Regional high school track preview
Track and field has a rich tradition among smaller high schools around western Montana, and more medals are in store this spring.
Headliners include Polson's Bree Fuqua and Frenchtown's Andrea Batt, who rank among the best all-around girls' throwers in Montana history; Polson's Trevor Gunlock, the state's most versatile jumper and vaulter, and Plains' Casey Jermyn, a dynamite distance runner.
The Polson boys and Frenchtown girls, who claimed state runner-up trophies last season, and the Charlo boys, who placed third, will again field fine teams.
The Western A divisional meet is May 20 at Whitefish. The Western B and Western C meets are May 19-20 at Missoula and Butte, respectively. State meets are the following weekend at Butte for Class A and Class B teams, and at Bozeman for Class C squads.
Here's a quick spin around the region's Class A, B and C teams:
Western A: The Polson boys have brought home a top-three trophy from the state meet the past five years, including a state crown in 1996. Coach Bob Gunderson is optimistic about the chances of continuing that streak.
"We have 11 juniors, so we're still pretty young," Gunderson said. "But if we stay healthy, we should be all right at the end, especially in the big meets."
Gunlock has the athletic talent and all-around skills to be a collegiate decathlete. He cleared 15 feet, 2 inches in the pole vault and flew 22 feet, 6Þ inches in the long jump as a junior, winning state titles in both events. He's also a 6-6 high jumper and a 45-foot triple jumper.
Trevor's younger brother Brook, a sophomore, is also a fine athlete who should contend for state high jump honors. He'll also compete in the pole vault, long jump and, perhaps, do some sprinting.
Polson graduated a strong group of distance runners, including state mile champ Tyler Ofstad, but junior Kevin O'Brien is back after placing third in the 3,200 meters, and state cross country champ Dain Engebretsen is also on hand. If sprinter Jarrod Wilkinson can bounce back from foot problems, joining such lettermen such as Kendall Harwood, Nathan Ofstad and Tim Mains, the Pirates will be especially tough.
Other boys' teams around the conference have fine individuals, but may have trouble matching Polson. Whitefish looks like the top threat, led by hurdler Kris Anderson, javelin thrower Jim Dalen, distance runner Eddie Heider and sprinter-jumper Alex Maetzold. Basketball standouts Nathan Steele, Kyle Holbrook and Kurt Paulson should also contribute.
Hamilton has a fine hurdler-jumper in junior Brandon Sparks and two more threats in shot putter Morgan Webb and distance runner John Errett, while Bigfork boasts two of the division's best in Mike Herbin, the state discus runner-up, and distance runner Claude Boiteau. Corvallis has two of the division's best sprinters in the Jessops, Ross and Brent.
The Columbia Falls girls edged Polson for their seven straight divisional championship.
Coach Bruce Thomas' Pirates might catch the Wildkats this time around, thanks to standouts such as Fuqua, sprinter Delphia Moss, javelin thrower Judie Hewankorn, jumper-sprinter-vaulter Brynn Flager, and hurdlers Brianna Shockey and Katie Lippert.
Fuqua, who will compete for the University of Wisconsin, is poised to claim her third straight state discus title. She became the first girl to surpass 150 feet in the discus as a junior, setting the all-class record of 154-10. She's also favored to win her second straight crown in the shot put, where she set the Class A record of 43-7Þ.
Columbia Falls graduated more than half the points from its divisional champs, led by state placers Kati Knutson and Whitney Lange. The Kats have the division's top pair of pole vaulters in senior Keyna Riley and sophomore Brice Cordier. Other top returnees include throwers Kacey Blohm and Jennifer Teeples, distance runner Allyson Tarr and hurdler Kim Buchanan.
Bigfork, Whitefish and Hamilton could also be in the hunt. Bigfork returns state javelin champ Nicole Manicke, who set the school record of 141-4, along with discus-shot putter Megan Johnson and hurdler Easton Branam. Whitefish's solid nucleus includes five state placers: Tara Barge and Emily Augusta in the javelin, jumpers Alesha Bowman and Beka Hudson, and distance runner Claire Anderson. Hamilton has one of the state's top quartermilers in sophomore Jacey Meuchel.
Western B: Frenchtown ruled the division in the 1990s, but the Broncs aren't a lock to continue their domination into the new century. The Frenchtown boys, who have claimed eight divisional titles in nine years, will have to contend with a strong Thompson Falls team and several other contenders. The Frenchtown girls look like a safer bet to claim their fifth Western B crown in six years.
