It's a new year and the unofficial second half of the winter sports season came back in full force last week.
The last edition of 2017 featured nine basketball players out of 10 nominees, but wrestlers and swimmers took center stage to start 2018. Three wrestlers, including one of the nation's best girl grapplers, and a trio of swimmers earned nominations after last week's performances.
A pair of hoopsters still made this week's nominees, though, as did a hockey player.
Each week, we nominate an equal number of boys and girls for our “Prep Athletes of the Week.” Readers will be able to vote for one boy and one girl in polls that appear by noon Monday at Missoulian.com. Voting will be open through 6 p.m. Wednesday.
The winners will be published in the Missoulian’s Prep Extra section each Thursday.
Here are this week’s nominees:
Missoula Hellgate's Jesse Ecklund won the 200-yard freestyle Saturday at the Kalispell swim meet, and the Knights blew their competition out of the water with 569 total points. Ecklund's winning time in the 200 came at 2 minutes 2.55 seconds, and Ecklund also added a second-place finish in the 100 backstroke to teammate Katharine Berkoff.
Missoula Sentinel's Delaney Carlson was one of two non-Hellgate swimmers to win an individual race at the Kalispell meet. Carlson captured the blue ribbon in the 100-yard breaststroke, clocking in at 1:11.33, and the Spartans brought home second place as a team with 415 points.
Kalispell Flathead's Tilynne Vasquez may very well have been the only girl wrestling at the Pacific Northwest Classic in Spokane Saturday, according to coach Jeff Thompson, and she nearly won it all. Vasquez, competing in her first high school matches of the season, finished second in the 106-pound bracket and the Braves won the 15-team tournament with 219 points.
The Missoula Lady Bruins' Sara Knapp scored three goals last weekend as her team went 3-0 in Bozeman. The Alberton senior scored once in Missoula's Friday night 5-1 win against the host team. She added another two goals in Saturday's 4-1 win against Glasgow, and the Lady Bruins are now 14-3-2 overall this season.
Florence's Makenna Liles recorded a double-double on Friday and followed up the effort with a co-team-high 21 points on Saturday. Liles' double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds came in the Falcons' 59-29 win against Stevensville at home. Her 21 points helped Florence top Anaconda 82-64, and the Falcons are now 8-0 overall, 3-0 in conference.
Missoula Hellgate's Finnian Westenfelder won both the 200-yard freestyle and the 50-yard freestyle, helping his Knights win the Kalispell meet on Saturday. Westenfelder touched the wall .02 seconds ahead of teammate Sawyer Keyes to win the 50 free by photo finish. Westenfelder had a little more breathing room in the 200, clocking in almost nine seconds faster than his next closest competitor.
Kalispell Flathead's Payton Hume won every single bout in the 160-pound bracket at Spokane's Northwest Classic on Friday and Saturday. He scored a pair of pins in the first two rounds, then won the semifinals by 6-0 decision. He claimed the title with a 3-0 decision victory and the Braves won the team title.
Eureka's Nathan Schmidt won the 120-pound bracket at the two-day Cut Bank wrestling tournament, helping his Lions to a second-place finish overall. He had two pins and two decision wins along the way, including a 4-0 victory against Havre's Quinn Reno in the championship. Class A powerhouse Havre won the team overall title, but Eureka was the top-scoring Class B squad.
Frenchtown's Walker Dyer won all three of his 113-pound matches by pin at the Western Montana Duals on Saturday, and he added another pin and a techfall win Friday at the Duals in Ronan. Dyer was one of a handful of Broncs who didn't drop a match in the two-day, dual-format tournament and Frenchtown won the overall team event, topping host Ronan.
Loyola Sacred Heart's Joey McElroy gets the edge out of an impressive trio of Rams that led Loyola to two narrow victories last week. McElroy scored a team-best 25 points in his team's 74-68 conference win against St. Ignatius on Friday. The post and Montana State football recruit added another 15 points — edging teammates Jack Lincoln and David Koppang for combined weekly scoring total — in Tuesday's 87-83 OT win against Thompson Falls.