Sam Tudor gained his first state championship as a head coach final season when his 24-Zero Bigfork Vikings minimize down the nets in Missoula with the Class B title in hand, however guiding an undefeated defending champ by way of a quest to repeat is nothing new.
Tudor’s first yr in cost was 2014, the season after Bigfork went 26-Zero and gained all of it beneath former coach Josh Downey, and whereas that staff noticed its dream of again-to-again titles dashed within the state semifinals, the expertise of going via a season with a goal on his staff’s again might show useful for a squad that figures to get the stiffest potential problem from each opponent on the schedule.
“I think we’ve seen just about every game plan, and people know we’re formidable as the defending champs,” Tudor stated. “With this team, we’ve just agreed that our goal is to improve and with that will come success. If we can be better than we were last year, the wins will come.”
In the meantime, on the wrestling mat, Flathead’s Jeff Thompson additionally enters the yr in a well-known place. Within the third season of his second stint because the Braves’ head coach, Thompson instructions a program that has gained every of the final two Class AA titles and has taken residence a exceptional six championships in Thompson’s final seven seasons on the helm (his first stint was from 2000-08). The Braves should take in the lack of three particular person titlists this yr, however the cabinet is way from naked with 5 returning state placers nonetheless within the combine.
The remainder of the Flathead Valley’s winter sports activities panorama could also be with no defending group champion, however that doesn’t imply it lacks prospects. Glacier swimmer A.J. Popp took house a person title final yr in and is again to defend her crown, as are a trio of Flathead boys swimmers who helped the Braves to a shocking third-place end eventually yr’s state meet.
Outdoors the pool, the Columbia Falls women basketball staff is chasing a exceptional sixth straight prime-three end within the state, Whitefish’s girls and boys hoops squads each welcome new coaches, and a throng of latest varsity gamers on all 4 Kalispell basketball groups opens up alternatives for brand spanking new stars to emerge.
Right here’s a better take a look at the winter prep sports activities season within the Flathead Valley, which began in earnest with a full slate of occasions final weekend.
Bigfork begins the season because the presumptive favourite to repeat as state champions, however the Vikings have, actually, one very huge gap to fill. Beau Santistevan, the Vikings’ 6-foot-7 all-state middle final yr, is now at Dawson Group School, though he’s the one starter who shouldn’t be again off a group that was not often even examined throughout a magical 2017-18 marketing campaign.
Senior guard Randy Stultz, who performed main minutes off the bench final yr, strikes into the beginning lineup for the Vikings, becoming a member of classmates Anders Epperly, Logan Gilliard, and twins Colton and Clayton Reichenbach. What Stultz doesn’t present in peak he makes up for in athleticism, because the three-sport athlete and school baseball commit will solely assist the Vikings push the tempo underneath the steerage of Epperly, Bigfork’s level guard and on-courtroom chief. Epperly is on tempo to go away faculty as one of many all-time help leaders in Montana historical past however might be requested to shoulder a bit extra of the scoring load this season alongside the candy-capturing Gilliard.
In Class A, Whitefish has a brand new coach in Scott Smith, and the Bulldogs have already proven main strides, surpassing final season’s win complete with a powerful three-Zero begin. Whitefish was extraordinarily younger a yr in the past, and brings again all-convention standouts Lee Walburn and Ryan Kemm. In Columbia Falls, third-yr coach Chris Finberg should substitute 4 starters from final season and can lean closely on Drew Morgan and Logan Bechtel, particularly early within the season as a brand new crop of kids will get acclimated.
A boatload of latest gamers will even be seeing the ground in Kalispell, the place Glacier and Flathead each graduated most of final season’s manufacturing. The Wolfpack’s Drew Engellant is the lone all-convention returnee from both faculty, and he shall be joined at Glacier by senior wing Bret Michaels, who missed most of final season with an damage. Soccer standouts Cole Crosby and Drew Deck have additionally returned to basketball this yr after a while away. At Flathead, all-state stalwarts Tyler Johnson and Sam Elliott are gone, as is level guard Eric Seaman, publish Dawson Smith and a pair of key bench contributors, all of whom mixed for greater than 80 % of the Braves’ scoring a season in the past. Senior Anthony Jones (5.7 factors) is Flathead’s prime returning scorer.
Legendary coach Cary Finberg has gained state championships and piled up a whole lot of wins throughout a spectacular profession teaching at Columbia Falls, however the run his Wildkats women workforce has been on the final 5 seasons is among the many most spectacular accomplishments of all.
Columbia Falls has come residence from the Class A state event with a trophy the final 5 seasons (together with a state title in 2017) on the power of 5 consecutive years of all-state level guard play, first from his daughter Cydney and, within the final two seasons, from Dani Douglas. This yr, sophomore Lakia Hill steps into these huge footwear however does so with a sterling athletic pedigree because the daughter of retired rodeo cowboy Beau Hill and his spouse, Keri, each of whom have been excellent highschool athletes. The Wildkats additionally deliver again all-convention honorees Ryley Kehr and Trista Cowen and determine to be among the many favorites as soon as once more within the Northwest A Convention.
