MISSOULA — Anders Epperly stood along the sector lines of the javelin competition on Saturday at Missoula County Stadium as a spectator.
Normally the Bigfork senior would be throwing the javelin himself, but a freak accident just over a week ago has caused him to miss some of his final high school track and field season. During practice last Thursday, April 11, Epperly was struck in the chest by a javelin from an errant throw. The Flathead Beacon reported that he had a partially collapsed lung and was airlifted to Kalispell Regional Medical Center in as scary an incident that can occur in sports.
Epperly left the hospital on Saturday, a little earlier than expected.
So during Saturday's Seeley-Swan Invite, Epperly watched, hung out and cheered for his fellow teammates as the Viking boys went on to earn a team victory.
"I'm feeling better. I'm glad that's what happened, it could've been a lot worse for sure," Epperly said. "It was probably the best thing that could've happened to me under those circumstances."
Epperly said he never saw the javelin coming until the very last second. At first he wasn't too worried, but after seeing some blood he realized it was more serious. But he knew he'd be fine and said it didn't hit any arteries or do any serious damage to him.
"Thankfully I had a lot of coaches and teammates there to help me out and settle me down," Epperly said.
Remarkably though, Epperly's season is not over. He estimates he'll be back out competing in about two to three weeks. For now, it's all about resting up and letting his wound heal. He does some breathing exercises a couple times a day as well while also laying low and resting as much as possible. Epperly also triple jumps on the team.
Epperly is a three-sport star for the Vikings and led Bigfork to back-to-back Class B state basketball titles as the team's point guard. He broke Montana's assist record this past season and hopes to play college basketball. This injury put some visits he had with schools on hold.
"Hopefully, I can get back out there and do those in a couple of weeks," Epperly said. "That's my goal for sure."
On the track, the Vikings were victors as were the Seeley-Swan girls. The Seeley-Swan boys took second followed by Noxon while the Bigfork girls were runners-up followed by Deer Lodge with off-and-on rain in Missoula.
Wyatt Duke won the high jump and Luke Taylor added a victory in the pole vault to pace the Vikings.
Seeley-Swan sophomore Klaire Kovatch starred during Saturday's meet. Kovatch, the reigning State C discus champion, reset her own school record with a throw of 136 feet, 11 inches. Her previous best was 135-03.
And she didn't waste any time completing that feat, reaching that mark on her first toss of the afternoon.
"When you do it right, it's easy. It just feels very fluid and easy and that's the biggest thing is I didn't have to think about it and just did," Kovatch said. "We haven't been getting as many throws as we'd like so I haven't been as consistent. But since the weather has been starting to get nicer it's starting to finally come together a little bit better."
The crazy thing is Kovatch will only continue to rewrite the record books at Seeley-Swan until she graduates in 2021.
"It's pretty cool that every time I get better I set my school record higher," she said. "I think the biggest thing is I just want to see how far I can throw. I don't really think there can be a limit as long as you keep improving and find things to improve on.
"I think you are done when you can't make it any better and so far that hasn't happened yet, so that's my biggest drive is perfecting it."
And as far as improving, Kovatch said positioning her feet and release could use some work. But her mark on Saturday was good enough to rank No. 2 in the state regardless of class behind Calla Haldorson of Corvallis.
There was plenty of individual success to go around for the Blackhawks. Senior Lily Mercer took first in the 400, freshman Sariah Maughan won the 800 and senior Autumn Morse added victory in the javelin. Both of Seeley-Swan's relay teams took first as well.
Reigning State B pole vault champion Kamryn Scully of Deer Lodge won a good battle between her and Seeley-Swan junior Terra Bertsch. Both competitors vaulted 9-06 but Scully, a senior, scratched one fewer time to earn the win. Bertsch is the reigning State C pole vaulting champion.
And Scully cleared 9-06 with ease too. But she had to run over and compete in the 300 hurdles in between vaults where she was edged out by Darby's Casey Ehmann by .15 seconds. Scully's time of 47.75 ranks No. 6 in the state regardless of classification. But after that performance, her wind was gone and she couldn't quite get over 10 feet.
"I do the 400 and 300 hurdles throughout the season so if the girls go second I usually have to run then jump a couple and so on," Scully said. "It's a challenge I can do both ways. Sometimes I can come back from it and sometimes I don't.
"I've jumped a couple meets with (Bertsch) and she's just a really good competitor to have because you always have someone to jump and push yourself with."
Ehmann, a senior, walked away with wins in the 100 and 300 hurdles for Darby. With both of her times, she qualified for the State C meet and currently owns the fastest time in Class C (and fifth fastest in the state overall at 47.60) in the 300 hurdles and second-fastest Class C mark in the 100's behind Bertsch.
"It felt really good today. I got the times that I wanted. It's hard especially when the track is really wet," Ehmann said. "I just came in wanting to win and improve my times today so in my head I had that set."
Other standouts included Troy senior Hunter Leighty, who won the 200 and 400. His 400 time of 50.50 gives him the fastest time in the state regardless of class with Seeley-Swan senior Hunter Shelmerdine right behind him at 50.52 in what was one of the best races of the day. Noxon senior Levi Brubaker won both the long and triple jump while both of Seeley-Swan's relay teams claimed victories. On the girls side, Ronan junior Kinsley Barney won both the 100 and 200 while Sydney Brander, a sophomore at St. Ignatius, won the long and triple jumps.