By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
For the past five years, you could almost call the Ralph Halverson Northern C Divisional, the KG Invitational. The KouGars boys have won the last five divisional meets in one of the most dominant stretches in recent Class C track and field history. KG will try to make it six straight today at the Northern C at Great Falls' Memorial Stadium.
Last year, KG scored an astounding 174 points and qualified 15 athletes for the Class C state meet. This year, KG is bringing only 13 athletes to the meet, but head coach Butch Marshall believes there is an outside chance of qualifying all 13.
"Realistically, I think we will probably get 10 or 11 boys into state," Marshall said. "But you never know. What we have is a lot of experience. We're trying to win our sixth divisional. Our boys don't know anything but winning at this meet. So we are going in with some confidence."
KG is nowhere near the biggest track team in terms of numbers. Marshall's team gets its points through quality rather than quantity.
"As a team, we're not real deep," Marshall said. "But we have plenty of kids that get a lot of firsts and seconds."
Two of those athletes are seniors Casey Crites and Thomas Marshall, who will compete in the maximum five events in the tournament.
Crites comes into the divisional with the top times in the 100 and 200 and is the favorite in the 400, long jump and high jump.
"Casey has his work cut out for him," Butch Marshall said. "He's really confident. But he's got a full day. Thomas has been bothered by some sore legs lately and he's got a lot get through as well."
Indeed, Thomas Marshall will look to defend his title in the 110 hurdles events while being favored in the 300 hurdles and the triple jump. He will also battle with Crites in the long jump and run a leg in the KouGars' 1,600-meter relay team.
Because of rules not allowing athletes to compete in more than five events in a one-day track meet, Crites will not compete in either of the relays at divisionals. Marshall hopes to qualify both relays and add Crites at the state meet.
"It's important that we qualify our two relays," Marshall said. "We won't be at full strength in them without Casey, but they are still very capable of qualifying."
The key for the KouGars making it six straight will be the performance of its remaining athletes. Marshall believes that athletes like Luke Antonich, Forest LeTang, Jerrad Gomke, Richie Melby and Chase Rambo can challenge for titles and score plenty of points.
Antonich will definitely contend in the pole vault. Despite battling some illness early in the season, Antonich's mark of 12-0 in the vault is the second best coming into the meet. He should also place behind Marshall in the 110 hurdles.
"Luke is a key," Marshall said. "He's got the potential to win the pole vault. He's feeling better every day and it should make him stronger in the hurdles."
Rambo, LeTang and Gomke all have the ability to place, if not win, in their respective throwing specialties. Rambo has had solid throws in the discus while LeTang and Gomke will both contend in the shot put.
"We're hoping to score half of the points we scored at districts (219)," Marshall said. "If we can do that, we have a good chance of winning."
KG's biggest competition will come from a familiar foe in the Chester Coyotes. Chester has a little more depth than the KouGars, along with some fine athletes. The Coyotes should get a fair amount of points from Kevin Fenger and Patrick Walstad. Doug Anderson and Patrick Wicks will also score points, and both will match-up against Crites and Marshall in several events.
Geraldine and Stanford won their respective districts, but both should finish somewhere behind KG and Chester.
On the girls side, the race is a little more wide open. The District 8C champion Geraldine Tigers will be back to defend their title from last season. The Tigers are led by sophomore Toni Qunell, who won five events in last week's 8C meet. Qunell will run all three sprints as well as both hurdle events.
However, Marshall isn't convinced that the Tigers are a lock to repeat. Marshall's conference foe, the Blue Sky Eagles, could very easily capture the title.
"Geraldine should be tough," Marshall said. "But if Blue Sky gets some good performances, they will be right there."
Those good performances should come from the trio of Kaila Warren, Lindsay Anderson and Kile Patrick, who captured a total of seven individual titles at the 9C meet a week ago.
Fowler won the 200, 100 and 300 hurldes and the 400 while Patrick captured the 800 and 1,600. Anderson won the long jump and finished second to Fowler in both hurdle events.
Blue Sky should also get points from Maia Aageson in the sprints and Jessica Patrick in the discus and jumps and both of its realy teams.
Grass Range will feature a top athlete in Renae Knerr, a Skylights volleyball recruit. Knerr is favored to win the jumps and contend in the sprints.
Marshall has high hopes for Kim Berg in the javelin and shot put. Berg, the reigning champion in the javelin, has looked to be returning to her old form after a knee injury slowed her at the beginning of the season.
"Kim is getting much more confident with her knee," Marshall said. "She set a goal to back in the 140 range and she could definitely do that."
But with all the talk of favorites in events and the team competition, Marshall is still diplomatic about the meet.
"You don't know what to expect," Marshall said. "You can't compare one track meet to the other, or what the conditions will be like. It's a long day. You're looking at six or seven hours on the track. Anything could happen."
The Northern C divisional got underway this morning and will be wrapping up later this evening in Great Falls.