Rival Whitefish is breaking in a brand new coach this yr, however just like the boys staff the Bulldogs are off to an encouraging begin after nabbing a pair of wins on the Missoula Tip-Off Event final weekend. Bob Bolam, a longtime head coach in Washington, has a younger roster this yr though Whitefish’s solely two seniors, Marlee Bender and Package Anderson, will lead it.
In Class AA, each Kalispell faculties are optimistic after sweeping Nice Falls Excessive and C.M. Russell to start out the season at residence. The Bravettes have senior submit Taylor Henley and level guard Sadie Wilson returning to pair with rising kids Jenna Johnson and Kuyra Siegel. Throughout city at Glacier, all-convention star Kali Gulick figures to steer the Wolfpack after averaging 9 factors and 4 rebounds as a junior, and classmate Aubrie Rademacher additionally returns for a workforce that gained a recreation on the state event in 2018.
In Class B, Bigfork will probably be with out star senior Rakiah Grende for at the very least the primary a number of weeks of the season and, in her absence, may have a particularly younger workforce after graduating two all-state and 4-all district gamers from final yr’s 21-win squad.
The 2017-18 Flathead Braves have been the sort of group that doesn’t come round fairly often, loaded with expertise at each weight class, together with two NCAA Division I wrestlers (considered one of whom didn’t even wrestle final yr resulting from damage), 15 state placers and sufficient depth to rank 37th within the ultimate nationwide rankings.
Quick-ahead to this season, nevertheless, and the Braves have a number of inquiries to reply since Flathead has misplaced seven state placers to commencement, another to switch and one other to damage (Garrett Reike). Nonetheless, 5 state placers are again, as are seven different state event members. Chief amongst these returners is Jaden MacNeil, the state runner-up at 132 kilos final yr who’s recent off quarterbacking the Braves to the state title recreation this soccer season. Tanner Russell, fourth at 145 kilos final yr, can also be again and led the best way for the Braves at Mining Metropolis Duals, Dec. 7-eight. Flathead completed fourth at that occasion, dropping solely to Bozeman and Nice Falls Excessive amongst seven twin matches.
At Glacier, the quick-enhancing Wolfpack additionally reached the championship bracket on the Mining Metropolis Duals after profitable their pool, and boast a deep group regardless of not having a single state placer final season. They do have one on the roster this yr, although, in Tilynne Vasquez, who transferred from Flathead. Vasquez was fourth at 103 kilos as a sophomore final yr, believed to be the perfect end by a woman wrestler in Montana historical past. The Wolfpack additionally convey again state qualifiers Tre Krause and Tristan Little, each of whom have been third finally yr’s Western AA divisional.
Elsewhere, Columbia Falls and Whitefish should deal with regional rival Polson — one of many state title favorites — and the remainder of Class A. The Wildcats misplaced state champion Ben Windauer and three different state placers however do deliver again Jakob Freeman (sixth at 205 final yr) and Taylor Gladeau (third at heavyweight).
A brand new coach will information the packages in Kalispell this yr, with Flathead grad Ethan Timm tabbed to helm each faculties’ squads. He inherits a Braves boys group that was third within the state behind a small however gifted roster that should exchange its chief, two-time state champion James Bouda, now on the College of Wyoming. In his place, Flathead has returning state placers Jace Reed, Gus DeSouza and Ethan Brosten.
Glacier, in the meantime, might be led by its personal state champion in Popp, a senior who lately dedicated to proceed her profession on the College of Northern Colorado. Along with her title within the 200 free final yr, Popp was second within the 100 free and is as soon as once more joined by speedy teammate Caroline Dye, herself a state placer in three races final season.
In Class A, Whitefish brings again two state placers, too, in junior Preston Ring on the boys aspect and Annie Sullivan for the women.
In the event you take pleasure in tales like this one, please contemplate becoming a member of the Flathead Beacon Editor’s Membership. For as little as $5 per thirty days, Editor’s Membership members help unbiased native journalism and earn a particular deal each month from certainly one of our nice native enterprise companions. Members additionally achieve entry to www.beaconeditorsclub.com, the place they’ll discover unique content material like deep dives into our largest tales and a behind-the-scenes take a look at our newsroom.Be a part of Now
fbq(‘init’, ‘1138026122969536’); // Insert your pixel ID right here.
(perform(d, s, id)
var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s);
if (d.getElementById(id)) return;
js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;
js.src = “//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&appId=365612820478060&version=v2.3”;
(doc, ‘script’, ‘fb-jssdk’));(perform(d, s, id)
var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s);
if (d.getElementById(id)) return;
js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;
js.src = “//connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js#xfbml=1”;
(doc, ‘script’, ‘fb-jssdk’));