By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
There used to be two things that were pretty predictable for the District 9C track meet: bad weather and the KG boys winning the district title.
Well, we've already had the weather, with the meet being postponed from an arctic Wednesday to Friday. But for the first time in awhile, the KG boys might not bring home a 9C title.
"Might" is the operative word here.
Even with forecasts predicting a dry day with temperatures in the 60's, it still might get nasty.
"We tried to pick the day with the best forecast," said KG head coach Butch Marshall. "We considered Monday, but the time in between Monday and the divisional meet was too short."
And even with teams like Blue Sky/J-I, Big Sandy and upstart Hays-Lodge Pole poised to knock off the multi-time defending champ, the KouGars still might have the deepest and most talented team on the boys side, which would propel them to yet another title.
"It's going to be one of the closest boys meets in some time," Marshall said.
It isn't often that the KG boys come into a district 9C meet with a little uncertainty about winning a team title.
It isn't that the KouGars aren't talented. On the contrary, Marshall has solid core group of athletes that are very talented and should win their respective individual events. But many of those athletes will be competing against each other in the same events. KG is very top heavy in certain events like the hurdles, high jump and throws, while there are several events where it won't have a competitor.
In the past few weeks, the KouGars were plagued with injuries to Cody Donoven and Drew Kapperud. But Marshall said his team looks as close to full strength as it has been since the beginning of the season.
"I think we're fairly healthy," he said. "Our kids have been fighting through a lot of nagging injuries, but everyone seems pretty healthy. Now it's just a matter of performing."
Senior Luke Antonich has run the fastest time in the 9C in the 110 hurdles and will go head-to-head in the high jump with teammate Richie Melby.
Melby will also contend in the 200, 400 and the long jump. KG could finish 1-2-3 in the javelin with Cody Donoven, Darby Donoven and Kapperud all capable of winning. Cody Donoven will contend with Antonich in the 300 hurdles, while Kapperud will likely place in the sprints. In the discus and shot put, the duo of Forrest LeTang and Jerrad Gomke should score quality points.
"We're very strong in a couple events and that's where we need to get our points," Marshall said. "Because the other teams are going to get points in the other events."
Indeed, although KG may have the upper hand in the hurdles and throws, there are plenty of points out there for other teams.
Blue Sky/J-I is definitely a challenger to KG's title run. The Eagles have benefited from the co-op with J-I and should be right there at the end. Blue Sky is led by its pole vaulters. Conrad Wendland and Alex Chvilicek. Both had strong showings during last Saturday's Chinook Invitational.
Blue Sky sprinter Matt Strissel has been a consistent placer in the 100 and 200 and could get points in the long jump, while Alex Frey will also help out in the 800, 1,600 and the jumps.
In the throws, Levi Wendland and J-I's Craig Miller have beaten both Gomke and LeTang this season and are capable of scoring major points. The status of Roald Aageson remains up in the air after he suffered a pulled hamstring last weekend. Losing Aageson would be a serious blow to any team title hopes.
"We have to have a good day," said Blue Sky/J-I head coach Bill Mulvaney. "We have pretty good depth in some events like the pole vault. If we have good performances, we should be right there. This boys meet is looking like a dogfight."
But KG and Blue Sky/J-I won't be the only teams in the dogfight. Big Sandy and Hays-Lodge Pole won't let it be a two-team party.
The Pioneers aren't very deep, but do suit up two likely event winners in Mason Ophus and Adam Butler. Ophus has the second longest throw in the state in discus at 167-3. His next closest 9C competitor hasn't been within 30 feet this season. It would take something major to stop Ophus from winning. He will also make a run at the shot put title.
The same with Butler in the 3,200. He has consistently broken the 11 minute mark in the event, which should be good enough to win. He also is a contender in the long jump.
Hays-Lodge Pole is definitely the wild card in the meet with the emergence of sprinter Kevin Walker, who burst on the scene about three weeks ago. Walker is more than capable of winning the 100, 200, 400 and the long jump. He has the second fastest time in Class C in the 100 at 10.9 and has the fastest 200 time in the 9C.
"Hays really found a diamond in the rough in Walker," Marshall said. "Conceivably, he could win four events for them."
Walker's emergence has also caused problems for Mulvaney, who thought he had the sprints locked up with Strissel.
"Matt could have easily won both sprints for us," Mulvaney said. "But now its going to be a little difficult with Walker there."
With four teams vying for the title, neither Marshall or Mulvaney could really predict how Friday might turn out.
"We're not going with our best relay teams and are trying to spread our top kids out a little in the individual events because it's going to be that close," Marshall said.
For all the mights surrounding the boys meet, the only might surrounding the competition in the girls meet is whether the Blue Sky/J-I girls might score a ridiculous 350 team points and continue its domination of 9C track.
That many points seems like a stretch to the average track fan, but in this meet it isn't. The Eagles scored 258 points in last year's 9C meet and they are definitely stronger this season.
"They are absolutely loaded and very deep," Marshall said. "They have more than 15 kids on their girls team alone, while most teams have maybe 25 kids on their whole team."
It's a stark contrast in numbers. Marshall will bring only four girls to district, while Blue Sky has four girls that could win the meet by themselves. The addition of J-I only made the Eagles stronger.
"Our goal is to score 300 points if not more," Mulvaney said. "The J-I girls definitely make us deeper. It's actually kind of sad that there aren't more girls competing for the other teams. It's not healthy for the conference to not have more kids out there. But some schools just don't have the numbers."
Realistically, the Eagles have a chance to win every event in the 9C meet. Name an event, a Blue Sky/J-I girl will be right there near the top.
The Eagles are led by juniors Kaila Warren and Kile Patrick and senior Lindsay Anderson.
Warren scored 48 individual points in last year's meet, winning four events. She could easily repeat the feat with wins in the 100 and 300 hurdles, the 400 and triple jump.
Patrick won the 800 and 1,600 in last year's meet and is favored again, while Anderson should score a passel of points in the 200, 400 and long jump.
Blue Sky will also be in contention in the 100 with Megan Warren. Tia Pester and Heather Haas will contend in the pole vault. In the throws, Haas is coming off a second-place finish in the discus at the Chinook Invitational while Courtney Wendland and Ashley Gatzemeier will be in the title mix in the javelin and shot put.
As if the Eagles weren't already tough, J-I freshman Hannah Pimley gives them more depth in the high jump and hurdles. Pimley won the high jump in Top 8 meet a week ago with a leap of 5-2. J-I's Megan Herdina and Katie O'Neil will also help the Eagles out.
Perhaps the only bad new for Blue Sky is that Maia Aageson, a solid sprinter, will miss the meet because of a regional science contest.
"We really just have to go out there compete like we're capable of," Mulvaney said. "The main thing for us is to qualify our kids and relays, and not get anyone hurt."
There is no doubt that all the other teams are playing for second and that may be the closest race.
KG will be right there with its squad of Cady Arifin, Mandy Rambo, Kate Vosen and Casie Toner. Arifin and Vosen will score points in the jumps, while Rambo and Toner will help out in the running events.
Turner will get points from Ashley VanVoast, while Rocky Boy is led by Rainbow Stump and Aldean Denny. Big Sandy has Jessica Amsbaugh in the sprints and Hays-Lodge Pole will get points from Tristan Healy in the distance events.
The District 9C track meet will get under way with the field events at 9:30 a.m. on Friday. The 9C junior high meet will also run at the same time with all the action taking place at the Havre Middle School Track.