By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
On paper, the KG boys track team should be the prohibitive favorite to win this weekend's Class C state track and field meet in Missoula. But track meets aren't decided on paper. This meet will be decided on the rubberized surface of the Missoula Big Sky High School Track where the KouGars will be vying for an unprecedented fifth-straight Class C boys team title.
"It's tough to predict, but on paper we're pretty strong," said KG head coach Butch Marshall. "There are so many things that can happen at that level because there is so much good competition. There are so many great athletes. So kids could win an event just as easily as finishing fifth or sixth."
On paper, Casey Crites and Thomas Marshall alone could keep the title in the KouGars possession. They are that good. Crites will compete in six events while Marshall will go in five each day of the two-day meet with the possibility of them scoring more than most teams.
"You hate to anticipate too much," Marshall said. "But at the same time, we have a really good chance of riding the shoulders of Casey and Thomas to repeating for the fifth time."
Crites will be looking to defend his state title in the high jump for the third time and will look to improve on his second place finishes in the 100, 200 and long jump at last year's meet. He will also compete in the 400 and anchor both of the KouGar's relay teams.
Marshall is considered the favorite in both the 110 and 300 hurdles and will compete in the triple jump while joining Crites, Richie Melby and Tyler Kapperud in both relays.
"It's going to be long days," Crites said. "But if we get the job done, it will be a fun ride home."
Melby, who finished second to Crites at divisionals in high jump, and Luke Antonich, who qualified for state in the pole vault, could also give the KouGars valuable points.
"Richie could place really high in the high jump," Crites said. "Luke also has a chance to go 12-6 in the pole vault which would definitely place."
The key to the KouGar's success could hinge on both relay teams. Marshall has added up possible points scored in the meet without counting the relay scores because he isn't quite sure how they will react.
The foursome of Crites, Melby, Marshall and Kapperud have all run them at some point this season, but not all together.
"Our relays could be the key," Marshall said. "We're going to throw four kids into them that have never run together. They could be very competitive or because they are not familiar with each other, blow up in our face."
But the odds of the blowup are slim. Marshall has used at least two of the four in relays at each meet this season.
"We knew this would happen coming in so we made sure we used two or three of them in meets this season," Marshall said. "It won't be totally foreign to them."
The KouGars will certainly have their fair share of competition. Harlowton, Scobey and Chester, which beat KG at the Northern C Divisional, could all end KG's impressive state title streak. Shields Valley and Victor, led by MSU-Northern Lights basketball recruit Cory Cromwell, could also sneak into the mix.
"No team can put out more than three or four great athletes on the track," Marshall said. "It all comes down to how to those individuals perform."
Several individuals from around the Hi-Line will be competing for individual titles. Marshall's lone female contestant, Kim Berg, will be looking for her third straight javelin title.
Berg, who has battled through the effects of knee surgery in the offseason, has yet to break the 140-foot mark. However, Marshall believes that the combination of good competition and good weather will lead to Berg making it three straight.
"She hasn't really had anyone push her this year," Marshall said. "She's never had to come from behind. I am not sure how she'll react if someone steps up and throws 140 or 145. But I am sure she'll bear down because she hates losing so much. She's that much of a competitor. I look for her to get in the 140's."
Chester's Patrick Walstad, who won the 800 and 1,600 at divisionals, will lead the Coyote boys contingent. Chester also has solid contributors in Patrick Wicks and Kevin Fenger. Big Sandy's Mason Ophus will be the favorite in the discus. His toss of 163-8 is easily the farthest in Class C.
Blue Sky's Kaila Warren qualified in the 400 and the 100 and 300 hurdles. Her teammate Kile Patrick will run the 800 and 1,600. Both will lead the Eagle's 1,600 meter relay squad. Big Sandy's Ashley Goodian will compete in the 3,200.
But all eyes will be focused on the KouGar boys as they try for the fifth time to bring home the Class C title and continue their dominance of Class C track.
While Marshall remains diplomatic about his team's chances, Crites is a little more confident.
"Oh yeah, we can do it," Crites said. "If we perform like we're capable. We'll do it."