Coach Dennis Normand's Frenchtown girls are led by Batt, the defending state champ in the javelin, shot put and discus. She's surpassed 140 feet in both the discus and javelin, and 40 feet in the shot put, a rare triple. Gone are state 800 champ Laura Kruschke, along with versatile performers Heidi Cox and Megan Tweedy. But the Broncs should be fine with return of distance runner Afton Bruffey, triple jumper Jade Bender, and a raft of promising performers that includes Jenna Berkram, Shawna Gibbs, Stephanie Gollofon, Susan Bick and Kari Pattee.
Elsewhere, the division is stocked with plenty of fine athletes.
Missoula Loyola has defending state high jump champ Katy Furlong and a swift sprinter in Becky Potts, while Valley Christian packs a pair of excellent relays and a fine sprinter-hurdler in Anna Keller. Florence's Alicia Torrey is a threat in the hurdles and jumps, and holds the divisional record in the 300 hurdles.
There's more speed on hand with Cassie Wistrom of Deer Lodge, Kayla Meyer of Troy and Marlee Brown of Seeley-Swan. Darby is led by distance standout Mary Abrahamson and Brandi Brown, a fine vaulter and javelin thrower. Thompson Falls has Joanne Paulsen in the throws, and Kellyn Gross on the track.
The Thompson Falls boys were third last year, but could move up a notch or two this time around. The Bluehawks will miss sprinter-middle distance star Nick Browning and javelin thrower Allen Czerwinski, but return a fine throwing corps, led by Jay Deal, Jake Susic and Jer Lyght. Sprinter Jeremy Thomas is off to a fine start, and Shawn Dieterich will add points in the 400 and 800.
Plains may not be a domiant team, but the Horsemen have perhaps the division's dominant individual in senior distance runner Casey Jermyn. The state cross country champ is a legitimate threat to sweep the 1,600 and 3,200, and will likely break some records in the process.
Loyola has a couple of proven performers in javelin thrower Chris Jones and distance runner Jack Scott, and sophomore Mike Potts is a promising sprinter. The same goes for Seeley-Swan, which can turn to state pole vault runner-up Kaleb Johnson and Bobby Clark, capable of scoring in the hurdles, sprints and jumps.
Frenchtown's leaders will be Nate Chiovaro and Tyler Iddings in the throws; Ryan Glessner in the jumps, and Brant Waldron in the hurdles. Florence's sprinters, led by Nick Walters, will make the Falcons tough in the relays, and Matt Slingsby adds muscle in the weights. Another team to watch is Deer Lodge, led by vaulter Ben Miller and distance runner Phil Navarro.
Western C: The Charlo boys have their sights set on a third straight divisional crown, while the girls' competition should once again revolve around defending champ Manhattan Christian and a host of contenders, including Drummond and Charlo.
Charlo coach Bret Thompson lost some key athletes to graduation from a team that placed third at state, most notably state 800 champ Shawn Bierie and pole vault star Monty Wiseman. But there's enough returning talent to make another run at a trophy.
The Vikings will look for big things from Skyler Perry, who was second behind Bierie in the 800 and also appears to be a state contender in the 400. Cousin Stuart Perry placed at state in the javelin, and the Vikings return Skyler Perry and Devon Cox from their state runner-up 1,600 relay.
Arlee, which has placed second behind Charlo the past two years, should again be a solid challenger, led by state pole vault champ Rafe Espinoza, discus thrower Ryan Bumke and distance runner Mitchell Big Sam. The Warriors should also be tough in the sprints behind Kyle Thomas.
The Drummond girls will miss graduated star Shayln Hoskin, who collected plenty of points in the field events. The Trojans should be fine, however, thanks to the return of sprinter Dawn Egbert, who placed at state in both the 100 and 200, and Tessa M. Anderson, who was third in the pole vault.
Charlo has one of the state's most talented performers in Carla Breuer, a state runner-up in both hurdles races who will also contend for state honors in the sprints.
Their teams won't contend for state trophies, but Robin Wemple of Victor and Casey Campbell of Lincoln should again rank among the best distance runners in the state. Campbell was third in both the 1,600 and 3,200 last year, while Wemple finished fourth and second, respectively. Another athlete to watch is Hot Springs' Sarah Brown in the shot put and discus.