CORVALLIS — The facial expressions tell Spencer Huls all he needs to know about the return of Montana high school track and field on Saturday.
"They've been smiling every day in practice," the Corvallis coach said of his athletes, who had a long pandemic layoff that will soon come to an end.
"Even Wednesday, it was kind of cold, but we had big smiles on our faces. It's nice to see the kids out there working hard."
Huls and his athletes are feeling sky-high in anticipation of their first home meet, the Blue Devil Invitational, on Saturday. Twenty teams will be on hand and the weather promises to be decent, with a little bit of sun and a high in the upper 50s.
Corvallis is used to State A success, but this spring season is a different ball game for Huls and his helpers. Call it the great unknown.
"We've got two groups of freshmen, in essence," he explained. "We've got the freshman group and the sophomore group that is, in essence, freshmen because they didn't get a season last year.
"We've got lots of kids out there that are really eager to learn and have a lot of good energy. It's fun. Once kids have been in the program for a year and you do things the same way, they're used to it. But this year is a new and interesting challenge."
Formerly known as the Gene Hughes Invitational — that meet has been moved back to Hamilton next weekend — the Blue Devil Invitational will adhere to COVID-19 guidelines established by the Montana High School Association. Each team is restricted to four athletes per event. Had the meet welcomed any more than 20 squads, each team would have been limited to three athletes per event.
"And we will encourage people to stay in team groups as much as possible," Huls said, "and try to either stay a safe distance away from each other or wear masks."
Chances are that the Blue Devils will be a serious threat for state hardware in 2021. That's safe to say because they always seem to be in the running.
But you'll never pin Huls down on any predictions. Not right now, anyway.
"The kids that are seniors this year were sophomores last time they competed, so it's real hard to know," he offered. "You can't look at last year's list and say this person is back, this person is back.
"A lot of the kids that placed two years ago when we had a state track meet are gone. It will be really interesting to see who steps up and who has what."
Saturday's meet is one of two high school track and field events in western Montana this weekend. A meet is also scheduled to be held in Eureka. The season will pick up steam next week, with the Gene Hughes Invitational slated for Thursday in Hamilton and Class AA teams springing into action.