One measly goal was all that separated the Missoula Hellgate boys’ soccer team from a State AA championship last fall.
That experience has made the Knights even more determined to get back to the title game and take care of unfinished business.
“They’re pretty motivated to try to match last year if not trying to go farther,” Hellgate 13-year coach Jay Anderson said. “They’ve been working hard all summer long and I have 10 seniors returning.”
Reaching the pinnacle will most likely involve getting past three-time defending state champion Bozeman. That’s easier said than done.
The Hawks are also a threat to take top honors on the girls’ side after finishing second to Great Falls CMR last season. Sentinel may be Missoula’s best bet to reach the girls' state championship match after narrowly missing out on the semifinals last year, losing a heartbreaking state opener to Billings Skyview in a shootout.
Hellgate had arguably the best defense in the state last season and that probably won’t change. Peter Vandam is a two-time all-state defender and fellow senior Peter Byrne is an all-state keeper. Plus, the Knights have a third senior on the back end in 6-foot-2 Brody Kendall and a capable junior in 6-2 Aidan Fromm.
“We’re also hoping to produce more goals,” said Anderson, who has a total of 14 players back from 2014. “We have to find a rhythm and create more chances for ourselves.”
The Knights return their top two scorers from last season in senior forwards Ryan Sayler and Andrew Moisey. They had 13 goals between them and Sayler was named all-state.
The Sentinel boys are just as capable of making big noise at state after finishing third in 2014. But they need to find replacements for a couple of lethal goal scorers lost to graduation.
“This year we might be more of a cohesive team with a lot of younger kids, sophomores who were kind of up-and-coming last year that have more or less arrived,” Spartans coach Dan Lochridge said. “We’re just as hungry and capable of making a run just as deep.”
Sentinel has six starters returning, including two-time all-conference defender/midfielder Griffith Line. Juniors Austin Leadbetter and Hunter VanCleave give Sentinel experience at forward while Justin Chong and Nathan Hangas will anchor the defense and Owen Winger is one of the best midfielders in the state.
The Spartans should benefit from the addition of senior defender Isaiah Katzenstein. He moved to Montana to live with his mother.
Kalispell Glacier, a state semifinalist last season, will have a lethal attack this season led by senior forward Colton Becker. Second-year coach Ryan Billiet will also look to keeper Ryker McIntyre and defenders Reece Brandon, Luke Flammond and Ben Wright for senior leadership.
The Missoula Big Sky boys will be looking to improve on last year’s 3-6-2 record with five starters returning. That group includes junior center back Viktor Lameza, an all-conference honoree who has stepped forward as a leader in preseason workouts.
You have free articles remaining.
“In last year’s team we had at least four college-level players, and this year we do not have that at our disposal,” Big Sky second-year coach Ross McMonies noted. “I actually think that due to not having these players to rely on it will make us a much more formidable unit. We all have to be willing to fight for one another.”
Kalispell Flathead, a state qualifier in 2014, has a new coach this season in Nate Evans. He was an assistant coach for one season for the Braves.
The Sentinel girls won a game at state last season and they’re hungry for even more success this fall with eight returning starters. Topping the list is junior Brittany Delridge, who was co-MVP of the Western AA last season.
She is joined by four players who were named all-conference last season in senior forward Libby Walker, junior forward Syd Steele, junior keeper Bekah Joy and junior defender Jordan Pine.
“This team is willing to do anything to be the best,” Spartans ninth-year coach Keri Grasky noted. “They are very driven and hold each other accountable.
“We have players returning in positions that are key to our success. We also have younger players stepping up nicely to fill the roles we need.”
Grasky says the Western AA is loaded this season, so nothing is going to come easy.
Hellgate will be a tough nut to crack under first-year coach Ian Marshall. The Knights return a battle-tested keeper in junior Claudia Wiese along with three salty senior leaders in defender Ellie DeVos, midfielder Megan Frank and forward Delaney Wells.
“Everyone has been working hard all summer and we’re starting to figure out how to come together,” said Marshall, who played college soccer at Chico State. “I’ve been really impressed with the speed of some of the players and the work ethic in practice.”
Big Sky coach Jay Bostrom grew accustomed to success as the Eagles’ boys’ coach, so his first season with the girls last season was an anomaly as his team finished 2-7-4. Bostrom is hoping for marked improvement in 2015 with the return of two all-staters in junior striker Cassidy Pierce and senior midfielder Ellen Bonner.
“Each of the last few seasons the teams to beat have been Helena and Sentinel,” said Bostrom, whose team lost its opener to Bozeman on Saturday, 2-0. “We are hopeful that this year we are ready to end their dominance at the top of the Western (AA) Conference.”
The Glacier girls return five starters from last year’s state-qualifying 7-6-4 team. Topping the list are three all-conference seniors: Midfielder McKayle Dennehy, forward/defender Alysha Smith and keeper Amy Braig.
Fourth-year coach Brenden Byrd also expects two underclassmen to make their mark at striker. They are sophomore Cadie Williams and freshman Gabby Dickson.
Flathead will also be tough to beat with the return of Western AA co-MVP Stephanie Wilson, a senior who tallied eight goals last season. Third-year coach Cory Wilson also has two other dangerous senior strikers in all-conference recipients Jaymee Siler and Alexa May.