By Kim Staudinger
Be prepared to watch two of the fastest runners in the state Saturday at the Class A State Track Meet in Missoula.
Havre junior Steve Heberly and Colstrip senior Tuff Harris will meet for the final time in their high school careers Saturday at 1:15 p.m. for the 100-meter dash. Heberly won the event as a freshman but lost to Harris last year as a sophomore. Harris raced to the finish line in 10.88 seconds. Heberly was just behind with 10.94 seconds.
This year the race promises to be another nail-biter. Heberly's best time this spring was 10.7 seconds. Harris had a 10.77.
"I want to beat him," Heberly said. "I just have to go out and do my best and not false start or anything."
But the soft-spoken junior doesn't think he has a great advantage going into the finals.
"I think it's a tossup right now," he said. "He's going to have to try real hard since he won the 100 last year."
Heberly will get another shot at Harris in the 200. Heberly won the 200 last year in 22.11 seconds. Harris' time was 22.29.
The two haven't faced each other since the last state meet because Colstrip and Havre don't attend the same meets. Heberly said he's looking forward to Harris giving him some tough competition.
"That will make it fun," Heberly said. "You just want to beat the person next to you. I just have to stay relaxed."
Said Havre head coach John Ita: "I think it's a lot more than just those two guys. Steve's going to put in a good performance no matter who is next to him. Steve's got a gear few humans have. He has experience. He's been a state champion since he was a freshman."
Heberly isn't the only one who will be trying to keep Harris from being an individual state champion. Harris will face Steven Harman in the long jump and Tony Ricci in the high jump.
"We have two other guys competing against Harris," Ita said. "The way we're looking at it, there's going to be a lot of us competing against him. One man doesn't win it. One man doesn't lose it. It's a team effort."
Harris also runs the anchor leg on the short relay team.
Harris' team, the Colstrip Colts, is one of the favorites to win the team championship. Whitefish is also expected to be at the top.
The Ponies were expected to be in contention for a top-three finish but an injury may take them out of the running. Sophomore distance runner Jeff Sprinkle broke a bone in his foot and suffered a stress fracture in his other foot at last weekend's Central A Divisional Track Championship in Lewistown.
"We were a contender for some hardware and you take Jeff out and that takes anywhere from 16 to 20 points away," Ita said. "I feel bad for Jeff. He's trained so hard this last year. He was so looking forward to state."
Now the Ponies simply hope to take away points from the top teams and break up the scoring.
"We'll just try to take points away from Colstrip or Whitefish and those" Heberly said. "If we take points away from Whitefish, Colstrip could win or the other way around or some other team could sneak in there. No pressure's on us, so if we all do our best, we could be right there."
While all eyes will be on the sprints, there will be other Ponies putting on a show. Look for Harman in the long jump, Justin Kegel and Curt Leeds in the triple jump, Garrett Watson in the 800, and Kasey Barsotti and Evan Olson in the distances.
"Watson has a good chance in the 800. Barsotti keeps improving. And don't even count Evan Olson out," Ita said. "Then you have Harman in the long jump and the two triple jump boys. I think the triple jump is wide open."
For the girls, senior Jayla McPherson returns as a placer in the discus and the shot put. With strong performances, Alicia Rundquist, Brooke Schwan and Alicia Overcast could be on the medal stand, Ita said.
But as a team, Ita said, the girls just don't have the numbers to be in contention for a trophy.
"We just don't have the depth to do much this year at state," Ita said. "Both our relay teams are going to have to fight real hard just to be there on Saturday."
The favorites for the girls' title are Sidney and Belgrade, Ita said.
"We just hope to get as many girls on the medal stand as we can," Ita said.