By Kim Staudinger
When speaking of District 9C track, one team comes to mind the KG KouGars.
The KG boys team has dominated nearly every track meet this season and the end is seemingly nowhere near.
At last year's District 9C Track Meet, the KouGars won the boys title with 314 points 209 ahead of their second-place opponent. This season, the KouGars have broken the 300-point barrier at least once and have come close several other times.
The KouGars are among seven schools competing in Friday's 9C Track Meet at Havre Middle School. The top five placers from each event move on to the divisional tournament next weekend in Great Falls.
With a strong core of returners from last year's team a team in which the KouGars won first place in 16 of 17 events at the district tournament KG is by far the favorite to win the district title, coaches say.
In fact, the Blue Sky Eagles, who placed second behind KG last season, are even looking at KG to repeat as district champions.
"They've just got some great kids," Blue Sky coach Bill Mulvaney said. "On a good day, we might challenge them in many events. We are looking to give KG a challenge and hopefully take second."
The KouGars return three placers in the 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash, shot put, discus, triple jump and high jump, as well as two placers in the 100-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles, 1600-meter run, long jump and pole vault from last year's district meet.
"Our boys team is still pretty strong," KouGars coach Butch Marshall said. "If we perform like we should, we shouldn't have a problem winning the district title."
While Marshall said his team's main goal is to qualify as many athletes as possible for the divisional tournament, he knows the KouGar are also capable of shattering a few district records.
"We have a couple kids who are close to district records," he said. "We're pretty close to some of them but right now it's more important we qualify kids for the next level."
One of KG's top athletes close to breaking a district record is senior distance runner Aaron Smith, who set the 1600-meter run record in 2000 with a time of 4 minutes 36.20 seconds. Smith isn't the only KouGar nearing records. Roger Larson, Robbie Gomke, Tel Sterner, Casey Crites and both relay teams could also enter the record books this weekend, Marshall said.
"We do have a lot of kids that have the best times in the district," he said. "We could place two or three in most events."
The weakest boys event for the KouGars, Marshall said, is the javelin. Regardless, he's hopeful that at least one of the five competing in the event will place and move on.
"We have a goal and that is to win the state championship this year and you can't do that if you leave somebody home," Marshall said. "It's just really important you do really well at districts and that goes for divisionals as well."
As dominating as the KG boys team has been all season, the race for the girls title is wide open. The KG girls also won the district title last year but were hurt by graduation.
"We may be in the running for a third-place trophy," Marshall said. "We are really down and we don't have a lot of numbers. We lost a lot of seniors."
The top returner for the KouGar girls is Kim Berg, who set a district record last year in the javelin with a throw of 131 feet 2 inches. Berg had knee surgery in the fall, and, while her throws have been tops in the nation this year, she is still recovering and will compete in just two events Friday.
The Eagles are hoping to improve upon last year's second-place finish and come away with the district title.
"I think in the girls we have a shot of winning it this year if everybody has a good day," Mulvaney said. (Goals) on the girls side is to win districts and of course move as many kids up to the state competition as we can."
Kile Patrick, Kayla Warren, Lindsey Anderson, Heather Haas, Jessica Patrick and Cassidy Han are all capable of scoring "a lot of points for us," Mulvaney said.
Anderson, along with teammate Justus Wendland, competed at the state tournament for Blue Sky last season. Wendland returns with all-state honors. Also returning for the boys is Mitch McKinley, Keenan Toner, Jon Lipp, Eric Groth, Roald Aageson and Brent Petrick.
The Big Sandy Pioneers are hoping to take some top points away from other teams. The Pioneers have only six girls, which coach Roy Lackner said makes the chances of winning difficult.
"We're down to just a few kids," he said. "We just don't have the numbers. We only have six girls so we can't win it, but we will do well individually. You can't beat the numbers."
Katherine Bitz, Sheena Darlington, Ashley Goodian, and Lindsey Danreuther placed for the Pioneers at last year's district meet.
Big Sandy's boys team has nine athletes who will suit up this weekend, led by Skylar Pearson in the long and triple jumps, Chris Yirsa in the distance runs and Mason Ophus in the discus.
"I want to place as many kids as I can, get as many to divisionals and then place as many kids at divisionals as I can so they can go to state," Lackner said.
Four girls will compete for Turner and Hays-Lodge Pole, with just three for Box Elder. The Turner Tornadoes have Jade Olszewski, Brittany Jones, Karlene Egbert and Celeste Hedegaard while Tami Infante, Chassidy Parisian and Marci Buckman represent the Box Elder Bears. For Hays-Lodge Pole, Vanessa Webb, Alicia Werk, Jean Whitecow and Issa Cocharan will compete.
Hays-Lodge Pole adds 17 boys to the mix for Friday's track meet.
Rocky Boy is in a rebuilding year this year, coach Rick Sunchild said.
"We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores that are just coming out," he said. "We lost a lot of returners. The kids weren't interested in going out for track again this year."
Still, Sunchild said, this year's team has shown promise. Ten boys will compete for the Stars with nine girls taking to the field.
"We make the best with what we've got," Sunchild said. "We're starting to build and the next couple of years we should be competive team score wise."