By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
It doesn't just seem odd to be writing about this weekend's Class C State Track Meet in Missoula and not be writing about the KG boys vying for yet another title.
It seems downright impossible.
But after five consecutive years of dominance and five consecutive titles, it appears the KouGars boys' run will come to an end at Missoula County Stadium. KG qualified athletes in just four events after a disappointing divisional, and will now be forced to turn its crown over.
One the KouGars' biggest rivals will gladly take it. The Chester Coyotes are coming off a solid showing at the Northern C divisional, capturing the team title with 77 team points.
However, the manner in which Chester won the title - several third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishes - doesn't always translate to a multitude of team points at the state meet, where the competition and team scoring is spread thin among the 40 or so Class C teams competing.
Besides Chester, Harlowton and Drummond also bring solid boys teams to the meet.
Chester co-coach Willie Schlepp knows that the thirds and fourths at divisional won't be thirds and fourths at state without a little improvement on the times and marks.
"We're going to have to perform well," Schlepp said. "But we have a very realistic chance of placing. As far as winning, we'd need some kids to have their best performances of the season. But that's what state is all about. In Class C, the points get pretty spread out, so if you get a few wins you will be right there."
Chester's best chance for a win comes in senior Patrick Walstad, who is the defending Class C champ in the 800-meter run. Walstad has looked solid all season and is the favorite to repeat. But he will get stiff competition from Harlowton's Shawn Schreiber and Pax Wojtowick.
"Patrick is definitely one of the favorites in the 800," Schlepp said. "And I also think he has a chance in the 1,600, since it's on a different day."
Besides Walstad, Chester qualified a multitude of athletes in different events.
The Coyotes will be strong in the distance with Walstad, along with Isaac VanDyke in the 3,200 and Caleb Wall in the 1,600. Chester also has three qualifiers in the javelin in Travis VanDyke, Casey Buffington and Mitch Violett. Other qualifiers are John Tranberg in the 400 and Zach Ramberg in the triple jump.
"Our distance people have a chance and I think we could get some points in the javelin," Schlepp said. "But I definitely think we are capable of scoring in our relays."
Indeed, for the first time in several weeks, Chester will have its normal relay teams competing. The foursome of Patrick Wicks, Ramberg, Tranberg and Walstad have the potential of doing very well, now that Wicks is the healthiest he's been all season.
The Coyotes won't be the only local representatives at the state meet. Surprising divisional second-place finisher Big Sandy brings defending state discus champion Mason Ophus to the meet, along with 300-hurdle qualifier Kyle Danreuther and distance qualifier Adam Butler. The Pioneers' divisional champion 1,600-meter relay team of Danreuther, Butler, Karl Osterman and Justin Willis will also be in contention.
Blue Sky/J-I brings divisional shot put champion Craig Miller, along with a sprinter in Matthew Strissel and distance runner Alex Frey.
Miller's toss of 47-01 is only a few inches off this season's best throw in Class C, held by Harlowton's Casey Clausen, who is also a MSU-Northern football recruit.
"Craig is right there," said Blue Sky/J-I co-coach Bill Mulvaney. "He just has to have a good throw early and really let it go."
Hays-Lodge Pole's Kevin Walker qualified in both the 100 and 200 and will battle with Judith Gap's Calvin Walter at state.
Although they won't have the number of usual competitors, KG will still have Luke Antonich, Richie Melby and Cody Donoven competing. Antonich qualified in both the 110 and 300 hurdles while Donoven will go in the 300 hurdles and Melby in the 400. The KouGars' 1,600-relay team of Donoven, Melby, Antonich and Drew Kapperud will also compete.
While there will be a new title holder on the boys' side, the smart money is on a repeat champ for the girls' title.
The Geraldine Tigers are looking for their second straight title led by senior standout Toni Qunell. The Tigers' main competition will come from Centerville, Harlowton and Opheim. But it looks to be a one-team race.
"They're going to walk through it," Mulvaney said of the Tigers. "They have one girl that will score more points than two or three teams combined."
While Mulvaney is ready to hand Geraldine the first-place trophy, he is hoping that his girls squad can sneak in and steal a third-place trophy. Not literally, of course.
"Last year it took 28 to 30 points to finish in the top three, and I think we're capable of it," he said.
Indeed, the Eagles come to state with three divisional champions, led by multiple winner Kile Patrick, who won the 800- and 1,600-meter titles. The Eagles' trophy hopes start with Patrick.
"Kile has one of three fastest times in the 800 and is in the top eight in the 1,600," Mulvaney said. "She is really looking forward to competing. I definitely think she can compete for a title."
Freshman Hannah Pimley is coming off a divisional title in the high jump. Her jump of 5-02 was solid, but the Class C's best jump this season is 5-04.
"Hannah hasn't gone over 5-2 this season, but she is definitely capable of doing it," Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney also brings another divisional champ, Courtney Wendland, in the javelin. Wendland's toss of 105-00 is solid, but she will have to improve by 30 feet to contend for a title.
Blue Sky/J-I also qualified Kaila Warren in the 300 hurdles and Allison Grant in the javelin.
Another place where Blue Sky can and should score some points is in the relays. The 400-meter relay team of Megan Warren, Maia Aageson, Lindsay Anderson and Kaila Warren finished second in divisionals, while the 1,600-meter team of Patrick, Anderson, Aageson and Kaila Warren should improve after a disappointing fifth-place finish at divisionals.
"We have to place pretty high in all the events that we are in because the points are so spread out," Mulvaney said. "Most of our girls competed last year, so we know what to expect."
The Chester girls are the complete opposite, as Schlepp brings four freshman and two juniors to the state meet. Because of their youth, the expectations aren't quite as high.
"Last week our goal was just to qualify as many girls as possible. This week is the icing on the cake," Schlepp said. "The experience for our girls will be big, but that doesn't mean we are just happy to be there. We are going down to compete."
Chester's Brittany Kolstad qualified in the three events - 100 and 300 hurdles and 200-meter dash. Fellow freshman Kelsey Schweitzer won the 3,200 at the divisional and will vie in that event along with the 1,600. Juniors Jillien Johnson (1,600, 3,200), Shawnee Norick (800, triple jump) and Leisa Kolstad (long jump) were also qualifiers. The freshman relay team of the Kolstads, Chelsea Stokes and Mikinzie Fraser will compete in both the 400 and 1,600 relay.
The only other local qualifier is KG's Cady Arifin in the long jump and triple jump.
The Class C State Track Meet got under way today at 9 a.m. and runs through Saturday in Missoula.