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Missoula Hellgate's Finn Westenfelder swims the breast stroke.

MISSOULA — The success Missoula Hellgate has reached in high school swimming is dynasty worthy. So how long can it go for?

Well the Knights could see some stiff competition this year but from a team they're plenty familiar with. While Hellgate has been its usual dominant self, Missoula Sentinel could be a formidable challenger at the state swim meet in Bozeman this Friday and Saturday. 

Helen Houlihan, who coaches all of the Missoula high school swimming teams, said she's looking forward to seeing how each of her swimmers challenge each other. The Knights are the five-time defending champs in both boys and girls swimming. 

"I think that Sentinel, both the boys and the girls, have a chance to be in the top three," Houlihan said. "We've just had some great swims this year, and we have some really great swimmers, and with that combination, hopefully this will be a great weekend for everybody."

Houlihan, who is in her 10th year coaching and is working with co-head coach Morgan Zimmer, said this is the best she's seen Sentinel's program, though the Spartan girls were good right when she began coaching. But as far as keeping her swimmers hungry and not complacent after so much success, she said that hasn't been an issue this year. 

"These kids know coming in that there's a legacy that they've been left with," Houlihan said. "When you've been left a legacy like that, everybody wants to step up and do well. They all want to be a part of that."

Not to mention how supportive the schools are of one another. 

"One thing about Missoula schools is that regardless of who sits atop the podium, it's always been about supporting the other schools as well," Houlihan said. "It's been super great watching these teams grow."

Houlihan says when she first started coaching that getting kids into the programs was tough and they'd usually take one bus to the state tournament. Now, she estimates her programs will take 80-plus kids to state on two buses. Frenchtown and Loyola Sacred Heart co-op with Big Sky in swimming. 

Hellgate is led by superstar Katharine Berkoff who is headed to North Carolina State after this year to swim in college. Berkoff, the No. 3-ranked swimmer nationally according to swimswam.com, has 12 individual state titles to her name and is gunning for four more this weekend. Along with Berkoff, Houlihan pointed to Claire Becker (who will swim at Wyoming), Aidan Condit (who will swim at Long Island University), Avery Maxwell, Gabby Smart, Lyndon Amon, Tanner Baldry, Sawyer Keyes, Simon McMahon, Finn Westenfelder and Mark Herzog as Hellgate swimmers to watch this weekend. As a team, Hellgate sports 17 seniors. 

At Big Sky/Loyola/Frenchtown, Houlihan said keep an eye out for Ellie D'Amico, Hannah Jourdonnais, Delaney Jarrett, Theo Morin, who hails from France, and Michael Parkey. And at Sentinel, her standouts include Delaney Carlson, Ellie Gashwiler, AJ McCormick, Caroline McCormick (who will swim at the University of Alaska), Jackson Moe, Keidon Reynolds, Bremer Deaton and Jack Wolgamot.

It's lot of swimmers for what should be a fun weekend for Houlihan and Co. 

"Just watching the kids who have worked so hard all season come to their state meet," Houlihan said. "Hopefully everybody is going to swim like champions. That's what you hope for."

Charlo teams ready for Arlee

Both the Charlo boys and girls teams are having a run of success at the perfect time with the postseason beginning next week. 

But on Thursday night, they both have to get through the buzzsaw that is Arlee. 

One of its fiercest rivals, Charlo and Arlee will throw down in a doubleheader on Thursday night as both schools wind down the regular season and head into districts next week. Charlo will end the year against Hot Springs on Friday. 

Charlo's girls are 15-1 and 9-1 in their district, second behind the Scarlets in the 14-C. After graduating only one senior from a year ago, the Vikings brought a lot of experience back from a team that came up just short at the divisional tournament. That hasn't come without adversity as two players have been lost to ACL injuries for Charlo, one before the year started and the other back when they played Arlee earlier in the year. 

"These girls kind of have an idea of what's going on," Charlo girls coach Bret Thompson said. "The girls seem to be able to keep putting things together, and we have some younger girls that have come off the bench to help us out a little bit."

Thompson is in his whopping 33rd year as the head coach for Charlo's girls team. He led the team to a state title in 2003 over Culbertson, and the Vikings last made the state tournament back in 2007 when they fell to Circle in the title game. 

So their run of success this year is better than years past. The Vikings sport three seniors in Teaira Truman, Allie Delaney and Kaitlin Cox. 

Charlo's lone loss came at the hands of Arlee on Jan. 11, 53-41. So Thursday's game is a big one. 

"We'll try to play like it's a weekend tournament," Thompson said of their final two games. 

On the boys side, Charlo sits at 14-2 overall and 9-1 in their district, also behind Arlee. Arlee and Darby have handed the Vikings their only losses.

Led by five seniors in Landers Smith, Connor Koenig, Nate Delaney, Garrett Vaughn and Brock Tomlin, the Vikings are off to one of the school's best starts in recent memory. 

"They all know what their role is and they're all playing their part and chipping in their points whether it be double-digits or just a few and getting the assists or steals," second-year Charlo boys coach Reese Cox said. "I don't think we do what we do without each piece. The cohesiveness of all of them is so huge."

Cox added that a lot of the players on his team were disappointed with how the football season ended so that's been added fuel to this basketball campaign. Charlo was in a key position to enter the 8-Man playoffs as the No. 2 seed from the 8-Man West but forfeited its final two games of the season, which cost them a spot in the playoffs. Cox is a coach on the football team, too, and said the team would like to "redeem ourselves" from that conclusion.

So far, they've done just that. And regardless of how Thursday's game goes, Charlo has the No. 2 seed locked up heading into districts, but they're ready for a postseason atmosphere, too. 

"I'd say Charlo and Arlee is a very heavy rivalry. There's always that 'we want to get a win off of you' feel for it," Cox said. "Arlee does something great to a lot of teams. A lot of parents or fans or people in general don't necessarily see what Arlee provides for other teams. They force us into making better decisions and better techniques and fundamentals. 

"That's what one thing I told our boys after that game. Yeah they're a great team, but they also make us a little bit better each time we play them."

Spartan Lacrosse team receives grant

The Spartan Lacrosse team has formed their first girls team for the 2019 season. They were selected by the U.S. Lacrosse First Stick Grant program to receive equipment for 20 players, which includes goggles, sticks, goalie gear, coach training and resources as well as waiving the U.S. Lacrosse registration fee for players and coaches. 

The grant Spartan Lacrosse received will introduce the game to players who might not otherwise get the opportunity to play or might be hesitant due to costs. The team consists of girls from Loyola Sacred Heart, Sentinel and Big Sky. The boys team has players from Sentinel and Big Sky as well. 

Students interested in playing lacrosse can visit www.spartanlacrosse.us for registration information. 

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Kyle Hansen covers Griz men's basketball and more for the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com. Email him at kyle.hansen@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @khansen406

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