Havre Daily News Sports Editor
There won't be cake or cookies, but for many Class C coaches in the area, Thursday's Northern C Divisional track meet at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls will be a kind of a graduation party.
No, it's not for their senior athletes. It's for Geraldine senior Toni Qunell, who will look to add one final show to slew of dominant performances at the divisional meet.
For the last two years, Qunell has given track coaches headaches, single-handedly handing the girls divisional team title to the Tigers, by winning five individual events - the 100, 200, 400 and the 100 and 300 hurdles. They won't exactly sad to see her high school eligibility expire in the next few weeks.
"I know I won't be sad to see her go," said Blue Sky/J-I head coach Bill Mulvaney. "She's such a great athlete and she just dominates this meet."
Indeed, judging by past performances and this year's times, Qunell is poised to win those same five events. It will amount to 50 team points for Geraldine, which is more than most teams score.
There is some debate as to whether she'll repeat it again this year, but only a little. She still holds the fastest times in all of Class C in each of her events.
"If she doesn't score 50, she'll score 48," said Chester head coach Jim Graham. "And if that happens, they have the Clark girl to score the rest."
Qunell's talented teammate, Rachel Clark, stands directly in the way of five titles. Clark has already beaten Qunell in the 200 this season. She also excels in the 400 and the long jump as well as anchoring Geraldine's 1,600 relay team. She scored 27.5 points in the divisional last year.
Barring a freak snowstorm in Geraldine, the duo should be enough to secure a fourth-straight title for the Tigers.
"The points get so spread out in this meet that (Geraldine) could dominate with just those two," Mulvaney said.
Yet, even if the Tigers are still a lock for the girls title, there is still plenty of competition for the remaining two team titles.
Blue Sky/J-I, Chester, Stanford and Geyser will all be fighting for the second- and third-place trophies.
Mulvaney's Eagles are coming off a dominant showing at the District 9C meet, scoring 310 team points. Blue Sky/J-I won't be scoring that many points this time, but the Eagles are more than capable of scoring enough to finish in the top three.
"It's going to be difficult," Mulvaney said. "The Northern C Division is so tough. We are really going to have to have a good day to finish in the top three."
The Eagles have plenty of athletes who are capable of bringing home titles or points, if they perform well. Senior Kaila Warren will contend in the 100 and 300 hurdles and the triple jump. Fellow senior Kile Patrick should get points in the 800 and is the defending divisional champ in the 1,600 and 3,200.
Courtney Wendland will look to repeat as champ in the javelin, as will sophomore Hannah Pimley in the high jump. Talented freshman Desiree O'Neil can score points in several events, while sprinter Megan Warren and pole vaulter Tia Pester are also solid.
"Our girls really have to rise to the occasion," Mulvaney said. "It comes down to competing, and I think our kids really embrace that idea."
Graham's Coyotes should also be in the trophy mix, after finishing third last year.
"We could be up there," Graham said. "We're really going to have to rely on three athletes to get us a lot of points."
Senior Jill Johnson, junior Brianne Wolfe and sophomore Brittany Kolstad were Chester's big point scorers at last week's District 10C meet and will be counted on heavily on Thursday.
Johnson won all three distance races at the 10C and placed in the pole vault.
"Jill can run in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200," Graham said. "We'll have to see if she can run all three. It's pretty tough."
Wolfe won the 400 and long jump and has looked solid despite missing all of last year with an injury. Kolstad set a pair of 10C meet records in the 100 hurdles and 200 and is extremely talented.
"Brittany is solid in the sprints and hurdles," Graham said. "Unfortunately, she has to go up against Qunell and (Brittany) Olson from Grass Range. But she works hard and will still get some points."
While Big Sandy's girls won't be in the team title mix, freshman Morgan Darlington will be fighting for individual titles in the 800 and 1,600. She won both events at the District 9C meet and has some of the faster times in the division.
"Morgan should be right there," said Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner. "We're working on maybe getting her out a little faster in that first lap in the 1,600."
While Geraldine has its own dynasty on the girls side, on the boys side, the Chester Coyotes are working on a nice streak of their own. Chester has won the last two divisional team titles and is poised to win another, after crushing teams in last week's District 10C track meet.
"I hate to look at times and counting points, but if we perform like we're capable of, we should be right there," Graham said.
