The spring high school sports season happens fast.
But for six area teams the state championship trophies on display in their schools will make sure nobody ever forgets the spring of 2017.
Before practice and meets – ones like last weekend’s Class AA state track and field meet in Butte – Missoula Sentinel coach Craig Mettler and his long jump/triple jump coach Khalin Anderson ask their athletes a question: Are they in the “red-light” or “green-light” zone before takeoff?
Sentinel’s Ashley McElmurry, who set the Class AA state record in the triple jump with a distance of 38 feet, 7.75 inches, and Lauren Heggen, who finished second in the event, gave their coaches a definitive answer Saturday.
“They were both obviously green lighting, but on top of that, once they hit (38 feet) it just kept coming,” Mettler said. “I was just sitting there going, something’s happening right now that’s very cool, because they hadn’t hit it all year and all of a sudden, Ashley hit it four or five times and Lauren hit it two or three times. It was quite the deal to watch.
“…There was no red light in those girls on Saturday – it was awesome.”
It was all-go for the rest of the Spartan girls on the Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, too. They finished with 91 total points and had 18 girls place in 13 of the meet’s 17 events to win the program’s first-ever state title.
Of the 18 placers, 11 came from field events, including McElmurry’s record-setting three-pronged jump that bested Kwyn Johnson’s mark of 38-4.75 set in 2012 for Kalispell Flathead.
Sentinel’s Emily Malone and Kylie Frohlich placed second and third in the javelin and three Spartans brought home medals in the shot put.
“People in Butte were saying, it’s not track and field, it’s field and track for you guys,” Mettler said.
But it was also the team's depth. Sentinel put 13 girls into the finals competing in 28 events, not including relay teams. The sheer number of scorers helped the Spartans dethrone the Billings schools, which had won every year since 2009.
“I told one of the reporters Saturday afterwards that track is dubbed an individual sport, but you can’t win a championship as a team without having depth in many events,” Mettler said. “…That’s what you gotta have to win and we’re blessed over at Sentinel to have some uber-talented ladies right now.”
The Bigfork girls’ track and field team had a wealth of what it takes to win it all, too. But that was the case in 2015 and 2016 as well. Both times the Valkyries settled for second.
Finally after three years of being denied a team track and field title and 25 years since capturing their first – and only before Saturday – the Bigfork girls are once again Class B’s best. It was a state championship win head coach Sue Loeffler anticipated even back in April.
“When we’re in full force with the girls, we’re going to be (good),” Loeffler said before the season. “As long as we stay healthy, we’re going to be tough.”
They did and they were.
In 2016, a depleted Vals team – including a hobbled Anya Young and Bryn Morley, who was unable to participate at state last season – still managed a second-place finish. The year before Bigfork scored 110 points as a team, the second most in Class B track and field history.
It just so happened Plains had a historic season, besting Bigfork with 120 points for the 2015 team title.
“Against Plains we did everything in our power to try to beat them and they were just that much stronger,” Loeffler said. “Last year we were plagued with injuries, we knew we were good enough, but we just needed more.
“The girls went in (to the last weekend's Class B meet in Butte) saying that this is it. We’re going to do it this year no matter what, and boy they went way beyond my expectations. They just got it done.”
The trio of Haile Norred, Bryn Morley and Anya Young scored a combined 77 of the team’s 109 points, not including the relays. Norred, Morley and Young placed in 10 individual events overall and between Norred and Morley took home five solo first-price awards.
“You don’t realize when everything is going on, but we placed two in the 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600 and 3,200. We had one in the short hurdles, didn’t place anyone in the 300 hurdles and then placed both relays,” the Vals coach said. “To have two (placers) in most of them, it’s just like, ‘whoa!’ It was just amazing.”
A perfect finish to a title season – finally.
The Libby boys' tennis team won its second straight title, edging both Great Falls Central and perennial powerhouse Loyola Sacred Heart earlier in May, but the Rams still finished first in doubles.
Loyola duo David Ramsey and Fisher Richardson bested Libby's Erik Lauer and Braydon Thom in straight sets to capture the Class B-C doubles title, 6-4, 7-5. The Loggers got the last laugh, though, winning the team-overall tournament 29-28. Either Libby or Loyola has won at B-C state since 2013.
The Seeley-Swan Class C boys’ golf championship was certainly a time of celebration. Three of the Blackhawks’ four golfers placed in the Top 10 to win the two-day tournament in mid-May by 15 strokes over Manhattan Christian, 514-529.
But an improbable birdie putt on Hole 18 from Harlowton’s Reed Wasson kept Seeley from sweeping both the team and individual titles. Senior McKinley Nicholas, the state champ in 2016, settled for par on the hole and finished one stroke back of Wasson for the state crown.
Still, Nicholas, whose brother Malachi finished fifth and teammate Shane Lindemer placed 10th, was excited for his team.
“It’s really cool to win state for the team. I was hoping to win it, too, but things happen,” the elder Nicholas said. “(Wasson) played a great round and I just couldn’t catch up to him. It’s really cool the team’s going to win, though.”
And a second-place finish isn’t too bad, either.
In Class B golf, a second-place finish for the individual title may have been the best anybody could have hoped for with Libby’s Ryggs Johnston in the field. The Logger sophomore broke his own state-record round from a season ago, shooting a ridiculous two-day, 16-under score of 61-67–128.
But only two boys from Libby scored in the Top 50, leaving the door open for Loyola Sacred Heart.
The Rams’ Bucky Crippen was the only other golfer besides Johnston to shoot under par both days and claim the silver medal. Crippen’s second-place finish powered a Loyola golf team already with a case full of state trophies. Although the team title was the first for the Rams since 2013, it’s the program’s sixth overall.
Thomas Sellman joined his teammate Crippen with a Top 15 finish, too, placing ninth. Bryan Swanson was just seven strokes off the all-state pace.
And Loyola did bring home an individual champion on the mid-May weekend at Shelby’s Marias Valley Golf Course. It just came on the girls’ side.
Kylie Esh, who won every prep tournament she played in this spring, was no different at the state tournament. She shot a 70-76–146, which is the second best 36-hole round in Class B history only to Loyola’s Maggie Crippen’s 143 set back in 2012.
Esh’s teammate, Katie Fagg, finished right on her heels in second with a 83-76–159, but the Breakers settled for third place overall as a team.
Still, it was a happy – albeit, 227-mile – bus ride back from the Hi-Line in Shelby.
For fans of the Florence softball team, a shortcut on Blue Mountain Road back to Mullan Road makes it just 33 miles to Frenchtown, the host site to the Class B-C state softball tournament.
Nor surprisingly, Falcon fans lined the field in Frenchtown last Saturday, and the massive contingent in maroon and gold got to see their girls hoist the first-place trophy for the fourth time in six years.
“It’s so great to have everybody here supporting us. Honestly, I didn’t think there’d be this many people here,” said Florence sophomore Shannon Byrne, who was 2-for-5 hitting with three runs scored in her team’s 9-3 win against Libby. “It’s not just the team – you want to do it for the entire town of Florence.”
Or Seeley Lake… Or Bigfork… Or Libby... Or Missoula, depending on what title town you’re from in Western Montana.