By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
It's not deja vu. And it just seems like it's every year. But today at the Ralph Halverson Northern C Divisional track meet in Great Falls the Chester Coyote and KG KouGar boys track teams will battle for the boys team title once again.
A year ago, Chester edged the favored KouGars at the divisional meet only to watch as KG won its fifth-straight Class C state title a week later.
This year it is the opposite, as Chester enters the meet as the favorite to take home the team honors with KG and Geraldine hoping to stop the Coyotes from repeating as champs.
"I would say we are one of the top three teams," said Chester co-coach Willie Schlepp. "We are right there with Geraldine and KG."
Schlepp may be underselling his team a little. No boys team will be bringing more athletes to compete than the Coyotes.
Chester, which won last weekend's District 10C meet in a walk, qualified all but one of its boys for the divisional. It is that type of depth that makes them the favorite. Still of those athletes, only defending 800-meter champion Patrick Walstad is a surefire favorite to win their respective events.
Instead, Chester will try and rack up places in several events to score points.
"We are going to nickel and dime them," Schlepp said. "We're capable of racking up lots of thirds, fourths and fifths. But that doesn't mean we can't take home some titles if we get some good performances."
Walstad is the definitive favorite in the 800 and 1,600 and is coming off record breaking performances at the district meet.
"Patrick is going to get his points in the distance events," Schlepp said. "He is looking to break a couple divisional records."
Besides Walstad, Chester had several other event winners at the 10C. Travis VanDyke won both hurdles and the javelin. Isaac VanDyke won the 3,200, Zach Ramberg took the triple jump, Mitch Violett grabbed the discus title and Patrick Wicks won the 100 and 200.
However, Schlepp is very quick to point out that the competition at the district level and the divisional level is like comparing to a grape and a watermelon.
"First and foremost, we need to focus on getting our kids qualified for the finals," Schlepp said. "We didn't have any preliminaries at districts so there wasn't a lot of pressure on our athletes to perform, all they had to do was lineup, race and qualify for the divisional meet. This is a lot different."
Even with the raised level of competition, all of Chester's district champions should score points in the respective events along with other athletes like Casey Buffington, Mitch Violett, Kevin May and John Tranberg.
"We're going to get our points in the running events," Schlepp said. "But it is the field events that will put us over the top."
KG's approach to winning the divisional couldn't be more different. The KouGars are going with the idea of quality over quantity, bringing only seven boys to the divisional meet. But the seven athletes are still capable of bringing KG another divisional team title.
"Really everybody's chasing Chester," said KG head coach Butch Marshall. "But if we have a good day, we will be right there and give them a run for the title"
Indeed, KG can score points in bunches because its athletes are capable of scoring big points by winning their respective events.
The KouGars have a legitimate event winners in Luke Antonich, Cody Donoven, Darby Donoven, Jerrad Gomke and Richie Melby.
Antonich is among the favorites in the 110 and 300 hurdles while Cody Donoven should also contend in the 300 hurdles and the javelin. Darby Donoven is coming off a record setting performance in the javelin at the 9C meet, while Gomke is the prohibitive favorite in the shot put after throwing very well at the district meet. Melby will compete in three individual events and is capable of placing very high in each.
"We got head-to-head with Chester in certain events like the javelin and the 300 hurdles," Marshall said. "The 7C has a couple good throwers in the javelin. For us Cody, Darby and Drew all have to throw well. In the 300 hurdles, Luke and Cody certainly didn't have their best races at districts and I think they'll be ready to go."
Marshall did some preliminary figuring and he believes that his team will have to make up an elusive 20 points to take the title away from Chester. Where those 20 points come from is still up in the air. A couple of great performances could overcome those points.
But this meet is far from a dual meet between Chester and KG. The Geraldine Tigers, led by hurdler/sprinter Greg Reid and distance runner Cody Joyce, have a very solid team that will score some points. Plus, there are several talented individual athletes that will score points for their own teams and more importantly take points away from the favorite.
The real talent will be in the sprints, where Hays-Lodge Pole's Kevin Walker and Judith Gap's Calvin Walter will meet in a mini-showdown in the 100 and 200. Walter owns the fastest times in Class C in both events with Walker's times just off his pace.
The best all-around athlete will be Augusta's Kade Greaney, who Schlepp believes can win five events. Greaney is a solid sprinter and hurdler with one of the state's top times in the 300 hurdles.
"There's a lot of speed in our division," Marshall said. "But Greaney is going to have his work cut out for him in every event."
Big Sandy's Mason Ophus should win the discus, while Adam Butler will be near the top in the distance events.
With the points being spread out all over the meet, the team race could come down to the final event of the meet - the 1,600-meter relay.
Chester returns two runners off of last year's state championship relay squad while KG will put its best athletes in the relay.
"It always seems to come down to that long relay," Marshall said. "Chester's got a very good team, but I like to think we put out a pretty good team. And you really never know how the relays are going to turn out."
If it seems like the bulk of the talk is about the boys divisional team race, the reason may be that the girls team race is basically already decided. Unless their bus breaks down, or they forget all their track shoes, the Geraldine girls have already sewn up the meet before the first event.
"We are all playing for second in the girls," Schlepp said. "Centerville is really good and Blue Sky/J-I and us we'll be all fighting it out for trophies. But Geraldine is absolutely loaded. There is no way they shouldn't win this meet."
Said Blue Sky/J-I co-coach Bill Mulvaney: "I really think that we're going to be competing for second or third to be real honest. Geraldine is just so tough."
The main reason for the Tigers being the prohibitive favorite is the presence of all-everything senior Toni Qunell.
Qunell is the favorite in the 100, 200, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and 400. She won all five events last season and is once again favored to win them all again. Most teams would love to score 50 points as a team, let alone have one athlete score 50. But the Tigers also get points from Kayln Fairbanks in the pole vault, Jill Schmidt in the sprints and Alicia Burtchett in the throws.
Centerville has an outstanding sprinter in Jalyn Kapp and other solid performers in Andi Wilhalm and Danielle LaRocque. The Centerville relay teams will should be contenders for the title.
Still, Chester and Blue Sky/J-I can score points and could win some events.
"We've got a lot of young girls with five freshmen and two juniors," Schlepp said. "Our main goal is to get everyone we can qualified for state."
Freshman Brittany Kolstad should qualify in the 100 and 300 hurdles while Jillien Johnson will score points in the 1,600 and 3,200. Other possible qualifiers include Leisha Kolstad, Shawnee Norick, Mikinzie Fraser and Kelsey Schweitzer.
For Mulvaney and his district champion Eagles, juniors Kile Patrick and Kaila Warren scored quality points at last year's divisional and will be counted on again. But Mulvaney also has high hopes for his younger athletes.
"Hannah Pimley can definitely get us some points in the high jump," Mulvaney said. "We can also get some points in the pole vault from Tia (Pester). And if things go well in the javelin we should get some points."
Perhaps Mulvaney summed up the postseason track experience best.
"It's all about who can go out there and compete and get those personal bests," he said.
The Ralph Halverson Northern C Divisional Track meet got under way at 10 a.m. this morning in Great Falls.