A year ago, Chester used a slew of second-, third- and fourth- place finishes and just one individual event winner to win the team title. Graham called it nickel and diming for the win, but for the Coyotes to win this season, they are going to need something a little bigger.
"We won't be able to do that this year," he said. "We need to someone to step up and win some events."
That someone that Graham has in mind is senior Isaac VanDyke. The long distance standout is coming off a solid 10C meet, setting meet records with the 1,600 and the 3,200.
"Isaac is the favorite in both of those races," Graham said. "He should also get us some points in the 800 along with Caleb Brown."
Graham will also look to senior Zach Ramberg in the long jump and triple jump.
"We still need to get those second, thirds and fourths, but we also have to have a couple of big wins, because Big Sandy is a real threa," Graham said.
To most coaches, the Pioneers are more than a threat, they're a legitimate team title contender. But don't tell that Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner. According to him, the team title is the furthest thing from his mind.
"The last thing I'm worried about is winning that team title," Lackner said. "I'm more concerned about our individual performances. That's why I have pulled some kids from their weaker events, so they can do better in the best events."
Lackner's goal is to get his kids to state in their best events. So he has pulled 9C champion Justin Willis from the triple jump, Darin Ray from the 400 and Karl Osterman from the 800.
"Willis has been battling a sore hamstring and the triple jump really bothers it," Lackner said. "Ray is much better in the 800. Osterman wants to focus on the 400, and the 800 just takes too much out of him."
Big Sandy could have got team points from each in those events, but Lackner believes all three could place high in their other events.
"It's easier to get points at districts," Lackner said. "But there are so many other competitors that it's tougher at divisional."
Still, Lackner's boys have enough talent in the sprints and hurdles to possibly score the points necessary to knock off Chester.
Leading the way is sophomore Kyle Danreuther in the 300 hurdles. Danreuther's time of 40.8 is the fastest in all of Class C and he has blown away local competition in the race. He also competes in the 400, 200 and both of Big Sandy's talented relay.
Sprinter Ryan Pokorny won both the 100 and 200 at districts. However, both races will be extremely tough at the divisional with Calvin Walter of Judith Gap, Garrett Stahl of Grass Range, Aric Clark of Sunburst and Patrick Wicks of Chester.
"Those will be some great races," Lackner said. "Some of their times are faster than Pokorny's, but he's beat them before this season and he thinks he can beat them again."
Osterman finished second in both the 100 and 200 and won the 400, while Ray won the 1,600 and finished second in the 800. Lackner also got points from Jon Sheehy in the distances and from Willis in the 400 and 300 hurdles.
But where Lackner expects his team to shine is in the two relays. The team of Osterman, Danreuther, Willis and Ray have the fastest time in Class C in the 1,600-meter relay. But Willis' hamstring could force Pokorny into the lineup.
"We've worked Pokorny in the long relay and he's pretty quick," Lackner said. "If Willis gets hurt in the short relay, we'll go with Pokorny in the long relay."
The 400-relay team of Lawrence Jappe, Pokorny, Ray and Danreuther won the 400 relay at districts with Ray replacing Willis at the last minute. Willis will get the nod at the divisional.
"I really think unless we drop the baton, we should be pretty good in the short relay," Lackner said.
The Blue Sky/J-I Eagles finished a close second to Big Sandy at the district meet and should score plenty of points at the divisional.
Senior Craig Miller won the shot put and finished second in the discus. He will have to contend with standout Geyser thrower Brock Hansen. Blue Sky/J-I will also look to 800 meter 9C champ Alex Frey for points.
Frey, a junior, comes in with one of the fastest times in the division and is a favorite in the event. He also won the high jump and long jump and will compete in the 1,600. Also capable of scoring points for the Eagles is senior Conrad Wendland in the discus, triple jump and pole vault.
"The points will be really spread out for the boys," Mulvaney said. "We'll need some big performances."
Other local athletes capable of bringing home individual titles are KG's Cody Donoven in the 110 hurdles and javelin, and Hays-Lodge Pole's Jordan Wing in the 3,200 and Lance Brockie in the shot put.
Mulvaney is predicting outstanding times and distances for the entire meet with temperatures expected to be in the mid 70's for Thursday.
"Our kids have been competing in cold and nasty weather all season and it has affected our performances," he said. "I think they are going to be pretty excited to compete in some good weather."