KALISPELL — Craig Mettler’s eyes welled with tears.
Missoula Sentinel’s boys track & field team had just won the State AA team championship for the first time since the school became Sentinel in 1966 and first time since it was Missoula County School in 1964.
And when he was asked just what it meant, the emotions couldn’t be held back.
“If you think about it, when these seniors were freshmen, we scored two points at the state track meet, and for us to come to where we are today…,” Mettler said before trailing off, his voice breaking. “I’m just honored to have the privilege to serve these young men and women. They had a heck of a two days.
“It’s pretty cool. Couldn’t be more proud.”
Whether it was the arms of Rylan Ortt and Brock Field or the legs of Elias Dewaters, Jaden Foster, Zac Crews, Jace DeWalt, Noah McNelis and Neil Daily, the Spartans took control from the get-go and never relented as they won with 109 points. Billings West finished in second place with 86 and Kalispell Flathead rounded out the top three with 70.
Sentinel carried a lead into the second day and the senior Ortt kept the momentum going early Saturday morning in the highly anticipated javelin competition. Ortt and Kalispell Glacier senior Evan Todd were the main event as two of the nation’s best high school javelin throwers.
Ortt ranked 13th in the nation coming in and Todd, the defending champion, was sixth. With all eyes on the javelin – fans lined the boundary lines and watched from the bleachers – Ortt tossed the javelin 208 feet, 8 inches on his first throw, which tied Todd’s sixth-place mark in the country and gave the future Montana State Bobcat football player a state title after coming up second last year.
“I’m just happy. I’ve worked so hard for this. It’s what I wanted,” Ortt said. “Evan beat me on his last throw last year so I really wanted this one this year. That’s what I’ve been thinking about for the past year.”
Four of Ortt’s six throws went over 200 feet. Mobbed by friends, family, teammates and competitors after it was all over, Ortt’s relief to grab that top spot was evident.
“I was just confident in the work I’ve put in all year and everything that I’ve done,” he said. “(Getting congratulated) was when it sunk in. Everyone was just so happy for me and happy that came up and watched. If there’s a big crowd there you feel the energy. I was super happy with it.”
After winning the long jump Friday, Dewaters, a senior, added another victory Saturday in the triple jump. Foster, a junior, won the 400 on Friday and walked away with a win in the 200 on Saturday while finishing runner-up in the 100 to pad Sentinel’s lead.
“It feels great. I was a little scared for that 200 because I’m pretty sore from the 400,” Foster said with a laugh. “I knew I had a poor start (in the 100) so I adjusted. And as the race goes on I get faster and it all starts to slow down. It means a lot.”
DeWalt added a second-place finish in the 300 hurdles Saturday. Field finished third in the discus after taking second in the shot put Friday.
“I’m so happy that they finally got to taste that success,” Mettler said. “They’ve been so close (in other sports) to being here and now to have it be a reality is something special to see.”
Bahn leads Bozeman
Delaney Bahn’s expectations were through the roof this weekend at the State AA meet and the Bozeman senior did not disappoint.
After breaking the all-class long jump record on Friday, one that dated back to 1979, Bahn won the 100 and 200 on Saturday and took fifth in the 100 hurdles to pace the Hawks to their first team title since 2007. Bozeman won with 112 points, West was second with 86 and Sentinel was third with 76.
“I’m just super relieved and happy with how they went,” Bahn said. “I was glad I was able to pull through and do as well as I wanted.”
After winning the 1,600 on Friday, Bozeman junior Terra Trom added a second-place finish in the 800 and ran a leg on Bozeman’s 1,600-relay team that ended the meet with a win. Fellow junior Alex Moore added fourth-place finishes in the 1,600 and 3,200 as well while junior Mayjia Horst took second in the 300 hurdles.
“It shows all of the hard work we’ve done this season,” Bahn said of the team’s finish. “We have so many strong athletes, new ones and ones who are graduating. It shows how strong we are as a team.
“It’s bittersweet. I run a race and I’m like that was my last one. It’s kind of sad to let that go but you have to look at the future and be excited for that.”
