The state track meets are usually ripe for surprises, and a few could be in store this weekend. Plenty of athletes continue to post personal records each time out as they begin to rebound from last year’s missed season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is a look at the State A track and field meet at the Laurel Sports Complex on Friday and Saturday:
Defending team champs: Whitefish (girls); Dillon and Laurel (boys)
Returning individual champs: Thanks to COVID-19 wiping out the 2020 season, this list isn’t as long as it usually is. Juniors and seniors who ran in 2019 have graduated, meaning state champs had to be a sophomore or freshman in order to be a returning title holder. That said, there are four girls defending five championships: Billings Central’s Kellan Wahl (200 meters), Whitefish’s Mikenna Ellis (400), Hamilton’s Brynnli Poulsen (800) and Dillon’s Ainsley Shipman (100 hurdles and 300 hurdles). On the boys’ side, only Laurel’s Jack Waddell is a returning champion. His return is with a twist, however — he won the 200 meters in 2019 while running for Livingston.
Overview: There are a handful of girls teams that have enough quality athletes to have a shot at a podium finish. But Laurel and Whitefish have the highest number of competitors in top-6 spots heading into the week, with Whitefish’s strength being the sprints and high jump, and Laurel looking strong in the middle and long distances. You could count Dillon, Billings Central and Columbia Falls among the next tier. The athletes who have top times in two or more events: Lara Erickson, Columbia Falls (800, 1,600, 3,200); Ellis (200, 400); Kylie Zimmer, Lewistown (shot put, discus); Shipman (triple jump, 100 hurdles).
Though 11 of the 17 event leaders going into the meet on the boys side are from different schools, Hamilton does have an advantage in number of qualifiers. The Broncs have 13 athletes ranked in the top-6, including the top three spots in the 1,600, while Laurel (10) and Dillon (9) are next. Laurel’s Jakob Webinger (100, 200), Hamilton’s Colter Kirkland (800, 1,600) and Dillon’s Treyton Anderson (110 and 300 hurdles) enter the meet with the top times in multiple events.