The Greg Rice City Track Meet has been all about the Eagles for most of the last eight years, but Thursday's rendition, set for 3:45 p.m. at Missoula County Stadium, could have a big wrinkle.
The Big Sky boys, winners of seven straight city titles, have enough injuries that coach Dan Nile is chasing points.
"I wouldn't think we'd be favored at all," Nile said Wednesday. "It's going to be a mess there, and we've got so many kids hurt right now it is changing things around for us."
Big Sky does have sprinter-hurdler Drew Owens, who has city titles in the 200, 400 (in 2008) and 300 hurdles to his credit. The Eagles also have Mike Duncan, who could score big in the jumps.
But a broken foot has sidelined both defending city shot put champ Ed Apostol and hurdler Dan Miller, and the Eagles aren't as deep as usual.
Sentinel, meanwhile, has a trio of defending champions in javelin thrower Justin Meyer, 400 runner Tyler Jacobsen and Brian Maus in the shot put.
Maus, a recent University of Montana track signee, is going for his fourth straight city title, and the Spartans also have Howard Juneau in the javelin and distance threats Mark Messmer and Jake Turner.
"It's going to be interesting to see where they enter people and see where we can make points," Sentinel coach Dane Oliver said of the Eagles. "That's what makes it fun."
Hellgate, the last team before Big Sky to win a boys' city title (in 2002), has a trio of standouts in distance man Adam Peterman, shot putter Jesse Ginn and jumper Brendan Gragg.
"You've got three pretty evenly balanced squads, when you break it down," said Nile. "Each team has strengths. Truthfully when you play around with it, it's pretty even."
"Distances are going to be big for us. Obviously the javelin is going to big," said Oliver. "Our key guys have got to show up or we're not going to have a shot.
"But those kids have performed big before in other sports. They know what to do."
The Big Sky girls have won the last three titles - as well as seven of the last eight - and are strong again.
There's Elle Tinkle in the 200 and 400, Morgan Struble in the hurdles and sprints, Morgan Braby in the sprints, Katie McKay and Jessica Diehl in the 800, Natalie Zimmer in the hurdles, Sarah Coonce and Taylor Rather in the distances, Corri Blair, Tinkle, and Kristen Daugherty in the jumps ...
You get the idea.
Rather is the defending city champ in the 3,200, but Coonce has led the Eagles' pack of distance runners this spring. Meanwhile, Hellgate has one of the state's best in Paige Gilchrist.
The only other returning city champ is Sentinel's McCall Hasquet in the 800. She ran 2:30 while winning a year ago and has reached that level this season, but McKay and Diehl have pushed ahead at this point.
Sentinel has some depth: Marisa and Mariah Arneson in the pole vault and hurdler-jumper Liz Harper could score big. The Spartans are a threat in the throws as well.
If the girls' race seems clear-cut, there could still be surprises. Sentinel posted a Greg Rice sweep in 2001; neither Spartan team has won it since.
The boys' race could come down the final relay, or to a surprise winner, or whoever moves up a couple spots in certain events. The top four place-winners score points at a triangular.
"The kids that get the second, third and fourth, or maybe the kid that gets second instead of fourth are important," Nile said. "There could be a lot of points there."
Throwing events begin first Thursday. The timed events begin at 4:15 p.m.
Oakland pitcher Dallas Braden threw the Athletics' first perfect game in 42 years on Sunday. On Tuesday, the Helena Capital Bruins reached a similar landmark when Jessie Apple threw the first perfect game in school history.
Apple retired all 21 hitters she faced in a 1-0 win over crosstown rival Helena High, striking out nine and outdueling Bengals' pitcher Jenna Krum, who scattered five hits.
Apple's was the second perfect game of the spring: Billings Senior's Shae Hoskins threw a perfecto at Bozeman the previous Tuesday, in the Broncs' 15-0 win. That game lasted just five innings, however. Hoskins fanned 10, including the last eight hitters she faced.
Big game Thursday
Loyola Sacred Heart is hosting a big softball showdown Thursday, when the Breakers host Florence for the Western B-C title.
Loyola is 14-1 in league play and 16-3 overall. Florence stands 13-2 and 14-4. The winner takes the top seed into the 9-team divisional tournament, which begins May 21 in Thompson Falls.
Florence's league losses came to Loyola by a 7-6 score on May 4, and 8-3 to Thompson Falls on April 20. The Breakers' only league loss came to Thompson Falls on May 1.
Bison gain, lose coach
On Monday, Gregg Dart was approved as the new girls' basketball coach at Great Falls High. That's the good news. The bad news is the Bison need to find a replacement for their former football coach, Gregg Dart.
Dart, a 1988 Great Falls High graduate, went 57-60 in 11 seasons as the Bison gridiron coach, including a 5-7 mark against rival Great Falls Russell. But Dart's teams won just two playoff games, and were 0-10 against Helena Capital, including a loss to the Bruins in the 2008 Class AA semifinals.
Dart's last football team went 1-9, though the 40-year-old said a main reason he stepped away was to have a chance to coach his daughters, once they reach high school age. They are 12 and 8 now.
"My biggest motivation is my family," Dart told the Great Falls Tribune. "It came down to my kids' interests."
Dart replaces Dennis Renning, who resigned after one 5-16 season as head girls' coach. Dart was Renning's top assistant this past winter, and guided the Bison junior varsity to a 14-6 record.
Around the region
The District 14-C track and field meet is Thursday in Polson, and the District 13-C and 6-B meets begin Friday at Missoula County Stadium. The Polson A-B-C meet is set for Saturday, as is the District 7-B meet, in Eureka. ... In softball, Big Sky, Hellgate and Sentinel all host non-league games against Eastern AA teams Bozeman, Great Falls Russell and Great Falls High on Saturday. The games are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. ... The Western AA Divisional tennis meet that began Wednesday at Playfair Park continues through Friday. The Northern AA Divisional begins Friday in Kalispell. The Southern A tennis begins Friday in Butte, while the Southwestern B-C begins at both Fort Missoula and Playfair Park. The Western B-C begins Friday in Bigfork.