Havre Daily News Sports Editor
To sit and list the differences among the state, divisional and district track meets would take longer than the meets themselves. Obviously, the talent level is higher at the state level.
But another difference that might not come to mind for most people is the team scoring. Basically, at the Class C level, you don't need a lot of team points to win a trophy.
Don't believe me? Then look no further than the Chester Coyotes, who brought home a third-place trophy last year despite scoring just 29 team points.
If that trend continues, then another trophy could be coming back to the Hi-Line as the Class C state track meet opens on Friday morning at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls.
After KG's five-year title run, which ended in 2003, state track trophies have been hard to come by. Schools like Drummond and Harlowton have so much depth and so many athletes qualified that the smaller Northern Divisional schools simply can't keep up.
But this year, the Big Sandy Pioneers, with a team full of talented underclassmen fresh off a Northern C Divisional boys team title, hope to start returning hardware to the Hi-Line with regularity.
Veteran head coach Roy Lackner knows the numbers game that is played at the state meet. It's a game he thinks his team can win.
"If we run well, we could potentially score enough points to do some things," Lackner said. "Remember, it doesn't take many points to get a title."
Nobody knows that better than Chester head coach Jim Graham. But after watching his team finish second at the Northern C divisional, he knows it will be nearly impossible for his team to grab a trophy again.
"We don't have enough kids qualified to score enough points," Graham said. "Drummond should win it. I wouldn't be surprised if they double everyone else's points."
The Trojans finished second last year, behind perennial C track power Harlowton. However, most of the athletes return for Drummond, giving the Trojans a wealth of talent and experienced as evidenced by their domination of the Western C divisional. Drummond racked up 171 points, while second-place Noxon notched only 55.
"They've got runners, jumpers and throwers," Graham said. "They have so many good athletes and so much depth."
Harlowton won the Southern C divisional track meet for the umpeenth time in a row and will also be a contender.
So where does that leave the Pioneers? Definitely in the mix. Big Sandy will basically have only runners with Lawrence Jappe being the only person competing in a field event. That severely limits the opportunities to score points, so the Pioneers must make the most of what they can.
"We know we have chances to win the 300 hurdles and the long relay," Lackner said. "After that, we just have to find a way to get points. The points get so much more spread out that it will be tough for any one team to dominate."
While Lackner won't guarantee wins in their two best events, the Pioneers have the two best times in Class C in them. In the 300 hurdles, sophomore Kyle Danreuther has the fastest time in Class C with a 40.69 in the event, but he was pushed at the divisional by Augusta's Ross Mosher. Harlowton's Shawn Schreiber is solid, while Seth Young of Lima won the Western C divisional.
"Kyle is healthy and he is going to go out and get after it," Lackner said. "He should be fine."
In the 1,600 relay, the Big Sandy team of Danreuther, Justin Willis, Karl Osterman and Darin Ray also holds the fastest time in Class C with a 3:34.9. However, Lackner used a different team at divisional, replacing freshman Darin Ray, who was banged up, with sprinter Ryan Pokorny. He has all five kids healthy now and will adjust his team accordingly.
"I still don't know what I will do," he said. "I will probably run Ray in the preliminaries and if we need to be a little quicker I might go with Pokorny in the finals."
The Pioneers also have a very good 400 relay team with Danreuther, Willis, Pokorny and Jappe. But again Lackner may switch some things, possibly using Osterman in place of Willis.
"It might make us a second faster," he said. "It really comes down to handoffs. I don't know if we can trade better handoffs for a little more speed."
Besides those three events, Danreuther, Osterman and Willis finished 2-3-4 in the 400 at divisional and could get some points. Lackner will also look for points from Pokorny in the 100 and Ray in the 800 and 1,600.
Elsewhere individually, Chester will get points from senior Isaac VanDyke in both the 1,600 and 3,200. VanDyke won both events at divisional, but will now have to face Gardiner's Daniel Ricardi, who owns the fastest times in Class C in both events. VanDyke's best event - the 3,200 - also happens to be Ricardi's and he owns the fastest time in the entire state at 9:14.60. Ricardi also has the best time in Class C in the 1,600.
"I don't think we can touch Ricardi," Graham said. "Getting second in both events isn't out of the question, but Ricardi might be the best boys distance runner in the state. Isaac is going to give it his best shot. He will always compete, but Ricardi's tough. He starts out fast and stays fast."
Chester could also get points from Caleb Brown in the 1,600 and possibly in the 1,600 relay, but the remaining qualifiers will have to have personal bests across the board for the Coyotes.
Another local athlete who could score points is Blue Sky/J-I's Alex Frey, who won the 800 at the Northern C. His teammate Craig Miller won the discus and finished fourth in the shot put, but will face tough competition from Daniel Beaudin of Noxon in the disc and Casey Clausen of Harlowton in the shot put.
While there is some debate about the outcome of the boys team title, there is little if any about the girls team title. Basically, it's the Geraldine Tigers' to lose. After winning the last two titles, Geraldine is poised to make it three, thanks to the trio of Toni Qunell, Rachel Clark and Alicia Burtchett. The threesome won the Northern C Divisional basically by themselves.
A year ago, Qunell won seven gold medals at the state meet. That won't happen this year as Geraldine failed to qualify its 400 relay team. But she can still win five individual titles, which would all but secure the team title.
"Geraldine is going to dominate," Graham said.
Clark might not win an event but will still score plenty of points, while Burtchett will also score points in the throws. The Tigers' competition figures to come from Southern C champ Harlowton and Eastern C champ Opheim.
Harlowton is led by shot putter Alli Jones, who has gone over 41 feet this season. Distance runners Christy Pletan and Kendall Theriault are also solid.
Opheim can all but count on a minimum of 25 team points from distance runner Jayme Larson. She has the fastest times in Class C in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 and is the defending champ in the 800 and 1,600. Opheim also gets solid contributions from sprinter Annaliesia Fauth. The duo play a big part of Opheim's 1,600 relay team.
The depth of those three teams leaves local squads out of the trophy hunt. However, several area athletes can pick up some individual hardware.
Leading the way is sophomore Hannah Pimley of Blue Sky/J-I. She finished third in the high jump last year as a freshman with a leap of 5-2. She's already gone over 5-3 this season. Pimley's teammates Kile Patrick (distances), Courtney Wendland (javelin), Kaila Warren (hurdles) and Deserie O'Neil (high jump) could also steal some points.
Chester will have several athletes figuring in the mix, including Brittany Kolstad in both the hurdles and sprints, Brianne Wolfe in the 400 and Jillien Johnson in the 1,600 and 3,200. Johnson missed the state meet a year ago to attend her brother's graduation from West Point. Graham believes she's excited to compete this year.
"She'll be ready to go," Graham. "This is it for her. She's a senior and she's going to compete to win or die trying."
Big Sandy's Morgan Darlington comes in as the Northern C champ, but she will have to run the race of her life to knock off Opheim's Larson.
"I have had so many 800 runners go into the meet with the top times and not place," Lackner said. "I've learned my lesson. Morgan is going to be well rested. I think she can place in the event. She has the third fastest time and I think she's capable of running even faster."
One thing that should help local athletes is the familiarity of Memorial Stadium, where they competed just over a week ago.
"The track is softer and slower than other tracks," Lackner said. "It will affect times and performances. Teams from up here definitely have an advantage."
The Class C state track meet gets under way on Friday morning and will continue through Saturday afternoon.