The weekend’s meet also marked the final one for Bozeman head coach Eric Fisher, who recently accepted a job to be the principal and athletic director for Manhattan’s middle school beginning next school year. The girls winning along with the boys finishing in fourth place as a team allowed Fisher to ride out on a high note as he looks toward a new career.
“This was just a really special way to end it,” he said. “It’s really bittersweet. I’m so proud to finish this way. I’m going to miss the kids and seniors. This is a really special group and team.”
For the second straight year, Sentinel triple jumper Lauren Heggen broke an all-class record. Only this time, she topped her own mark from a year ago.
As she did a year ago, Heggen, a junior, saved her best attempt for last and leaped 39 feet, 9¼ inches to best her 39-7 she accomplished a year ago to win her second straight triple jump title.
The win marked a satisfying end to what’s been a tough year for Heggen, who dealt with a foot injury for most of the spring.
“I’m just super happy, proud and privileged to come out here and do my job today,” Heggen said. “To come out here and be able to compete in triple was good and made me feel really good.”
Her teammate and senior Ashley McElmurry ended her Spartan career in a huge way as well. McElmurry won both hurdles races and took second in the long and triple jumps. Just on her own, McElmurry scored 36 points for the Spartans and also ran a leg on their fifth-place 1,600-relay team, good for two more points.
McElmurry’s next stop is the University of Nebraska where she’ll compete in track & field. Her mother, Kristine, won the 100 hurdles in champion in high school as well, so continue that family tradition was a special one for her.
“That’s always something I’ve wanted to do,” McElmurry said. “I was super nervous but it was really exciting when I crossed the finish line. It was a great relief because I’ve been working towards that since last year at state. It means so much.”
McElmurry came into the weekend’s meet as a 10-time state placer with one individual title to her name. So to add a couple more to her long list of accolades meant a lot after so many finishes fell just short.
“It means so much. It’s sometimes kind of frustrating getting second over and over again,” McElmurry said. “I’ve thought about the state meet every single day. I’ve had a burning desire to win so it feels amazing.”
West’s throwers propelled the Golden Bears to the second-place team finishes. Senior Carter Slade won the shot put on Friday and came away with gold on Saturday in the discus. Junior LaKeema Williams also won in both events to earn her first AA state titles.
Williams, who grew up in Lame Deer and Ashland on the Crow Reservation, made huge leaps this year as a varsity thrower. She credited that to weight lifting and honing in on her technique and using the strength in her legs as the focal point of her throws.
All of that work made her a double-champ over the weekend.
“This is such an honor to be here, even just coming here with my team and being a part of something big like this in our state is just insane,” Williams said with a big smile. “I’m from a small reservation and it’s just an honor to be here with my team and watch them do amazing things and be able to do an amazing thing myself.
“I don’t feel like I’d be here today without my coaches.”
Flathead junior Chance Sheldon-Allen won the 100 after edging out Foster and took second behind him in the 200. Sheldon-Allen said he entered the meet with a goal to break the school record in the 100 which was 10.84. He fell just short, but won a speedy 100 final in 10.88 to become a state champ. His win along with another from senior Ben Perrin in the 1,600 helped push the Braves toward a trophy. Perrin won the 3,200 on Friday.
Sheldon-Allen has also battled some injuries this year, but knowing he’s so close to the school record provides fuel for next season. Not to mention he, Foster, Connor Ryan (West) and Cooper Craig (Bozeman) are all junior standout sprinters which could make next year’s 100 and 200 races must-see events.
“I’ve been telling everyone this whole year that I was going to get the school record and that I’m going to be a state champion,” Sheldon-Allen said. “I lived up to one of those expectations now I just have to get the next one next year. I had to do it for my friends and school. It’s about the team and to do it on the home track was even better.”
Helena freshman Odessa Zentz won the girls 800, adding to her victory in the 400 from Friday. Billings Senior’s Tiahna Vladic came away with the victory in the 3,200 as well. Billings Skyview junior Caden Olsen won the boys 110 hurdles and Kalispell Glacier junior Drew Deck took gold in the 300 hurdles. West’s boys capped the day off with a win in the 1,600-relay as well.