all the players, Kennedy said there wasn’t a moment on the court where negative energy dominated. “No one ever sat on a loss or held anything against a teammate, and I’ve never seen that happen on a team before.” While the end result wasn’t the championship run many hoped for, Kennedy did her part to keep the Bravettes rolling on the court. She led Western AA in rebounds, netted 14.8 points per game and stymied opponents on both sides of the court. And she’s not done yet — a decision about where her basketball career will take her next is forthcoming. “I’m ready for the next chapter with college ball. I know it’s just going to keep getting better!”

Kaura Coles & Connor Keith

School: Glacier & Columbia Falls
Class: Sophomore & Junior
State Champions: 114 lbs. & 100-yard breaststroke

It is difficult to coordinate busy, multisport high school athletes to schedule photoshoots and interviews for these features every year, and the winter issue is one of the hardest due to the alignment with spring break. These athletes were selected as featured preps, but were unavailable due to travel — and, in Keith’s case, a move — but they both have highlight reels deserving of a mention.

Keith was the only Flathead Valley swimmer to win an individual title at the state meet, taking first in the 200-yard IM, as well as second in the 100-yard breaststroke. This is a reverse of his medal haul from last year, when he won the 100 breaststroke and took second in the IM. He also earned two second-place finishes on Columbia Falls relay teams, as well as two more top-five finishes as a freshman.

Kaura makes it no secret that her ambition is to become the first four-time state champion in girls wrestling and she’s halfway there. As a freshman, Kaura won the state title at 114 pounds, and she followed that up this year with a second straight championship. In her two high school seasons, she is undefeated and hasn’t given up a single point to an opponent. Before and after the high school season, Kaura travels the country with her family to train and compete in national tournaments, which last October saw her finish runner-up at the Brian Keck Memorial Preseason Nationals meet at 115 pounds.

More Stars


Kellen Downing, Flathead, 3rd, 103 lbs.Aiden Sweat, Glacier, 5th, 103 lbs.

Hunter Arriaga, Flathead, 3rd, 120 lbs.

Garrett Bosch, Glacier, 4th 120 lbs.

Diesel Thompson, Flathead, 3rd, 126 lbs.

Aiden Downing, Flathead, 3rd, 132 lbs.

Daniel Evert, Flathead, 4th, 138 lbs.

Kaleb Shine, Glacier, 3rd, 145 lbs.

Dane Lake, Flathead, 4th, 145 lbs.

Nikola Coles, Glacier, 1st, 152 lbs.

Lane Chivers, Flathead, 5th, 152 lbs.

Mark Ahner, Glacier, 4th, 170 lbs.

Logan Stansberry, Flathead, 6th, 170 lbs.

Gunnar Thompson, Flathead, 2nd, 182 lbs.

Sawyer Troupe, Flathead, 1st, 285 lbs.

Conor Leduc, Flathead, 6th, 205 lbs.

Traic Fainter, Columbia Falls, 1st, 113 lbs.

Dylan Delorme, Columbia Falls, 2nd, 145 lbs.

Jerin Coles, Bigfork, 3rd, 145 lbs.

Winslow Peters, Columbia Falls, 4th, 152 lbs.

Blaise Cronk, Columbia Falls, 2nd, 160 lbs.

Rowdy Crump, Columbia Falls, 2nd, 182 lbs.

Evan Tidwell, Bigfork, 6th, 182 lbs.


Jaelynn Nace, Columbia Falls, 4th, 100 lbs.

Brooke Yeadon, Glacier, 3rd, 107 lbs.

Lucille Libby, Flathead, 6th, 235 lbs.

Swimming — Boys

Gavin Sibson, Whitefish, 3rd, 200 freestyle/ 5th, 100 freestyle

Teagan Bates, Columbia Falls, 5th, 200 freestyle/5th, 100 backstroke

Jude Flake, Glacier, 6th, 50 freestyle/ 4th 100 backstroke

Landon Brown, Whitefish, 4th, 50 freestyle/ 4th, 100 freestyle

Isaac Keim, Glacier, 3rd, 100 butterfly/2nd 100 backstroke

Quinn Clark, Columbia Falls, 3rd, 100 butterfly/ 5th, 500 freestyle

Tristan Victor, Columbia Falls, 6th, 100 freestyle

Logan Hyland, Whitefish, 6th, 500 freestyle

Borgen Thane, Columbia Falls, 2nd, 100 backstroke

Ryland Armstrong, Whitefish, 6th, 100 backstroke

Swimming — Girls

Gretel Vine, Whitefish, 2nd, 200 freestyle

Sophie McDermott, Whitefish, 4th, 200 freestyle/ 5th, 500 freestyle

Madeleine McGaughy, Glacier, 3rd, 50 freestyle/4th, 500 freestyle

Olivia Gibbons, Glacier, 4th, 50 freestyle/ 2nd, 100 freestyle

Avery Theis, Whitefish, 3rd, 50 freestyle/ 2nd, 100 freestyle

Sadie Cheff, Columbia Falls, 5th, 100 freestyle/3rd, 100 breaststroke

Georgia Morrell, Whitefish, 6th, 100 freestyle

Emi Qunell, Whitefish, 4th, 100 backstroke

Basketball — Boys

Liam Ells, Glacier, Jr., All-Conference Honorable mention

Cody Schwikert, Columbia Falls, Sr., 1st Team All-Conference

Asher Knopic, Bigfork, So., 1st Team All-Conference

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

Mark Robison, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-Conference Honorable mention

Eli Thorness, Bigfork, Sr., All-Conference Honorable mention

Carson Gulick, Whitefish, Jr., All-Conference Honorable mention

Jack Jensen, Bigfork, Sr., All-Conference Honorable mention

Basketball — Girls

Reese Ramey, Glacier, Jr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Noah Fincher, Glacier, Sr., All-Conference Honorable mention

Paeten Gunlock, Bigfork, So., All-State

Ava Davey, Bigfork, Jr., All-State

Taryn Borgen, Columbia Falls, Jr., 1st Team All-Conference

Hope McAtee, Columbia Falls, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Bailey Smith, Whitefish, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Callie Gembala, Bigfork, Sr., 2nd Team All-Conference

Ellie Stutsman, Columbia Falls, Sr., All-Conference Honorable Mention

Onnikka Lawrence, Columbia Falls, Fr., All-Conference Honorable Mention