MISSOULA — When Missoula Hellgate junior sprinter Jake Sweatland crossed the finish line during a dual meet against Kalispell Glacier, the junior looked upset at himself and his result.

He took first in the 100-meter sprint in 11.67 during the Thursday meet at Missoula County Stadium, but he thinks he can be better considering his personal best of 11.34.

“It’s my season record — (but) it’s pretty far off my PR,” Sweatland said not long after his event ended. “ … I’ve gotten faster every meet and I’ve gotten first every time, which is pretty nice.”

On a team loaded with star runners like Boise State signee Abby Kendrick and Oregon signee Ignatius Fitzgerald, plus javelin thrower Ryan Woldstad who entering Thursday held the top mark in the state in the event at 177 feet, 2 inches, Sweatland is putting together his own story.

The sprinter is just over six months removed from a left ankle injury that he sustained during football season. The injury very well could, and for many other athletes would, have kept him out of track and field entirely. In the first three meets of this season, Sweatland has three first-place finishes in the 100 meters as he is slowly but surely getting his speed back to his pre-injury form.

Sweatland broke multiple bones and tore ligaments in his left ankle during an early season game against Glacier in fall 2020. The Hellgate junior was going for a routine tackle on one of the first plays from scrimmage, but when he met the Glacier player in the hole a lineman fell and rolled over Sweatland’s ankle, “crushing” it back in October, ending Sweatland's season just four games in.

The injury ended up requiring surgery and a long rehab. But the junior sprinter is already back well ahead of schedule considering the type of injury he sustained.

His first competition back was two weeks ago against Missoula Big Sky in a dual meet and it came exactly six months to the date since his ankle injury originally happened.

Watching Sweatland run and get off the blocks it is hard to even tell he went through as bad of an injury that he did. His strides are clean, he doesn’t grimace or labor much at all toward the recovered ankle and leg, and he is just happy to be back out on the track when it seemed like he may miss a second track season in a row.

Sweatland did say his ankle and calf tend to get tired pretty fast, but that could go away as he continues to get back into track shape and continues his work with the Hellgate athletic training staff — who Sweatland credited much of his progress to.

“It’s nice,” Sweatland said. “It’s nice to compete again after missing track and missing football and wrestling, it’s just good to be back out here and compete.”

Ask his coaches and they aren’t surprised about his return.

Hellgate head football coach Mick Morris, who also works with the Hellgate sprinters, had a front-row seat to Sweatland’s injury that happened right in front of the Hellgate bench and even still he isn’t surprised about the way Sweatland has bounced back.

“It’s obviously rewarding just knowing how hard we worked from the time that he got injured to where he is at now being ahead of schedule,” Morris said. “ … It’s pretty amazing considering he is out here running and competing at a high level. … It was one of those injuries you can see and you just know right away -- you can hear it. … He was doing things shortly after surgery that kids wouldn’t do for a little while. He is one of the hardest workers we have and I would be surprised if he wasn’t doing it.”

Lance Hartzler covers Griz men's basketball and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter at @lance_hartz or shoot him an email at Lance.Hartzler@406mtsports.com.

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