MISSOULA — An emotional track and field season where athletes got back to the sport after a year off is almost at its end with the Class AA state meet set for this weekend in Missoula at the Missoula County Public Stadium.

Here's a look at this week's state meet:

Defending team champs: Missoula Sentinel (boys), Bozeman (girls).

Returning individual champ: Helena's Odessa Zentz (400, 800).

Overview: Missoula-based teams Hellgate and Sentinel took wins in the Western AA girls and boys divisional titles last weekend in Kalispell, while Bozeman (girls) and Billings West (boys) claimed the Eastern AA divisional crowns in Billings.

Those four team champs enter as favorites led by the Sentinel boys and the Bozeman girls who are attempting to defend titles won in Kalispell. In 2019, Sentinel took its first boys track and field state title in over 50 years while Bozeman was led by a record-breaking performance from Delaney Bahn.

In contrast to the 2019 meet which featured five defending champions, this season’s AA state meet in Missoula features just one athlete who took gold in 2019: Helena's Odessa Zentz, a dual champion in the 400 and 800 during her freshman season.

Zentz, now a junior, enters with the top time in the AA in the 400 and 800 and is second in the 100 behind Billings West junior Jaeden Wolff. Billings West fresman Taylee Chirrick has come on strong in the sprints in recent weeks and could challenge as well.

The girls distance races could provide some close finishes between Hellgate senior Sage Brooks, a Syracuse commit, and junior Kensey May along with Bozeman seniors Ellie Hull and Natalie McCormick. Brooks enters with the top time in the state in the 1,600 (4:56.08) and the 3,200 (10:58.21) with her teammate May close behind in the 3,200 (10:59.86) and Hull trailing in third at 11:06.79. 

Sentinel junior Brooke Stayner has a solid hold on the 100 hurdles (14.58) and the 200 (25.73) as she holds the top time in the 300 hurdles and the second best in the 200 behind Zentz. Billings West junior Hailey Coey trails Stayner in the high hurdles and Missoula Big Sky senior Keara Burgess, a Montana Grizzlies track and field commit, could challenge Stayner for another time this season if the crosstown rivals face off in the 300 hurdles again.

On the field Sentinel senior Anja Jackson may finally hit some stiff competition in the javelin toss with Belgrade senior Gracey Carter who owns the top mark in the state at 144 feet and 5 inches while Jackson’s top mark is 124-03. Like Carter, Jackson has won all but one of her meets this season. Helena Capital senior Paige Bartsch, a Boise State volleyball commit, trails Jackson by just over a foot with a PR of 123-01.

The boys side starts with a key injury at the top of the 100 and the 200. Billings Senior junior Malikye Simpson will miss the state meet due to a broken ankle. Simpson would have entered with the top times in both the 100 and 200. Rather, Helena Capital senior Brett Morris enters with the next best 100 time (10.98) and Billings West junior Taco Dowler is the next best time in the 200 (22.29).

While the short sprints have some injury drama, the 1,600 features a loaded field headlined by Missoula Hellgate's Ignatius Fitzgerald (4:15.89), an Oregon commit, and Sentinel’s dominant distance group led by senior Wyatt Mortenson (4:21.29), a Utah Valley track and field and XC commit, and junior Tanner Klumph (4:22.75). Kalispell Glacier's Sam Ells (4:23.10) is not far behind in fourth.

Mortenson (9:18.07) will also get a chance against Fitzgerald (9:36.49) in a crosstown battle in the 3,200 as they enter as two of the top in the distance in the state. More Missoula-based runners with Sentinel's Klumph (9:19.37) and Chase Green (9:44.42), and Hellgate's Jackson Triepke (9:47.59).

Record watch: There aren’t many state or class records that are close to being broken based off athletes’ current PRs heading in, except for a single notable one.

Carter’s best toss in the girls javelin at 144-05 is just two inches off the Class AA record of 144-07 held by former Kalispell Glacier thrower Keyawna Lawson in 2015.

For a full schedule of events for the AA and the rest of the state track and field meets, go here.

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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